“Have you seen my show? I’m never too hard on anyone.”
Those were the defensive words of Jimmy Fallon, the newly embattled host of NBC’s The Tonight Show, after fielding a barrage of criticism that he’d taken it far too easy on guest Donald Trump, recently. Fallon, given the rare opportunity to ask his former network-mate Trump anything he wanted (this is, after all, a candidate who’s launched a full-scale assault on the First Amendment—banning numerous outlets from covering his rallies—and hasn’t held a proper press conference since July), opted to play with his hair and yuk it up with the demagogue. From a historical standpoint, the interview drew comparisons to racist presidential hopeful George Wallace’s appearance on The Joey Bishop Show in 1967.
So on Monday night, Fallon did his best to atone for his screw-up by conducting a similarly delicate chat with Trump’s decidedly more qualified opponent, Hillary Clinton.
After greeting Clinton by donning a surgical mask and applying hand sanitizer, Fallon first asked about the former secretary of state’s recent bout of walking pneumonia—one that her opponent and his army of fiercely devoted Twitter eggs seized on and criticized ad nauseam.“It was crazy for me, because I’m used to just getting up and powering through it, and that’s what I thought I could do. It turns out I couldn’t, so I took a few days off and actually, I think it was good,” Clinton said. “I got a chance to reflect on this crazy campaign that we’re involved in and decided that I’m going to talk about what I think needs to happen to help people, and try to stay away from all the negative insult stuff that goes back and forth.”
Then, guest and comedian addressed the elephant in the room: Fallon’s softer-than-baby-thighs interview with Trump.
“This is a really consequential election—just in case you were wondering,” quipped Clinton. When Fallon offered that he’d had Trump on the show a few days ago, she added, “Oh, I heard that,” grin and side-eye included.
The two then ran down a bit where Fallon went through made-up items that Trump had left in his dressing room after the show—including a photo of Putin in a heart frame.
“The most famous bromance going,” joked Clinton. “Besides me and Timberlake,” Fallon shot back.
“But Justin’s worthy of your attention. Last I checked, he hadn’t killed off his adversaries,” replied Clinton, whom Timberlake and his wife, Jessica Biel, recently hosted at their home for a fundraiser—replacing the headline-grabbing Leonardo DiCaprio.
Clinton then removed a bag of literal softballs from the Trump found items stash. “He left these for you: softballs,” she joked to Fallon.
“No, that was my gift to him!” Fallon added. “I’ll give them to you later in the interview.”
Once the pleasantries subsided, Clinton went back on-message, hitting Trump for his recent—and incredibly lame and unapologetic—admission that President Obama was born in the United States. This came, of course, after Trump led a racist birther crusade against Obama for five years, while also claiming not only that Clinton started birtherism (a lie), but that he’d done the president a favor by badgering him into producing his long-form birth certificate (note: Trump still continued the birtherism until as recently as this year).
“Your former guest, Donald Trump, has refused to actually admit that President Obama is an American—born in America—and for five years he’s been hammering in this so-called birther movement, which I think is so sickening,” said Clinton. “And then he went after a distinguished federal judge because he was born in Indiana of Mexican heritage, called him a ‘Mexican.’ He went after the Gold Star family whose son was heroically lost in Iraq because they’re Muslims. You just have to take a deep breath and say to yourself, ‘What kind of country do we really want?’ and I want a country where barriers are knocked down, and little girls and little boys can feel like they can go as far as their hard work will take them without regard to race, and ethnicity, and gender, and sexual orientation, and all of that.”
Clinton also touched on another NBC snafu: the network’s recent Commander-in-Chief Forum, at which Matt Lauer’s conducted an accusatory interview with her while glad-handing Trump. After the interview, GOP chairman Reince Priebus criticized Clinton on Twitter for not smiling enough—you know, that thing out-of-touch, sexist men tell women on the street because they feel they’re entitled to female subservience.
“It’s especially tricky for women. It just is, because there’s a lot of serious things,” Clinton said of being frequently condemned for coming off too hard or too soft. “The other night I was on a show and being asked about ISIS and Iran, and I was serious. These are important issues that the country needs to talk about. And the Republicans were saying, ‘Oh, she looks so serious.’ Well, you don’t talk about ISIS with a big grin on your face! They’re a barbaric, evil group that we have to defeat and wipe out. But it is a constant balancing act. How do you keep the energy and the positive spirit while taking seriously what you need to?”
Later on, Clinton focused on Trump’s supposed “pivot” under the guidance of Kellyanne Conway, reading from teleprompters and refusing to field questions from the press, thus holding his crazy in check (except on Twitter, of course).
“He’s trying to somehow convince people to forget everything he’s said and done, and I don’t think that he’s going to get away with that,” said Clinton. “Maya Angelou has this great line. I admired her so much and I was fortunate to get to know her. She said, ‘When someone shows you who he is, believe them the first time.’”