He’s been called “late-night’s least woke comedian.”
America’s late-night TV landscape has changed drastically over the past year because of President Donald Trump. For the first time since the 1994-95 season, CBS’s “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” beat “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” in the ratings during the prime months of September through May. A big for the reason for the sea change is that Colbert has taken a hard-line stance against Trump while Fallon has remained apolitical.
The defining moment in this late-night shift came in September when Fallon asked Trump softball questions and rubbed his hand through Trump’s hair like he was a harmless puppy dog. “I didn’t do it to humanize him. I almost did it to minimize him,” he told The New York Times. “I didn’t think that would be a compliment.” Fallon’s reluctance to take on Trump led Newsweek to label him “late-night’s least woke comedian.”
On Monday night, Fallon reversed his stance on avoiding America’s third rail with a serious speech about the tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia. A somber Fallon fought back tears as he wondered out loud how to explain the hate and violence to his young daughters. “I was watching the news like everyone else, and you’re seeing Nazi flags and torches and white supremacists, and I was sick to my stomach,” he said. “My daughters are in the next room playing, and I’m thinking, ‘How can I explain to them that there’s so much hatred in this world?’”
Fallon then turned his focus to Trump. “As kids grow up, they need people to look up to, to show them what’s right and good. They need parents and teachers. And they need leaders who appeal to the best in us. The fact that it took the president two days to come out and clearly denounce racists and white supremacists is shameful,” Fallon said. “And I think he finally spoke out because people everywhere stood up and said something. It’s important for everyone, especially white people in this country, to speak out against this,” he said. “Ignoring it is just as bad as supporting it.”
In his monologue, Fallon also praised Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old who was murdered at the rally for “standing up for what’s right.” Fallon has taken criticism for not delving into the Trump fray, which makes his speech that much more poignant because it shows just how egregious the president’s actions were. When public figures who are reluctant to speak out finally reach the moment they can no longer stay silent, it may move others to do so as well.