Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon had “regrets” following the backlash from his infamous interview with Donald Trump.
Fallon is profiled in a new wide-spanning interview with the New York Times, in which he talks about his September interview with then-presidential candidate Trump. The segment featured Fallon ruffling Trump’s hair in what was considered to be a friendly gesture, prompting many negative reactions from publications saying he was effectively “normalizing” such a controversial figure.
Now, eight months later, Fallon told the New York Times that this was not an attempt at “humanizing” now-President Trump. He argued that his intention was essentially the opposite.
“I didn’t do it to humanize him,” he stated. “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.'”
The negative response was prevalent on social media at the time, and Fallon took it pretty hard.
“I go, I just can’t read Twitter. Then I can’t read the news. I can’t read the internet…. I’m a people pleaser. 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 purposefully chose not to address the controversy in subsequent episodes of The Tonight Show even though he now feels he should have said something.
“I didn’t talk about it, and I should have talked about it. I regret that.”
Fallon admitted that following the backlash, he tossed and turned for a couple of weeks, but at the end of the day, “I have to make people laugh. People that voted for Trump watch my show as well.”
He also said that fans “have a right to be mad” at him for the moment.
“If I let anyone down, it hurt my feelings that they didn’t like it. I got it.”
Fallon’s old Saturday Night Live buddy Tina Fey came to his defense in October.
“This election is so, so ugly, it’s not business as usual. I really felt for Jimmy when people were so angry,” she said as the controversy was still fresh. “It’s not Jimmy who peed in that punch bowl, it’s not Jimmy who created this horrible world that we’re currently living in.”
While he still pokes fun at Trump on his show, the Tonight Show host’s approach to comedy and entertainment is more light-hearted than other late night personalities like Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, Trevor Noah, Samantha Bee, and John Oliver, who have traditionally been more cutting in their political commentary. Fallon’s show may provide a more escapist tone than his competition and the glut of the 24-hour political news cycle, but he has seen his ratings fade in comparison to The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on CBS, a show he was regularly beating before the presidential election.
“We’re winning in something. People in the height requirement between 5-7 and 5-11, we’re No. 1, from 11:50 to 11:55,” he quipped to the New York Times, before taking on a more serious tone. “I never, ever care. I’ll know when someone fires me.”
Fallon tries not to let the news of slipping ratings seep into his approach to The Tonight Show, even if critics don’t like his less political touch.
“I don’t want to be bullied into not being me, and not doing what I think is funny,” he said. “Just because some people bash me on Twitter, it’s not going to change my humor or my show.”
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon airs Monday through Friday at 11:35 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.
[Featured Image by Andrew Lipovsky/NBC]