NEW YORK — Comic Samantha Bee insists she’s a Jimmy Fallon fan. But she said Wednesday that her caustic attack this week on Fallon’s now-infamous hair mussing appearance with Donald Trump came because she’d had it with the “continued normalization of deplorable.”
The fallout from Trump’s “Tonight” show appearance last Thursday is the most serious faced by the genial Fallon since he replaced Jay Leno in 2014 and instantly became the nation’s most popular late-night host.
He received widespread criticism for being too chummy with the Republican candidate — Democrat Hillary Clinton jokingly presented Fallon with a bag of softballs — and Bee cited that appearance and Trump’s week hosting “Saturday Night Live” last fall in a segment on her TBS show on Monday. She accused NBC of tacitly condoning a demagogue.
“It was not really a Jimmy thing,” Bee said on Wednesday. “It was more of an NBC thing. Coming on the heels of the Matt Lauer interview (of Trump, at a national security forum), we were just done … with these gossamer-light interviews of this person and the continued normalization of deplorable.”
NBC hasn’t responded to the fallout.
In the TBS segment, Bee said that at a time some opponents compare Trump to Adolf Hitler, “maybe don’t invite him into your house to play with your adorable children.”
She then showed clips of Fallon asking Trump whether he had ever played the board game “Sorry” and messing up the candidate’s elaborate hairstyle.
“Aw. Trump can be a total sweetheart with someone who has no reason to be terrified of him,” Bee said on TBS.
Fallon’s interview may have been a case of exquisitely bad timing, coming just as polls reflected a tightening presidential race and Clinton’s supporters were becoming nervous. And it contrasted with some of Fallon’s late-night brethren, particularly Seth Meyers and Stephen Colbert, who brutalized Trump this week for his statement on the birther controversy he nurtured.
To a certain school of comics, one criticism may have stung the most: Vulture’s assertion that Fallon had “become Jay Leno.” Of course, Leno did strong business for NBC for two decades.
Trump and NBC have been linked since he hosted “The Apprentice” for the network. NBC cut business ties to Trump’s Miss Universe pageant following Trump’s description of some Mexican immigrants as rapists in 2015, even though some found the later “SNL” hosting slot inconsistent with that decision. NBC’s chief entertainment executive was caught this summer bashing Trump in a private Facebook post.
The Trump appearance on Fallon wasn’t much different from when other politicians are on his show; it was the context that was different. When interviewing Clinton on Monday, Fallon jokingly donned a surgical mask (ostensibly to protect himself from exposure to the Democrat’s pneumonia) and asked whether her husband, former President Bill Clinton, “is a good nurse.”
“Anyone who knows Jimmy Fallon knows that what he offered up in the Trump interview was par for the course,” said Dannagal Young, a University of Delaware professor and expert on late-night comedy. “It’s consistent with his style and consistent with the point of his show. He’s not a satirist. He’s like your playful little brother.”
Fallon echoed that thought when a reporter from TMZ caught up to him over the weekend: “Have you seen my show? I’m never too hard on anyone.”
“I completely understand it if Jimmy is saying, ‘Who are these people? Who do they think I am?'” Young said. But he should be mindful of the fact that with less than two months until the election, it’s a much different atmosphere, Young said.
The tone has been completely different if you click your remote over to Fallon’s CBS competitor, Colbert, and even if you stay up later to watch Meyers on NBC.
Both comics minced no words in attacking Trump this week. Like Bee, they went beyond the role of late-night comics to offer pointed commentary. Their segments felt like news reports where they showed extensive film clips of Trump questioning whether President Barack Obama had been born in the United States and contradicting his own words in the news conference.
“You don’t get to flog this issue for five years and act like you were correcting everybody else,” Colbert said. “We’re not crazy. We were there. We all saw you do it. Even the people who support you saw you do it. It’s why they support you.”
Meyers, who has banned Trump from appearing on his show, compared Trump’s false assertion that Hillary Clinton had started the birther controversy to Bruce Springsteen saying he wrote “Born to Run” because he heard Bon Jovi say the phrase once.