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Jimmy Fallon is adamant about not turning The Tonight Show into yet another all-Trump-bashing-all-the-time late-night program.
Speaking with the New York Times for a lengthy profile published this week, the NBC funnyman says he’s not intimidated by social media pressure to turn his typically apolitical show into a bomb-throwing hour of anti-Trump pranks and puns.
“I don’t want to be bullied into not being me, and not doing what I think is funny,” Fallon said. “Just because some people bash me on Twitter, it’s not going to change my humor or my show.”
“It’s not The Jimmy Fallon Show. It’s The Tonight Show,” he added.
Fallon admits that viewers “have a right to be mad” about his highly-critcized interview last September where he playfully petted then-candidate Trump’s head and mussed up his hair.
“If I let anyone down, it hurt my feelings that they didn’t like it. I got it,” Fallon told the Times, speaking for the first time about last year’s interview.
“I didn’t do it to humanize him,” Fallon says of tousling Trump’s hair. “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.’”
Fallon faced a firestorm of backlash from progressives on social media and from journalists, who accused the host of conducting a softball interview. The criticism, Fallon says, “devastated” him.
“If there’s one bad thing on Twitter about me, it will make me upset. So, after this happened, I was devastated,” the former Saturday Night Live cast member said. “I didn’t mean anything by it. I was just trying to have fun.”
“I didn’t talk about it, and I should have talked about it I regret that,” he continued. “I feel like it’s sailed. I haven’t talked about it at all.”
Despite the recent success of his late-night rival, CBS Late Show host Stephen Colbert — whose merciless anti-Trump messaging has translated into record high ratings — Fallon feels like he is in a good space with his still-top-rated late-night show.
“I tossed and turned for a couple of weeks, but I have to make people laugh,” Fallon told the Times. “People that voted for Trump watch my show as well.”
“There’s only so many bits you can do,” he added. “I’m happy that only 50 percent of my monologue is about Trump.”
Colbert’s ratings surge aside, the Tonight Show host is still the king of late-night.
While Colbert’s Late Show just collected its 15th consecutive ratings win over Fallon, the NBC host still holds a commanding 27 percent edge with viewers in the all-important key demographic of viewers ages 18 to 49.
Fallon’s 3.182 million average nightly viewership is also slightly ahead of the 3.174 million people tuning in to watch Colbert.
Follow Jerome Hudson on Twitter @jeromeehudson