There’s a very depressing portrait of Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show in The New York Times today. It details a host still haunted by the hair tousle heard around the country, when his fawning interview with Donald Trump became a pathetic cultural moment in the divisive 2016 election.
Since then, late night television has evolved rapidly into a partisan experience, rather than the goofy feel-good celebrity carnival that Fallon has cultivated on The Tonight Show. As such, Stephen Colbert’s challenging Late Show has dominated The Tonight Show during Donald Trump’s presidency. As the Times’ Dave Itzkoff writes, “Mr. Fallon acknowledges now that the Trump interview was a setback, if not quite a mistake, and he has absorbed at least a portion of the anger that was directed at him by critics and online detractors.”
And sad Jimmy Fallon feels sad about it.
“They have a right to be mad … If I let anyone down, it hurt my feelings that they didn’t like it. I got it … I didn’t do it to humanize [Trump]. I almost did it to minimize him. I didn’t think that would be a compliment: ‘He did the thing that we all wanted to do.'”
As Fallon tells The New York Times, he was devastated in the days afterward during the immense negative response, and he regrets never addressing it on the air. But that doesn’t mean he’s going to change his silly middle of the road antics:
“I don’t want to be bullied into not being me, and not doing what I think is funny. Just because some people bash me on Twitter, it’s not going to change my humor or my show.”
Fallon’s show has never been a political show. As Tina Fey explains to the Times, a sudden shift to political comedy would be disingenuous. And in April, Colbert echoed the same sentiment, “The theory that that hair tousle made a difference is based on the supposition that Jimmy’s fans went to him for political acumen,” Mr. Colbert said. “I don’t think so. They go there for fun. They go there for his nature, his spirit.”
At least we can always expect Jimmy Fallon to be the same harmless Jimmy Fallon.