Jimmy Fallon’s Donald Trump impression had been a staple of The Tonight Show for more than a year, beginning in earnest when then-candidate Trump first visited the show in September 2015 and sat across a fake mirror from the host. But we hadn’t seen him since the real Donald Trump won the presidential election last November.
That all changed on Monday night when Fallon’s Trump reappeared to unveil his new “Huge Wheel of Decisions.” First, of course, he addressed the ban on immigrants from majority-Muslim countries that has thrown the country into chaos less than two weeks into his administration.
“Look, people, I’ve made my position on immigration very clear,” he said into the camera from the Oval Office. “When it comes to immigrants, you have two choices: either get out of here, or marry me.” Get it? Because Trump’s wife Melania wasn’t born in this country.
All of this would be harmless enough if Fallon hadn’t so utterly fallen down on the job when he secured Trump’s last late-night interview before the election this past September. Not only did Fallon comically muss Trump’s hair like he was an adorable toddler, but he failed to press him on any substantive issues even though he knew millions would be watching. When Trump claimed to “know nothing” about Vladimir Putin, Fallon didn’t blink.
Later, he asked him if he had any hobbies.
The host subsequently excused his behavior by asking, rhetorically, “Have you seen my show? I’m never too hard on anyone.” But he should know that there’s a difference between interviewing Demi Lovato and a man who is on the verge of becoming the most powerful person in America—and who’d frozen out journalists by not conducting a press conference in months.
His NBC colleague Seth Meyers, who has never shied away from criticizing Trump, defended Fallon by saying, “I think it’s important that those shows still exist for people who want to tune out politics for a night and I think Jimmy does that better than anybody.”
But viewers tuning in to see Trump that night, and those who watched tonight’s anodyne jokes about the president’s ineptitude, were not tuning out politics. In fact, at least one voter in Virginia said she voted for Trump specifically because he seemed “very humble” on the Tonight Show.
There was something amusing about Fallon’s Trump impression back when he seemed like a comical long-shot candidate who would never reach the White House, but now that he’s there, it feels utterly insufficient.
Even Alec Baldwin, whose Trump is far more sinister and odious than Fallon’s, is beginning to wear thin on Saturday Night Live. But at least two floors up from Fallon’s show at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, you get the sense that the writers are attempting to make a broader satirical point about the new president. There’s a reason Trump has repeatedly attacked Baldwin but never said one word about Fallon.
As the Trump presidency gets underway in earnest and the unconscionable and unconstitutional actions begin to pile up, any comedic take on President Trump is going to need to be a lot tougher than this—see Samantha Bee, Seth Meyers, and most recently The Daily Show’s Hasan Minhaj.
If Jimmy Fallon wants to get political on his show, turning Trump into the bumbling host of The Price Is Right: White House Edition is not going to cut it.