Jimmy Fallon is feeling a little defensive now about one of his most famous bits during the presidential campaign.
Almost a year after it occurred, Fallon said his critics “have a right to mad” at him for playfully tousling then-presidential candidate Donald Trump’s hair on “The Tonight Show” in the midst of a contentious presidential campaign.
The joke was quickly met with outrage in articles and social media posts that accused Fallon of “normalizing” the controversial candidate. “I didn’t do it to humanize him,” Fallon told the New York Times for an article published Wednesday.
“I almost did it to minimize him. I didn’t think that would be a compliment: ‘He did the thing that we all wanted to do.’” The clip is less than a minute and a half but amassed more than 11.5 million views on YouTube.
“Because the next time I see you, you could be the president of the United States, I just wanted to know if there’s something we could do that’s not presidential really,” Fallon began, eventually asking, “Can I mess your hair up?” He proceeded to do just that, shouting “Donald Trump, everybody.”
Fallon likely didn’t expect the backlash, but it was swift and strong. The Atlantic called the moment “a destructive and self-indulgent mistake.” Fellow late-night comedian Samantha Bee attacked both Fallon and his network NBC for “inviting him on their flagship comedy programs to show millions of Americans what a fun guy he is.”
Slate asserted, “Fallon was working from an old, outdated script, one that misses both the moral and the mortal threat of this year’s election.” Vulture called Fallon “Salacious Crumb to Trump’s Jabba the Hutt,” referring to a jester to an evil creature in “Star Wars.” Comedian Billy Eicher called the moment, “naive and a bit of a slap in the face” to the LGBT community.
Twitter users joined in. “I learned tonight that Jimmy Fallon is half the man Stephen Colbert is. I’m so ashamed of Jimmy for ‘normalizing’ Herr Trump,” wrote one. “Jimmy Fallon: Don’t put Trump on TV & treat him like a buddy & muss his hair. It humanizes a monster. Stop it,” wrote another.