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Sorry, Jimmy Fallon, You Don’t Get to Take It Easy on Trump Because You “Don’t Really Even Care That Much About Politics”

Jimmy Fallon appeared on NBC’s Sunday Today to discuss his new children’s book and the late-night landscape, and the subject of Trump inevitably came up. Host Willie Geist asked why Fallon hasn’t taken on Trump in the same way that other late-night hosts, such as Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, or Seth Meyers, have.

“It’s just not what I do,” Fallon said. “I think it’d be weird for me to start doing it now. I don’t really even care that much about politics. I’ve got to be honest: I love pop culture more than I love politics. I’m just not that brain.”

(As we all know, “I don’t really even care that much about politics” is the universal code for “I’m privileged enough that most political decisions don’t affect my daily life.”)

Geist followed up: “Do you ever feel pressure to talk about Donald Trump, or to go political? Do you hear that noise?”

“No, I mean, I think the other guys are doing it very well,” Fallon said. “Colbert’s doing great. I mean, that’s what he’s good at. He’s always into, like, political comedy. And I think when it’s organic, I’ll dip into it as well.”

“But I’ve always made jokes about the president,” he continued. “I’ve made thousands of jokes [about Obama]…But with Trump, it’s just like every day is a new thing. He gives a lot of material. A lot of stuff is hard to even make a joke about, because it’s just too serious.”

Honestly, this immediately set off my annoyance alarm. I’m generally with The New Yorker‘s Jia Tolentino on the election of Trump:

So Fallon’s abdication of responsibility immediately rubbed me the wrong way.

But on another level, I get where Fallon’s coming from. His comedy, unlike someone like Seth Meyers’, has never been sarcastic or scathing. On his six seasons of Saturday Night Live, Fallon most often played a goof, making funny voices and exaggerating; Meyers’ SNL repertoire, on the other hand, involved hosting “Weekend Update” segments with a knowing, mocking glint in his eye. Fallon’s talents aren’t naturally suited to ripping apart the logical fallacies of some idiotic legislation.

And there are legitimate questions about the value of satire when dealing with a post-truth president, who is so clearly beyond shame and so often beyond parody. Even The Onion struggles to lampoon Trump effectively. So it’s fair enough to ask whether Jimmy Fallon, with silliness as his personal brand, is well-suited to tackle a task that’s proven so difficult even for people with finely tuned political comedy chops.

But listen, Jimmy. We’ve got a president who’s attacking millions of the Americans who watch your show: people of color, women, poor people, Muslims, disabled people, queer folk, anyone who needs mental or physical health care, and all the many Americans who fall into multiple of those categories. That’s half of your audience, and Trump’s attacks on them are endorsed by the other half of your audience.

This horrifying situation demands a compassionate, principled response from an entertainer with a massive platform. You don’t have to copy Colbert’s format, or imitate Meyers’ style. You don’t have to address every nightmare act of this administration (because Lord knows there are so many). But you do have an obligation to mock the cruelty and ignorance that’s threatening your entire audience. Just look at how Jimmy Kimmel, who hardly qualifies as a razor-witted political analyst, took on the healthcare debate with heart and humor. You can highlight the important issues in your own style – and you are, quite bluntly, morally obligated to.

I know you wish you could afford to do light-hearted comedy that doesn’t offend anybody in power, and that doesn’t make anyone question their political views. I understand that you wish you lived under a different, less deadly, and less vicious president. (Hell, I wish I’d gotten to chill out in high school and college instead of growing up under a government that was waging unprovoked war, assaulting the welfare state, and violating the Geneva Conventions.) But as Gandalf the Grey said:

So sorry there, Frodo. You don’t get to opt out of the moral crisis you’re born into.

(Via The Hill; image via screengrab of Jimmy Fallon’s show on NBC Television)

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