Jimmy Fallon addressed the outrage over what many called his “softball” interview with Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign on NBC’s “Tonight Show.”
“They have a right to be mad,” Fallon said in a new interview with The New York Times. “If I let anyone down, it hurt my feelings that they didn’t like it. I got it.”
Fallon’s critics, which included former “Late Show” host David Letterman, complained that Fallon wasn’t aggressive enough with the then-presidential candidate. Given that “The Tonight Show” was one of the few talk shows granted an interview with Trump, many viewers ridiculed Fallon’s playful tone, including wrapping the inteview by messing up Trump’s uniquely styled hair.
“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 said of the fallout from the interview.
In particular, the host didn’t seem to realise in the moment how tousling Trump’s hair would be seen.
“I didn’t do it to humanize him,” Fallon said. “I almost did it to minimise him.”
Fallon didn’t just suffer hurt feelings following the incident. In the wake of the interview, Stephen Colbert’s “Late Show” began closing the ratings gap between it and Fallon’s show. As of May 12, Colbert has enjoyed a 15-week streak of beating Fallon in total viewers, according to Nielsen. While losing that metric, Fallon has been able to hold on to the No. 1 spot for the audience advertisers want most, adults under 50 years old.
NBC executives told The Times that they’re not worried about the ratings losses and support whatever Fallon wants to do creatively. Best known for convincing his guests to participate in comedy sketches and off-the-wall games, Fallon does acknowledge that today’s political climate dictates some changes for the show.
“Of course the show has to change,” he said. “It’s a different environment. I don’t know what bits we’re going to do, but we’re trying everything.”
Regardless, he doesn’t want the show to be all about the president.
“There’s only so many bits you can do,” he said. “I’m happy that only 50% of my monologue is about Trump.”
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