Jimmy Fallon’s Surrender to Donald Trump

His words couldn’t be any more pathetic.

You could see the beads of flop sweat on Jimmy Fallon’s face on Sunday Today, as he tried to defend his reluctance to subject Donald Trump to intense ridicule on The Tonight Show:

He doesn’t like talking about politics? He prefers to talk about pop culture? Dude, Trump is both pop culture and politics. What kind of excuse is that?

Remember when Fallon shamelessly sucked up to Trump in September 2016? Fallon didn’t just play with Trump’s hair; in effect, he kissed his rear end, too. That Trump-Fallon interview was far, far worse than the still-controversial interview George W. Bush gave to Oprah Winfrey in September 2000; the difference between both interviews is that Winfrey, while perhaps not being as tough on Bush as she should have been, did not completely surrender her dignity and integrity, whereas Fallon wholly forfeited his. As Vinay Meron of the Toronto Star noted earlier this year:

The impact of Donald Trump on late night comedy is a captivating topic for a future academic paper, assuming the world doesn’t end in a mushroom cloud. Trump may be pox on humanity. But he’s also a gift to slingers of monologue barbs.

Samantha Bee, Seth Meyers and Trevor Noah have all emerged stronger inside the Trump cyclone. Conan O’Brien, Stephen Colbert and John Oliver are on higher ground from a year ago, largely because they are seen as potential tour guides with GPS co-ordinates to the funny hot spots in this new dystopia.

Then there is Fallon, an outlier among peers in that he remains unchanged by the incoming president: he still has no point of view. In fact, Fallon may be the only late night host who has lost reputational cachet by refusing to exit his goofball bubble and take a good look around.

His interview with Trump in September was the most mocked late night segment of 2016. The low-point for most critics was when Fallon tousled Trump’s hair, which was widely described as “normalizing” a political candidate who kept saying and doing things that were wildly abnormal.

The bigger problem, as usual, was Fallon’s separation from reality.

His questions — “Did you always see yourself getting into politics?” “Have you ever played the board game Sorry?” “How do you not get sick from shaking all those hands?” – sounded like a first grader interviewing Mayor McCheese.

The difference between Fallon and ABC competitor Jimmy Kimmel is that Kimmel is willing to risk his career to cast a spotlight upon maladies in American society, instead of ignoring such maladies in the name of placating viewers and/or management. It’s not that Fallon is less talented than Kimmel or Stephen Colbert of CBS; it’s that, by his own admission, he’s not the sort of guy to use his talent to challenge authority.

Does every late-night talk show host necessarily have to be “woke”? Of course not. I totally understand the desire to avoid perceived hyper-partisanship, and the goal of bringing red-staters and blue-staters together. Barack Obama spoke to this desire in his famous speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Of course, the problem is that sometimes one can go too far in the name of avoiding hyper-partisanship (as Charlie Pierce has suggested about that Obama speech). No viewer, progressive or conservative, wants to watch an absolute chump–which is what Fallon has revealed himself to be.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.