On Thursday night, Jimmy Fallon had controversial Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump on NBC’s ‘The Tonight Show’. Trump isn’t the first ‘politician’ to appear on the ever-popular, primarily comedic late-night talk show. Barack and Michelle Obama have previously appeared, as well as Trump’s Democrat opposition for the upcoming election, Hilary Clinton.
Jimmy Fallon, who took over the role as host from long-standing host of the show, Jay Leno in 2014, is of course a comedian first before a journalist. The former Saturday Night Live performer frequently plays games, creates skits and often humiliates himself and his guests, in front of over 8million daily viewers on average as well as nearly 12million YouTube subscribers.
However, since Thursday’s airing all people can talk about is what a disgrace the interview truly was. Towards the end of the segment Fallon said to Trump, “Donald I want to ask you because the next I see you, you could be the President of the United States. I just want to know if there’s something that we could do that’s just not Presidential really, or something that we can do now that we’re both just civilians?”
Looking concerned, Trump chuckled, realising he would need to play along with this if he was to keep up the persona of being an approachable, relatable, fun Presidential candidate – ironically in the style of Obama, “Like what? I’m not liking the sound of this. Go ahead.”
Fallon cheekily responded, “Can I mess your hair up?”
Following roars of laughter from the NBC audience and a worried smile from Fallon, Trump responded, “The answer is yes, but I hope the people in New Hampshire, where I’m going to be an hour from now, understand.
Fallon, looking amazed and like a gleeful little boy just granted permission to put his hands into a bowl of sweets, with an almost arrogant smug look, as if ‘yeah this will humiliate him!’ He then continued to ruffle up Trump’s pristinely combed over, wispy blond hair. This led to raucous laughter in the studio, and provided the show with a bite-sized video to share online. 3 days later, this bite-sized video has been watched over 4 million times on YouTube.
Prior to the hair rubbing, Fallon, in his standard Tonight Show style made jokes and quips directed at Trump. Fallon asked Trump for example if he remembers what a coin is. He also questions Trump’s relationship with Vladimir Putin, asking if there is a ‘bromance’ and suggesting the ‘celebrity nickname’ should be ‘Vlump’. As well as that, in a skit style, Fallon completed a mock job interview with Trump and even showed him a picture of his childhood home, compassionately taking it away saying, “ah sorry buddy, I didn’t mean to make you wistful.”
Having Donald Trump as a guest was always going to be a difficult balancing act for Jimmy Fallon. However, it was maybe out of Fallon’s hands due to who the guest was but the interview proved to be a flattering puff-piece for Trump, with the casual back and forth rapport you’d expect to see when Fallon is interviewing an actor or singer on a promotion drive.
Placing Trump in front of Fallon, in front of millions was a very clever ploy it seems by Trump’s campaign team. Fallon provided comic cover, which has proved to be misplaced, considering the potential power of the man he was interviewing. Although Trump has seemingly started to less explicitly reveal his controversial ideals, he has previously explained his anti-black and anti-immigrant sentiment. He’s suggested a ban on Muslims, branded Mexicans as rapists and patronised African-Americans whilst labelling himself a man of the people, a man here to selflessly ‘take a pay-cut’ to provide new hope for a despairing country.
It seemed that Fallon was trying to be mocking, but overwhelmed by the occasion and instead, whilst trying to get the laughs, seemed to humanise Trump. The interview and reaction of Fallon wrongly made Trump come across as a Presidential option that Americans could relate to, an everyday kind of guy, one that you could have a beer with and one that doesn’t mind having fun. If successful, Trump will become the most powerful man in the world. A man with such extreme, controversial ideals should not be handed such unfathomable power. However, Fallon’s interview whilst probably innocent and meaning to be mocking and jovial, was dangerous.
Fallon, like most late-night American hosts job first and foremost is to entertain. Fallon himself is a very popular figure and rarely seems to make enemies, often laughing and joking his way through his shows. However, due to their popularity and viewing figures they draw in, hosts of the late-night shows need to be able to draw the line between comedy and responsibility. Fallon needed to be entertaining but also ensure he wasn’t seen to be empathising with a man who is a well-documented xenophobe, racist, liar, bigot, misogynist and many other derogatory descriptions.
Trump is a smooth talker, and will happily take the criticisms journalists and entertainers alike have thrown at him. He even appeared on the Comedy Central’s Roast in 2011, where he was humiliated and slated even by the likes of Snoop Dogg. Therefore, it was never going to be easy for Fallon to catch Trump out, especially now considering how well prepared Trump is to rebuttal since his controversial elevation due to his Presidential campaign.
However, Fallon deserves to take the flack he receives here. This was an opportunity for Fallon to raise his own stock to the heights of other talk-show hosts who have dealt with Trump far better such as David Letterman, Seth Meyers, John Oliver or Trevor Noah. Fallon’s casual manor was a poor decision and shows a great level of disregard and belief that the thought of Trump in the White House is harmless.
The Guardian’s Steven W Thrasher, aptly commented on the matter that Fallon’s ‘interview’ was nothing like Charlie Chaplin’s famous Great Dictator speech. Referring to Fallon, Thrasher wrote, “ [Chaplin’s speech] brilliantly skewered a rising leader of the right. In fact, you did the opposite, making Trump seem more palatable.”
Jimmy Fallon blew it tonight. Late night comedians used be the court jesters of culture. Humanizing a xenophobe is not okay. #FallonTonight
— Ateeya Manzoor (@Ateeya) September 16, 2016
I don’t fault Jimmy Fallon for not being a journalist. I do fault him for his willingness to serve as hell’s court jester.
— Mark Harris (@MarkHarrisNYC) September 16, 2016
Fallon interviewing Hitler: “Let’s talk about your book!”
— Megan Amram (@meganamram) September 16, 2016
Trump: Savage dark-skinned illegals, roaming the streets in search of murder and mayhem
Fallon: What? WHAT? Haha, wow!
— ☕netw3rk (@netw3rk) September 16, 2016