Stephen Colbert defends Jimmy Fallon's Trump hair tousle: 'I think it's highly overblown'

Washington Post

Remember the days of the late-night wars? That era is really over. Not only do the comedians collaborate on responses when President Donald Trump insults them, but they stick up for each other in interviews, as well.

Rolling Stone published a long Q&A Wednesday with Stephen Colbert, the "Late Show" host who has been missing all kinds of fun stories while on a two-week hiatus until Labor Day. The wide-ranging interview covered everything from Colbert's struggles with anxiety to his thoughts on Trump to whether he was really worried CBS would swap him with James Corden. (He was not.)

Then the reporter asked whether Colbert thought his professional rival, "Tonight Show" host Jimmy Fallon, got "unfairly beaten" for his infamous Trump hair tousle. You know, the 2016 incident where Fallon got intense criticism for his playful interview with Trump, where he was accused of "normalizing" the controversial presidential candidate. But Colbert defended Fallon in the strongest terms.

"I think that's a completely unfair critique of Jimmy Fallon's show. You do not go to Jimmy Fallon's show for political satire or even political discussion. He's an entertainer and he's brilliant," Colbert said. "People blame his ratings on that. But I think people just have a different appetite right now for political comedy. I think it's highly overblown, that hair-ruffling thing."

It's true that Fallon's ratings dropped as Colbert's have increased, and many attribute it to the fact that Fallon typically avoids politics. While "The Tonight Show" is consistently No. 1 in the under-50 demographic, "The Late Show" has taken over as the top-ranked late-night program with the most total viewers.

Fallon himself made this point a couple months ago. After he appeared on a podcast and said he regretted the hair tousle, Trump went after him on Twitter, implying that Fallon called him after the episode and said the show had "monster ratings."

"First of all, I've never called this human in my life. I don't have his number. I don't want his number," Fallon told his "Tonight Show" audience the next day. "And 'monster ratings'? ... I've never said 'monster ratings.' I don't know what he's talking about."

"By the way, Donald. I don't know if you've seen my ratings the past two years - you didn't help my ratings," Fallon added dryly. "But really, thanks a lot. Thanks for nothing."

In the Rolling Stone piece, Colbert - who has taken great pride in being called a "no-talent guy" by Trump - also talked more in-depth about the president, and what it was like being on the air live on election night during a Showtime special.

"There is nothing that has happened since Trump became president that wasn't in my fear matrix about him. Now, all the horrors that you can see dawning on my face on that Showtime special have only been borne out," Colbert said. "Nothing about Trump and Putin, nothing about his caging children, nothing about him saying, 'There's good people on both sides.' Nothing about his handing the reins of power over to just a rogues' gallery of anti-regulation, pro-pollution, anti-union, anti-women (officials) in any way surprises me. It's all what I thought would happen. Which is why I was truly horrified."

But given that Colbert's job is to make people laugh, he quickly had to pull it together: "Oh, but the next day I said, 'Well, you got a half hour to feel bad about it.' We all got together, and we felt bad about it for a half hour, and we said get it out and that's it. And then we're like, 'OK, now, what are the jokes?' That's it."

First published in the Washington Post

MORE COVERAGE:

Jimmy Fallon responds to Trump's tweet: 'I've never called this human in my life'

Trump, Jimmy Fallon in hair-tousling sequel

Late-night TV has a growing problem: Maybe there's too much of it

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