The eyes of Texas were upon Jimmy Fallon on Thursday. The feeling was mutual.
The late-night TV host brought “The Tonight Show” to the University of Texas for a special taping of an episode that will air at 10:35 p.m. After hanging around town earlier this week and stopping by a few local haunts, Fallon pulled out enough Austin references during the show to make Bass Concert Hall — packed full of UT students — howl and throw up “Hook ’em” signs every chance they got.
An hour before the show started, audience members lined up outside the concert hall in the drizzly cold. Songs by Lizzo and Janelle Monáe pumped out of speakers while students started chants of "Texas! Fight!" like it was a game day.
"I just really like him as a person," said Martha Waindim, a human development and family sciences student from Katy, said of Fallon. She, along with friend Breanna Taylor, won spots from a ticket lottery earlier this fall. "He's super funny, and I just really like his show. ... This is the first show he's done at a university, and I'm happy to be a part of history. I'm here for that."
"I'm just so happy he could be here," said Taylor, a biochemistry student from Houston.
The show got going with a pre-taped bit filmed at campus-area dive the Hole In the Wall — Fallon’s danced on top of that bar now, just so you know. The musical segment followed the host out onto the Drag, which magically turned into a Sixth Street scooter ride. He squeezed in shoutouts to the “Keep Austin Weird” slogan, Daniel Johnston’s “Hi How Are You” mural and the University of Oklahoma (which sucks). Also making cameos: Royal-Memorial Stadium, the Longhorn Band, UT pom and cheer squad members and Bass Concert Hall, where none other than Bevo XV stopped by.
A special cut of the “Tonight Show” theme featured cameos from local landmarks like Spider House, the Paramount Theatre, the Texas Capitol, Home Slice Pizza and the Littlefield Fountain on campus. (Fans already know he took a plunge in the water earlier this week.)
Fallon also brought a local’s bag of jokes to his monologue.
“I came, I saw, I got into a scooter accident,” he said. Another crack that got a big response from the crowd, many of whom entered a ticket lottery: “If you wanted to be somewhere that’s easy to get into, you’d be at Texas A&M right now.”
He joked that old Bevos end up on the menu at Franklin Barbecue and said he would avoid political humor during the episode, though UT’s white and orange colors would make it hard — that’s when pictures of Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump flashed on the big screens.
The most heartwarming moment of the taping easily was when Fallon brought three UT students up on stage — Alma Zamora of Mission, Fitzgerald Alan of Dallas and Elizabeth Yun of Brownsville — and revealed that show sponsor Samsung would pay off the rest of their tuition. The visibly emotional students took a selfie with Fallon (on a Samsung phone, of course).
The episode’s marquee guest was next: actor and Austin resident Matthew McConaughey, who’s also a recently minted professor at UT. He’s also the university’s minister of culture; that ceremonial role’s duties apparently include bursting onto the stage through a Longhorn-emblazoned banner.
McConaughey, decked out in a white suit and a burnt orange tie, told Fallon why he’s chosen Austin as home.
“First off, I am a proud Texan,” he said, adding about the capital city that “to make it here, all you gotta be is yourself.”
McConaughey touted Austin’s “cowboy code” that he said allows the city’s diverse residents to live in harmony: “In Austin, nobody’s too good, but everyone’s good enough.”
After dropping a “Dazed and Confused” line, McConaughey told Fallon that as UT’s minister of culture, he wants to champion guiding principles like that, especially as new Austinites keep flocking to the city every day. He then unfurled a banner that read, “Keep Austin Austin.”
McConaughey also talked about the class he teaches at UT, called Script to Screen. The audience watched a pre-taped bit where Fallon visited the classroom. (He’s a bad student, the professor said.)
The “True Detective” actor also talked about his 50th birthday and joining Instagram, before heading into the audience with Fallon to take a selfie with some lucky fans.View this post on Instagram
The Eyes of Texas are upon you #hookem #FallonAtUT
Before he left the Bass Concert Hall stage, McConaughey joined Fallon (and the 3,000 UT students in attendance) for a rousing rendition of “The Eyes of Texas,” featuring Big Bertha the bass drum herself.
“Fixer Upper” hosts and Waco residents Chip and Joanna Gaines followed McConaughey on the “Tonight Show” couch, stoking up a little UT-Baylor rivalry — Chip gave Fallon a green and gold cap, leading to shouts of “no!” from the seats. The couple told Fallon about their Magnolia TV network, set to debut October 2020. Chip, touting Fort Worth honky-tonk Billy Bob’s Texas, then gave Fallon a two-stepping lesson.
The UT students in the audience were audibly most excited for Fallon’s musical guest, Atlanta-based rapper Gucci Mane. Fallon asked him to give advice to his young fans.
“Be mindful of the company you keep,” the rapper said.
Gucci Mane performed his own trap version of “The Eyes of Texas” — the lyrics weren’t the same, so it was a cover in spirit, perhaps — over the course of two takes. He also performed “Move Me” off his new album, “Woptober II,” with “Tonight Show” band the Roots backing him up.
In a break, Fallon took a selfie video with the audience at his back. He led them in a chant for social media.
For the grand finale, Fallon brought back out members of the Longhorn Band, costumed UT mascot Hook ’Em and other campus spirit-raisers for a feel-good singalong to “Deep In the Heart of Texas.” And, yes, everyone knew to do the hand claps.