September 19, 2016

Herzog on Jimmy Fallon and Donald Trump: “That’s the moment to find a really intelligent and funny way to tear off the mask”


We’ve had a weekend now to ponder the Tousle Heard Round the World, when the Tonight Show’s Jimmy Fallon raised a lot of ire by playing nice with — and petting the head of — presidential candidate and notoriously non-great human Donald Trump. Here, it’s gross, but in case you don’t know what we’re talking about (and god bless you if not):

Ok. People were angry, this being somewhat akin to, say, cooking up some shish kabobs with Vlad the Impaler, or casually inviting Caligula to a luncheon at one’s church. Even Miley Cyrus offered her thoughts on the subject.

But one person offered a very excellent response to the fracas: comedian Norm Macdonald, who guest-starred on the same episode as Trump. In an interview last September with Seth Abramovitch of the Hollywood Reporter, Macdonald offered these thoughts:

They say humor is the ray of light that illuminates the evil or whatever, but I was reading that in Germany and Adolf Hitler times, everybody was making fun of Hitler. Every cartoon was against Hitler, there were comedy troupes doing sketches about Hitler being an idiot with a stupid mustache and what a stupid little idiot he was. So anyway, there goes that theory about the power of comedy. It doesn’t work at all. That’s seriously how I feel about Trump. It sounds very cruel to say about a person, but when the country is responding positively to rough comments—and those are just the ones he’ll say, kind of anti, everything is anti, against, stuff like that—well, all I know is that I’m going to make sure my kid has his Canadian citizenship.

On seeing Trump and Fallon’s antics last week, Abramovitch remembered the interview and checked back in with Macdonald to see what it was he’d been reading. The answer turned out to be Rudolph Herzog’s Melville House classic Dead Funny: Humor in Hitler’s Germany. Of course it did.

Abramovitch decided to get in touch with Herzog—son of legendary director and pokémonologist Werner Herzog—and ask him a few questions:

What was your impression of Jimmy Fallon’s interview of Donald Trump on The Tonight Show?

I was slightly embarrassed for him, frankly. There’s something odd about it. I didn’t mind the messing of the hair as much as the banter that was going on — this lack of any kind of criticism or trying to challenge Trump in some kind of funny way. I think political humor has to be risque, it has to challenge the powerful. It’s not like sucking up to them. It’s not toothless banter. There’s something so wrong about it. I found the whole thing slightly embarrassing.

He does do a fairly cutting and accurate impression of Trump when Trump is not on the show.

Fair enough. But still, if you’ve got that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity you need to be a bit more cutting than that. Humor in a democracy is a very powerful tool to use against someone. Ultimately we’re going to have to decide in an election if we’re going to go for this guy or not. There you have the airtime, that’s the moment to find a really intelligent and funny way to tear off the mask. I think the whole thing just seemed so lame and sad really for [Fallon].

The whole interview is great, and you can read it here.