Jimmy Fallon's return from hiatus proved to be an emotional episode of The Tonight Show, as the host addressed the ongoing protests against racial injustice and his own recent controversy. Fallon spoke with CNN's Don Lemon as part of Monday's special episode, and the newsman commended Fallon for addressing and owning up to his past mistakes.
"That's exactly what we all need to do is examine ourselves," Lemon said. "That was really honest and very brave of you and I appreciate you having the depth really to do what you did in that opening monologue."
Fallon began Tuesday's Tonight Show without its usual introduction and fanfare or joke set. Instead, he delivered a message from the heart, his voice frequently cracking with emotion and his hands nervously moving on his kitchen table.
"I had to really examine myself this week because a story came out about me on SNL doing an impression of Chris Rock, in black face, and I was horrified," Fallon shared. "Not of the fact that people were trying to cancel me or cancel the show… but the thing that haunts me the most was how do I say, 'I love this person. I respect this guy more than I respect most humans. I'm not a racist don't feel this way.' And instead what I kept getting advised was to just stay quiet and not say anything."
"That's the advice because we're all afraid. And I took it for a minute, I took the advice. I said, 'I'm going to do this wrong. You're right, I'm going to say something and get myself into more trouble. I'm going to make this worse. I don't know what to do,'" Fallon explained. "So I thought about it and I realized that I cannot not say I'm horrified and I'm sorry and I'm embarrassed. And what that small gesture did for me was break my own silence."
Fallon went on to say he realized "that the silence is the biggest crime that white guys like me and the rest of us are doing. We're staying silent."
To break this silence, and examine the ongoing protests and civil unrest boiling over in cities across the nation, Fallon spoke with a number of different figures, including Lemon, who has been active in covering the protests and the extrajudicial killings that they resulted from.
"I wish more people would do that because we can't go back to the way we were," Lemon told Fallon of his public self-reflection. "I appreciate you for stepping up and being a leader and helping the change."
Lemon also said he feels that, as a society, we "have to stop beating people up for mistakes, because we're all human. We have to allow people to be human and we all have pasts and they're not perfect. And we have to allow people to be flawed and have conversations like we're having now and not castigate people for it."
For Lemon, covering the protests and the tragedies that sparked them has been "tough, because it's so personal."
"I'm seeing people who look like me, who have similar backgrounds, who have loved ones who look like my family dying. I mean, literally watching them die," he said. "We're at a precipice right now. We're at a moment where people need to understand that if you believe in law and order then you need to believe in equal treatment by the law."
Several other late-night hosts addressed the protests as well, with one of the most emotional messages coming from James Corden.
"I've been struggling all weekend, wondering what to say to you here tonight. Because who needs my opinion? Like, why is my voice relevant? There is not one person in the world who woke up this morning and thought, 'I need to know what James Corden thinks about all of this.' Like surely this is a time for me to listen, not talk. And then I realized that that is part of the problem," Corden shared from his garage, where he's been taping the Late Late Show amid the coronavirus crisis. "People like me have to speak up."
"White people cannot just say any more, 'Yeah, I'm not racist' and think that that is enough, because it's not. It's not enough," Corden continued. "Because make no mistake, this is our problem to solve. How can the black community dismantle a problem that they didn't create?"
"Now this weekend we saw many people, protesters demanding an end to the murder of black Americans, demanding the prosecution of police officers who have killed, demanding vote for change, demanding justice. And we saw anger. And of course people are angry," he said. "Black Americans have spent hundreds of years desperately making the case for their own humanity and it has been relentlessly and often brutally silenced. And so here we're, protests across America. These protests, they have to result in change."