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The Tonight Show: Donald Trump and Jimmy Fallon talk Kanye West, 9/11, and apologies

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Douglas Gorenstein/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

Donald Trump’s Tonight Show interview with Jimmy Fallon on Friday — his first late-night appearance since announcing his bid for president — fell on the anniversary of the Sep. 11 attacks. Consequently, the interview started off a more somber note than the goofy pre-interview sketch, which saw Fallon pretending to be Trump’s reflection.

“I’m a New Yorker, you’re a New Yorker; what does today mean to you?” Fallon asked.

“In a certain sense it means strength, because the way the city bounced back. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Trump said. “There is a great strength and resilience we have in this country. We have amazing people.”

His words were greeted by loud cheers from the studio audience, and it became apparent why Trump is currently leading the race (“by a lot,” as he noted) for the Republican presidential nomination; he projects confidence like a superpower, a belief that he is great, and that all of America can be, as well. (His appeal was heightened by the fact that he managed to go the whole interview without saying anything racist or sexist.)

Still, the idea of Donald Trump, legitimate presidential candidate, is a little mind-boggling for those who see him as merely an over-the-top reality TV personality. Fallon attempted to parse it out, asking, “For you, when did it become real? Was it always real?”

“People are tired in this country of being ripped off,” Trump responded, citing the Iran deal and veteran health issues as prominent government failures. “I’m an efficient guy, I’ve built a great company, and this is the kind of mindset we need now in this country. We need to become rich again, and we’re gonna be great again.”

Earlier in the show, during his Friday “thank-you notes” segment, Fallon thanked Trump not only for coming on the show in person but also for appearing “in every monologue from the past few months.” Fallon asked Trump about making the transition from joke fodder to serious contender.

“I’m a comedian, I come out here every night, I have to make jokes about everybody,” he told Trump. “I gotta say, probably eight months ago if I said your name as running for president, it would get a laugh. And then all of a sudden, you started seeing a switch.”

Trump’s meandering response — which veered everywhere from a past conversation with Texas business mogul Mark Cuban to searching for stadium locales before landing on, “There’s a movement going on in this country and it’s beautiful to watch” — gave a confused Fallon something of an answer.

“This is maybe what’s refreshing about you,” Fallon mused. “You’re off-the-cuff. You dig yourself in a hole, and instead of getting yourself out of the hole, you just keep digging.”

With another Republican presidential debate looming next week, Fallon asked Trump about his role in providing big ratings – knowing, as anyone who follows Trump is aware, that the man cares a lot about ratings. Before answering, Trump turned to the audience and asked, “Who here remembers The Apprentice? Wasn’t that a great show?” He then declared that he would love networks like CNN and Fox to donate any profit gained by his debate appearances to charity (specifically, to “the vets”). Trump’s explanation for his strong performance in the first debate sounded like a self-help manual.

“Look, you do what you do. It is what it is,” he said. “You’re an intelligent person, you have to understand that about yourself. Otherwise you’re not gonna be good up there.”

Fallon wasn’t quite buying it.

“You go up there with no notes,” Fallon said. “What do you do? Do you just make up stuff? How do you remember numbers? How do you remember stats?”

“I’m blessed with a great memory. If you’re reading a speech, it’s much easier, but you don’t get the reading,” Trump said, noting that a recent rally in Alabama was like a “love-fest.” “When you do it just off the cuff, it’s a riskier thing, but when you get it right, it’s a thing of beauty.”

Fallon took the cue, going unprompted for his next question: Has Trump ever apologized?

“I think apologizing’s a great thing, but you have to be wrong,” Trump replied. He brought up his offensive comments about illegal immigration in his initial campaign speech – “those first two weeks, boy did I take heat” – but said that he was “right on it.”

“I will absolutely apologize, sometime in the hopefully distant future, if I’m ever wrong,” he concluded.

Going back to quick-hit questions, Fallon asked Trump about everyone’s favorite topic: a possible Kanye West presidential run.

“Kanye has been so nice to me. He always says great things to me, so I love Kanye. I love people who are nice to me,” said Trump, who has built a reputation for viciousness against anyone who says “not-nice” things about him. “Kanye is actually, I know him a little bit, he’s actually a much nicer person than people think. Now if he happens to run for office, and I’m running against him, I’m gonna take that back.”

Finally, in reference to the recent backlash from rock band R.E.M. after Trump used their song “It’s the End of the World As We Know It” at a rally, Fallon proposed a new theme song for Trump: “All I Do Is Win” by DJ Khaled.

Trump’s thoughts? “Honestly, it happens to be 100 percent true.”

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