With his affable, Guy Smiley-esque demeanor and fondness for silly party games, it's hard to imagine Jimmy Fallon as a cutthroat competitor, but one doesn't climb the ladder of late night success without an abundance of ambition.
Of course, the same could be said of Fallon's top rival, Stephen Colbert, who made a name for himself satirizing right wing blowhards, but is now letting his nice-guy charm shine on CBS' Late Show.
Given the genial natures of late night's current kings and Fallon's consistent dominance in the ratings, no one expected that Colbert's transition to a major network would result in a Letterman vs. Leno-like battle for supremacy, but it seems that's exactly what's happening thanks to Colbert's latest boost in popularity.
Yes, the "Colbert bump" that Stephen used to joke about on his Comedy Central show has happened in reverse, as the election of Donald Trump appears to have turned viewers away from Fallon's apolitical capering straight toward Colbert's more topical monologues.
Colbert is no firebrand, and that seems to be working to his advantage, as there's no shortage of politically-charged outrage these days.
What the 52-year-old offers is a sort of throwback alternative - reasoned takedowns of Trump and company at a time when the outrages of the administration seem to have caused some comics to sacrifice wit in favor of blunt force.
By contrast, Fallon has chosen to stick to the pop cultural observations and celebrity brown-nosing that have long made him the safe choice in late night.
The host is still smarting from the now-infamous Trump hair tousling interview that many believe helped humanize the candidate at a critical stage in the election cycle, and some feel Fallon's reluctance to riff on Trump signals a sort of tacit endorsement.
Now, it seems that Fallon's decision to stick to innocuous escapism may be costing him dearly, as The Late Show has edged out The Tonight Show in total viewership for five weeks running.
“[Fallon] is feeling the pressure. I mean, Stephen Colbert is now beating him in a big way and he has to change his format to keep up because he’s losing viewers,” a source tells Page Six.
“They had to figure out a way to get Trump [into his routine] because he’s too weak on Trump, and viewers are going elsewhere. [He’s been] uncomfortable talking about politics, and that’s not what the people want.”
Colbert's audience has grown an astonishing 29 percent from this time last year, and his sudden rise in popularity seems to have everything to do with his willingness to embrace the political madness of 2017.
It's worth noting that Fallon still has the upper-hand in the all-important 18-49 demographic, but insiders say the ultra-competitive SNL alum is still fretting his current ratings slump.
“He freaks out over this. He has to be on top,” says one source.
Now it seems that in order to reclaim his crown, Fallon may have to venture into territory that seems to make him uncomfortable.