Last September ― when the now president of the United States was still just the Republican nominee no one thought could actually win the election ― Jimmy Fallon welcomed Donald Trump on “The Tonight Show.”
Instead of grilling him about his campaign or xenophobic stances, Fallon decided to rub Trump’s head and ruffle his hair. It didn’t go over well.
The late-night host, who never spoke about the interview in the months following, has finally decided to share his side of the story. In a New York Times profile published Wednesday morning, Fallon admits that he should have addressed the criticism following Trump’s appearance right away, but he just wanted to keep a low profile.
“I didn’t talk about it, and I should have talked about it,” he told the Times. “I regret that.”
Fallon said the hate online was deafening, and that it affected him much more than people thought.
“I didn’t do it to humanize him,” Fallon said of the Trump moment. “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.’”
“I’m a people pleaser,” he added, later in the piece. “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.”
Fun is Fallon’s game. He’s never been the political type, nor is that where his strengths lie. His goal, says the 42-year-old, is to entertain, and he tries to do that in the best way he knows how: with “SNL”-like bits, sketches and celebrity drinking games.
“Jimmy is not a political comedian, so it would be very phony of him to go out and do long political joke rants just because that’s what some people want,” Tina Fey told the Times of her former colleague. “‘The Tonight Show’ has historically been a friendly, light show.”
“I didn’t mean anything by it. I was just trying to have fun.”
Fallon said he feels like his Trump controversy has “sailed,” and that maybe he missed the boat on making an impact on his viewers’ takes on it. But, ultimately, he will continue to do the show he’s always been producing.
“I tossed and turned for a couple of weeks, but I have to make people laugh,” he said. “People that voted for Trump watch my show as well.”
As of now, Fallon is trailing Stephen Colbert’s “The Late Show” in viewership. (In the week ending May 12, Colbert had a little over 3 million nightly viewers while Fallon had just under 2.7 million.) But Fallon is still leading in the coveted 18-to-49-year-old demographic, which makes him want to work to maintain at least this stride.
“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 joked before sincerely adding, “I never, ever care. I’ll know when someone fires me.”
To read the full profile, head to The New York Times.