Dec. 20, 2013 at 3:14 AM ET
When "Late Night" host Jimmy Fallon and hit-maker Justin Timberlake get together something magical — and laughable and often musical — happens. It's also something familiar. It's a kind of classic comedy chemistry that television audiences haven't seen since The Smothers Brothers reached their heyday decades ago.
Of course, unlike variety masters Tom and Dick Smothers, Fallon and Timberlake aren't folksy brothers. They're not even a dedicated double act. But somehow, they've managed to revive that rare, seemingly-effortless back-and-forth all the same.
It's quite a feat for an improv-comic-turned-host and a Mouseketeer-turned-singer-and-film-star who only share a stage a few times a year, but these two clicked from the first day they met.
In 2002, while still a featured player on "Saturday Night Live," Fallon hosted the MTV Video Music Awards — and it wasn't just a big night for him. It was also Timberlake's solo debut. But for the newly introduced pair, the off-camera action proved to be pretty significant too.
"I remember talking backstage during those VMAs," Fallon told GQ during a shared interview with his "super friend."
"I was totally nervous and (Justin was) nervous and we both ended up having good nights. We're good luck to each other — like each other's rabbit foots."
As the years went on, the good luck continued. Fallon remained a regular on "SNL" through 2004, which gave him his first opportunity to do sketch comedy alongside his pal. When Timberlake took his first turn as both host and musical guest in 2003, the duo debuted their now-recurring bit, "The Barry Gibb Talk Show."
Their ease on stage together was evident, and it was just a taste of what was the come. In 2009, Fallon's "Late Night" gig began, and Timberlake was by his side again as one of the funnyman's first-night guests, and it kicked off an unofficial partnership of sorts.
The "Suit & Tie" singer became a frequent and memorable guest on the show, and eventually, talk and musical performances gave way to hilarity. Fallon and Timberlake channeled their mutual love of song and dance — and hip-hop in particular — and turned it into skit that worked as comedy, as straight performance and as a somewhat-comprehensive rap primer.
"History of Rap" saw the two deliver a mash-up of 15 classic tracks, from Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" straight through to Jay Z's "Empire State of Mind." The skit went viral almost instantly, and eventually spun off into a four-part (so far) series.
"Late Night" fans, it seemed, couldn't get enough of the J&J routines, and the guys themselves couldn't either — as was evident when Timberlake joined Fallon for a full "Timberweek" earlier this year.
And they even crack wise together when the cameras are off.
"I’m in the heart of an impromptu speech at my wedding reception in front of 150 guests, pouring it out to my lovely new bride (Jessica Biel)," Timberlake recalled in a recent tribute to Fallon that he penned for Time magazine. "You could hear a pin drop. I paused for just a moment in between thoughts. And then there was Jimmy, shouting a joke from his seat, sparking an improv between the two of us that went on for a good five or 10 minutes and had all our guests roaring with laughter."
That's a believable boast for a couple of guys who break the rules of comedy twosomes. While as a team, they capture the good-natured, casual laughs of their predecessors, they also break type. The Smothers had Tom play the fool to Dick's straight man (as Jerry Lewis played the fool to Dean Martin, Lou Costello to Bud Abbott and Chris Farley to David Spade), but Fallon and Timberlake both play it cool (or equally uncool) in their duo. But still, the dynamic works.
See the latest laughs from the modern-day classics when they get together again for "Saturday Night Live," Dec. 21 at 11:30 p.m. on NBC.