In the increasingly biting world of late night political comedy, Jimmy Fallon has been falling behind. Compared to his peers Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, and even the jocular Jimmy Kimmel, Fallon is increasingly considered "late night lite." In September of 2016, the 42-year-old incited anger from fans after ruffling Donald Trump's hair in a less than hard-hitting interview. The move was exemplary of Fallon's presumed ineptitude: He seemed to lack interest or ability to cast a critical eye on the potential president. Now, the late-night host is finally apologizing for the Twitter-famous folly — sort of.
"I didn’t do it to humanize [Trump],” Fallon explained to The New York Times. “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.'"
But it did appear to humanize the would-be 45th president. At the very least, it signified a tacit acceptance of the man who, as The Times points out, refused to admit Barack Obama was born in the U.S. on that very same day. Twitter quickly meme'd the moment, and many publications, including this one, sharpened their think pieces. At the time, Fallon appeared to keep his cool. Turns out, he was hurt by the whole affair. (We're crying on the inside.)
"If there’s one bad thing on Twitter about me, it will make me upset. So, after this happened, I was devastated. I didn’t mean anything by it. I was just trying to have fun," Fallon admitted.
In retrospect, he wishes that he'd brought up the controversy on his show at the time. He added, "I didn’t talk about it, and I should have talked about it. I regret that."
The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon hasn't been doing as well as its competitors in the months since. In fact, Stephen Colbert's show is creeping past The Tonight Show's enviable top spot in ratings (and pop culture cache). In April, after The Late Show with Stephen Colbert surpassed The Tonight Show in ratings for nine consecutive weeks, Colbert threw a pizza party for his staff. In the May interview, Fallon leaned into the Colbert rivalry.
"I shouldn’t have started the hashtag #FireColbert. Looking back on it, I went too far," Fallon joked. (The hashtag circulated on Twitter after Colbert cracked a lewd joke at the President's expense.)
Fallon has begun punching up the political humor on his show. A recent monologue pointed out similarities between a speech by the president and that of Elle Woods in Legally Blonde. The Tonight Show may never exhibit the cutting political commentary of, say, Late Night with Seth Meyers, but at the very least, we know Donald Trump won't get another head massage anytime soon.
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