Theoden Janes

Note to Jimmy Fallon: Charlotte is definitely NOT in the Research Triangle

Lisa Robinson, Katya Arbuckle, Lauryn Harper and Michelle Harper outside NBC’s studio in New York City before Monday afternoon’s taping of “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.”
Lisa Robinson, Katya Arbuckle, Lauryn Harper and Michelle Harper outside NBC’s studio in New York City before Monday afternoon’s taping of “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” Courtesy of Michelle Harper

For a second there, Jimmy Fallon had us fooled.

While executing a comedy bit during Monday’s taping of “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” he ever-so-briefly seemed to suggest that he had some sort of special relationship or familiarity with Charlotte, then appeared to confuse our city with ... I don’t know, maybe he had us mixed up with Chapel Hill?

(The host made a trip to UNC-Chapel Hill five years ago – you might recall – to tape a sit-down with President Barack Obama for his previous NBC show, “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.”)

Anyway, here’s what happened Monday night during his occasional segment “Freestylin’ with The Roots,” in which Fallon chats with members of his studio audience, then asks his house band to improv songs about them on the spot:

As hands waved to answer Fallon’s question “Who wants The Roots to sing a song about them?” the first of three people he chose was a young woman who introduced herself as Lauryn Harper.

“Lauryn, where are you from?” Fallon asked.

“Charlotte, North Carolina,” Harper said.

Fallon’s face immediately lit up. He popped back to give her a smile – as if she’d just told him late-night rivals Jimmy Kimmel and Stephen Colbert were calling it quits – and said, “Hey, no way! I love it!”

As she watched Fallon write down her name, Harper corrected him: “Wait, it’s with a Y, though.” He feigned an exasperated look and rolled his eyes.

And – just as quickly as we’d thought he was going to tell a cool little story about Charlotte – he proceeded to blow it. “Where’d you say you’re from?” Fallon asked. “North Carolina?”

“Charlotte, North Carolina, yeah,” Harper said.

“Charlotte,” Fallon said, and you could now see it in his face: He did not have any sort of special relationship or familiarity with Charlotte. While it would have been amazing if he had asked if that’s where Romare Bearden Park is, instead he asked, “Research Triangle Park?”

Oh, Jimmy ...

(Full disclosure: Harper – looking for a moment like a deer in headlights – replied, “Yeah, sure.” But she has an excuse. Keep reading; we’ll explain.)

Fortunately, the bit ended up being pretty funny. After Harper told Fallon her favorite spring activity was sitting outside, Black Thought, Questlove and the rest of The Roots busted out a country-flavored ode to Harper, her love for sitting outside, and the way she spells her name.

Turns out Harper, a senior at Providence Day School, had her big moment on the show during the final hours of a five-day trip to New York with her mother, Michelle (in the above clip, mom’s the one sitting on the aisle), her aunt Lisa Robinson, and her best friend, Katya Arbuckle.

It was Harper’s first time in the Big Apple, a belated 18th birthday celebration that also included walks in Central Park, shopping excursions and tickets to must-see Broadway musical “Hamilton.”

“Hamilton” was “so good – I wish I could see it more than once,” she said – but getting singled out on Fallon topped it. And even though she had to be awake at 4 a.m. Tuesday to catch a flight from LaGuardia back to Charlotte, she of course stayed up late Monday night to catch the show.

“We were sitting on the bed freaking out. ‘What if it doesn’t air? What if they cut it out?,’ ” said Harper, reached by phone Wednesday afternoon. When it came on, “me and my best friend were shaking and screaming, ‘We’re on the Jimmy Fallon show!’ I took a picture and I put it on my Snapchat story, and (within minutes) people were texting me, Snapchatting me, calling me. ... We were talking about it all night; we got two and half hours’ sleep maybe, at most.”

Their flight out of LaGuardia ended up being delayed, so it was around noon when she finally made it to Providence Day – where she was showered with attention, prompting her to say words we don’t hear kids using often enough to describe school: “It was actually a really fun day.”

As for her spur-of-the-moment geography gaffe?

“Oh, I was just so nervous. I wasn’t ready,” Harper said, laughing.

“The thing is, I lived in the Raleigh-Durham area for seven years. But in that moment, I was like, ‘Uh-huh, Research Triangle, yeah, sure.’ And then after I said it, I was like, ‘Oh, shoot! I messed up.’ ... I really do know where it is.”

But does Jimmy Fallon? We’re betting not.

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Twitter: @theodenjanes

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