For the first time since he took a late-night hosting job in 2009, Jimmy Fallon seems on rocky ground. His Tonight Show, which has led in the ratings almost every week since he took it over, is suddenly falling behind Stephen Colbert’s Late Show. Fallon’s brand of celebrity and pop culture-focused comedy, which leans on jubilantly silly games and sketches, suddenly seems out of step with a moment dominated by political news. Worst of all, his YouTube views—a bedrock of his popularity with younger audiences who don’t tune in to broadcast TV—are lagging behind rivals like Colbert and Trevor Noah (though he still has a significant subscriber edge).
So it’s no surprise that Fallon, who has strived for impartiality in a late-night world dominated by partisan figures like Seth Meyers, John Oliver, and Samantha Bee, is now trying to be tougher on Donald Trump. It’s perhaps equally unsurprising that he isn’t very good at it. Thursday night, after the president’s much discussed 77-minute press conference, practically every late-night host leapt on the opportunity to satirize it, but only Fallon went for a full impression, donning his Trump wig and bronzer for a three-minute cold open.
It hit a lot of the major touchstones for any Trump impression. “First of all, you’re all fake news,” Fallon groused as he took the podium, later reserving some praise for Fox News (or, as he dubbed it, “Faux News”). He took a sip of water with a tiny puppet arm. He joked that he had made “so much progress ... I’ve managed to make the last four weeks feel like four years.” He shook a Magic 8 Ball that prompted him to yell catchphrases like “Big League.” Other lines fell especially flat, like a joke about Elon Musk building a giant Roomba to clean up the country, or Beyoncé being named Secretary of Labor because she’s pregnant with twins.