Howard Stern Explains Supporting Jimmy Fallon Amid "Absurd" Trump Backlash
"I had said to Jimmy, 'It is absolutely absurd that anyone would lay a trip on you. I would do the same bit,'" Stern said about the criticism of the 'Tonight Show' host after Fallon famously messed up the then-presidential-candidate's hair.
Howard Stern stopped by The Tonight Show on Wednesday to discuss his new book, Howard Stern Comes Again.
"This has been really joyous for me. It's a celebration of I think some of the best interviews I've done," he said about the book, which he also discussed in the most recent cover story of The Hollywood Reporter.
After he shared how his cancer scare inspired him to write the book, Stern reflected on his decision to support host Jimmy Fallon following the controversy after he messed up then-presidential-candidate Donald Trump's hair while appearing on the late night show in September 2016.
During the interview with Trump, Fallon asked and received permission to "mess up" Trump's hair. The host was instantly attacked afterward.
"I truly do believe you're such a great talent. I write about this in the book," he told Fallon, whom he interviewed about the incident in Howard Stern Comes Again. "I don't know if you want me talking about it or what, but I talk about Jimmy. Jimmy was quite distraught when you had Donald Trump on and you had that whole incident where you rubbed his head."
"I had said to Jimmy, 'It is absolutely absurd that anyone would lay a trip on you. I would do the same bit,'" said Stern. "Everyone was curious what was going on in that bird's nest, and you wanted to sit there and see. I thought the bit was fantastic. I think people tried to blame you or say, 'Hey, Jimmy got Donald Trump elected,' this or that."
As someone who has faced a lot of criticism for his own interviews, Stern shared that he was empathetic toward Fallon. "I said to you, 'It will blow over,' and I believe it did, because I think your intentions were pure," he said.
In June 2018, Fallon explained his intentions for the bit in an interview with THR's Awards Chatter podcast. "I did not do it to 'normalize' him or to say I believe in his political beliefs or any of that stuff," he told THR's Scott Feinberg. Fallon added that the criticism that he faced "just got bigger and out of control. I saw other comedians from other shows making fun of me on Twitter, and I go, 'OK, now I'm just gonna get off.' They know the show. I'm just doing five hours a week. I get in at 10 in the morning, I work 'til seven at night and I'm just trying to make a funny show."
"I'm sorry. I don't want to make anyone angry — I never do and I never will. It's all in the fun of the show. I made a mistake. I'm sorry if I made anyone mad," he emotionally continued. "And, looking back, I would do it differently."
Trump responded to the interview by tweeting, "@jimmyfallon is now whimpering to all that he did the famous 'hair show' with me (where he seriously messed up my hair), & that he would have now done it differently because it is said to have 'humanized' me-he is taking heat. He called & said 'monster ratings.' Be a man Jimmy!"
Stern also revealed his biggest regret as an interviewer: when he interviewed Robin Williams.
"I've had regrets. Early on in my career, I was so crazy. I couldn't allow anybody to shine in an interview. I felt the ratings pressure," he said.
"Robin Williams was actually one of my great regrets. He came in. I'm such a huge fan, but I couldn't allow him to talk, and I was so caught up in being outrageous that right away I just started hammering him with questions about his nanny and that he married his nanny. He got very insulted," he said.
Stern said he realized what he did was wrong when he went through psychotherapy. "I started thinking about people. I could only think about Robin Williams and how it went so wrong," he said. "I woke up one morning. I said to my wife, 'I'm calling him. I want to apologize.' Not for him to come on the show again but just to say 'I was a jerk.' And he committed suicide that day and I was just like, 'Oh, wow. I wish I could've just told him how much I appreciated him and loved him.'"
"I hope people who maybe have a preconceived notion of who I am will read this and maybe discover something new is going on," he said about the book.
Stern also said that appearing on the NBC show forced him to come "out of his shell." He explained that he worked for NBC in the '80s, which was a "traumatic" experience.
"Working here was a nightmare. And I'm not joking, when I walk into this building, I start to get a stomachache," he said. "It was maybe the worst experience of my entire career."
He said that when he was hired by NBC, the network was unfamiliar with his work and only hired him because of his high ratings in Washington. "So I come to New York and one of the executives got a tape of my show. They hired me without listening to my show," Stern said. "They could not believe what they were hearing. They issued a memo to the program director and said, 'You've got to get rid of this guy, but we don't want to pay him. Force him to resign."'
"So they went on a campaign to make me miserable every single day of my working life. And they'd get me into meetings. They'd yell at me. They'd tie my hands behind my back so that I couldn't even talk on the air," he said. "It was just a horrible nightmare."
Stern's appearance concluded with Fallon projecting The Tonight Show on the largest billboard in Times Square.
After Stern told the tourists that he would give away free copies of his book to anyone that had been "vaccinated against measles," he led the large group of people in a dance and sing-a-long to the "Hokey Pokey."