Thing is, it came in the form of a scripted comedy sketch in which the actual Trump faced off against his Fallon-esque doppelganger, but delivered specific answers to challenging questions about the American economy, tax policy, the proposal for a wall on the Mexican border, and other pressing issues.
(However, there was no mention of the withdrawal of Rick Perry from the presidential race; the show was taped just as Perry was announcing the suspension of his campaign.)
If Trump’s answers were played for laughs and patently absurd, they were arguably no more absurd than a great deal of the verbiage emanating from both sides of the aisle in what is shaping up as one of the more bizarre and surprising presidential campaigns in modern history.
In what looked like an homage to the famous scene from Duck Soup in which Groucho and Harpo Marx mimicked each other across a non-existent mirror, the red-tied, dark-suited candidate and his similarly attired alter-ego (who, like the genuine article, sported a wispy bouffant the color of spun gold) sat in their dressing room, on opposite sides of a makeup table, and prepped themselves to be grilled by a certain “dopey,” “pathetic” talk show host.
“Let’s be honest, Fallon’s a lightweight,” Trump’s doppelganger mused. “The only one qualified to interview me is me.”
“Me interviewing me—that’s what I call a great idea,” the real Trump agreed.
“Of course it’s a great idea! We thought of it!” the doppelganger exclaimed.
Maybe all that sounds a bit mind-bendingly meta, but the studio audience (i.e. Trump’s target voters) clearly loved it, cackling, cheering and shouting throughout with unrestrained glee; it might as well have been a Trump for President rally.
“How are you gonna create jobs in this country?” the doppelganger asked.
“I’m just gonna do it,” Trump replied.
“By doing it.”
The doppelganger persisted: “You said you’d get Mexico to build a wall on the border. How do you plan to do that?”
Trump parried: “Well, since I’m you, you tell me.”
“How am I going to get Mexico to build a wall? Easy,” said the doppelganger. “I’ll challenge them to the biggest game of Jenga ever. I’ll make them set up the board. And then when they finish I’ll say I don’t wanna play anymore.”
“You wanna know something? That’s genius!” Trump replied.
And so it went, as the real Trump ticked off a long-winded list of problems and fixes (while Fallon, breaking character and struggling not to lose it, copied the candidate’s extravagant hand-gestures).
“I wasn’t paying attention,” the Fallon-esque Trump admitted when the real Trump had finished. “I was too busy staring at my beautiful reflection. I’m like a Greek god that just took a bath in a pumpkin-spiced latte.”
The doppelganger asked a final question: “If you win is your vice president gonna be Gary Busey?”
“Look, I love Gary, he’s fantastic, but more of a Supreme Court justice in my opinion,” the real Trump said, referring to one of the more notable—that is, peculiar—contestants on the now-defunct NBC reality series, Celebrity Apprentice. “Vice president’s a very serious job so I’m probably gonna go with somebody else—I would say maybe Kanye West…
“It’s gonna be really classy. It’s gonna be really fantastic. It’s gonna be”—and here the doppelganger joined in—“YUUUUUUUGE!!!”
It would be nice to report that Trump’s actual Tonight Show interview, his first appearance on late-night entertainment television since declaring his presidential candidacy three months ago (and all the more congenial because of Trump’s last-minute decision to drop his Miss Universe and Miss USA lawsuits against NBC), was in stark contrast to his sendup of himself.
It really wasn’t.
Trump is just as boastful, self-inflated and hype-obsessed in real life as in the satirical version.
It will be fascinating to see how or whether Stephen Colbert—whose comic sensibility is more cerebral than Fallon’s—tries to puncture the balloon when the candidate visits with the freshly minted CBS late-night host on Sept. 22.
Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, will drop by Fallon’s show next Wednesday, the same night as the Republican debate on CNN.
Now, more than ever, the road to the White House passes unavoidably through comedy and entertainment, and aspiring presidents who can’t or won’t participate will do themselves no favors.
Trump, however, is more than happy to play along.
After bursting from behind the Tonight Show curtain, giving two thumbs up to the ecstatic crowd and strolling majestically to a handshake from Fallon and then the sofa, Trump frequently flashed a Cheshire-cat grin as he good-naturedly—and viciously—slagged off various opponents, Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina in particular.
Discussing the former first lady and secretary of state whose Democratic-frontrunner status is sagging under the weight of the email controversy, Trump opined that there’s “a lot of bad stuff” in the latest scandal and that former CIA director and retired Gen. David Petraeus, who pled guilty to a misdemeanor and paid a $40,000 fine for his own mishandling classified material, “did five percent of what she did.”
“It’s gonna be very tough for her—a very, very bad time,” Trump said about Clinton. “I feel terribly about it,” he added, prompting Fallon to laugh along with the audience.
As for Republican rival Carly Fiorina, whose face Trump made fun of to a Rolling Stone reporter, The Donald dripped insincerity as he told Fallon: “I think she’s a very nice woman. A really nice woman…Am I doing a good job?”
Then, as the laughter subsided, he went in for the kill: “I don’t know her. I never really met her. She’s very nice. She’s gonna have a hard time. She had a very, very rough time corporately”—a reference to Fiorina’s firing as chief executive of Hewlett-Packard.
Trump added, in a patronizing tone: “I think she’s a very fine woman.” As for the other candidates, Trump said, “to me, they’re all the same.”
The only big difference from the sketch, which preceded the interview, was that every so often Fallon injected a dose of skepticism and sheer amazement.
When Fallon asked what Trump believed had brought his candidacy to its current advantageous position, Trump launched into a crazy-quilt of free-association that somehow concluded in crowd counts in various arenas and stadiums where his rallies had been held.
“What question did I ask?” Fallon mused. “Did I ask about stadiums? What the hell just happened? I couldn’t even remember what the question was.”
“It’s not that important,” Trump retorted.
“Maybe what’s refreshing,” Fallon observed, “is that you get yourself in trouble sometimes. You dig yourself a hole, and instead of getting out of the hole, you just dig deeper. If you keep digging, you eventually might come out in China and be president of China.”
The most revealing moment in their back and forth was when Fallon asked Trump if he had ever in his entire life apologized for anything.
“I fully think apologizing is a great thing,” Trump answered. “But you have to be wrong. If you’re not wrong…”
“Oh my God!” Fallon exclaimed, looking like he was ready to fall out of his chair as the audience, once again, roared.
“I will apologize sometime in the hopefully distance future if I’m ever wrong,” Trump elaborated.