A year ago, Jimmy Fallon was riding high as the dominant force in late night television, outstripping his opponents by millions of viewers and regularly producing viral pop culture mashup segments. But then he patted presidential candidate Donald Trump's hair and was accused of normalizing a sociopath before the largest late night audience on television.

Since Trump took the office of president in January, Stephen Colbert has ascended to become the most popular comedian in late night, while Fallon has struggled to reconcile an increasingly partisan landscape from his own centrist interests. He also has never addressed the Trump hair mussing incident that his critics still see as a metaphor for everything wrong with his particular brand of comedy—until now.

In a long and fascinatingly defensive profile piece with the Times, Fallon finally discussed the Trump incident and his flailing ratings. It is clearly meant to be a mea culpa, an attempt to address the elephant in the room and jumpstart his redemption story, pivoting him as the true heir to Johnny Carson (Lorne Michaels, Seth Meyers, Tina Fey and Jay Leno are brought in as character witnesses) and a comedian whose appeal will outlast the current political atmosphere. Except the most striking thing about it is how much Fallon refuses to understand his critics and acknowledge that things have changed, perhaps irrevocably, in the world of late night TV. He ultimately comes across more as self-pitying than sympathetic.

Fallon strictly believes that late night comedy should help viewers "go to bed with a smile on your face and [help] you have sweet dreams." Which was the same philosophy he brought to his Trump interview, in which he played the same silly games he plays with any celebrity, whether it's Alec Baldwin or Octavia Spencer. To Fallon, all comic targets are on equal playing field, regardless of whether one of those targets routinely encouraged the most racist tendencies of some of his followers, and started a Birther movement meant to discredit a sitting president. So Fallon is ready to acknowledge people were upset by the interview...but he is unwilling to do the work of self-examination.

Mr. Fallon acknowledges now that the Trump interview was a setback, if not quite a mistake, and he has absorbed at least a portion of the anger that was directed at him by critics and online detractors.

“They have a right to be mad,” a chastened Mr. Fallon said in an interview this month. “If I let anyone down, it hurt my feelings that they didn’t like it. I got it.”

But if these events prompted Mr. Fallon to search his own soul, he said they did not compel him to make widespread changes at “The Tonight Show.”

That's the biggest takeaway: this wasn't a mistake—it was a setback. This whole Trump/politicization of comedy is a passing phase.

As strongly as ever, Mr. Fallon believes it should be a place for a wide swath of viewers to get their entertainment and laughs, and that this philosophy will steer it through a period of intense polarization.

“I don’t want to be bullied into not being me, and not doing what I think is funny,” he said more defiantly. “Just because some people bash me on Twitter, it’s not going to change my humor or my show.”

Is it really inconceivable to Fallon that the host of a platform like The Tonight Show can choose which voices/personalities to boost, and that in choosing he is making a statement? And if he truly isn't interested in dealing with any real world issues, as he seems to say here, does he understand he can't have it both ways? The best summation of his brand of comedy can be found in these two excerpts:

As for the act of hair tousling, Fallon defended it as "fulfilling his longstanding wish of ruffling" Trump's hair: "I didn’t do it to humanize him," Fallon said. "I almost did it to minimize him. I didn’t think that would be a compliment: 'He did the thing that we all wanted to do.'" Which, in theory, is fine—the only problem is, not a single person read the moment that way. It didn't work, regardless of his intentions, and it should have spurred him and his writers to rethink their approach to politics.

But at the end of the day, Fallon doesn't seem to have the capacity for self-reflection needed for a serious course-correction. Instead, he wants you to feel sorry for him, because people are mean on Twitter:

For Mr. Fallon, who lives a portion of every day online, the hate felt inescapable.

“I go, I just can’t read Twitter,” he said. “Then I can’t read the news. I can’t read the internet.”

Speaking in a quiet, tentative tone, Mr. Fallon seemed to be reliving the experience as he recounted it.

“I’m a people pleaser,” he said. “If there’s one bad thing on Twitter about me, it will make me upset. So, after this happened, I was devastated. I didn’t mean anything by it. I was just trying to have fun.”

At different points, Fallon deflects blame from himself by arguing that he is just following his audience: "People that voted for Trump watch my show as well." He can acknowledge that "the world changed" after Trump's election, and "of course the show has to change" ("It’s a different environment. I don’t know what bits we’re going to do, but we’re trying everything.")...but at the same time, he seems stubbornly uninterested in following through on that. Steve Burke, the chief executive of NBCUniversal, provides the network stance that Fallon seems intent on following: "If the world gets a little snarkier, I don’t think the answer is for Jimmy to get snarkier. I think the answer is for Jimmy to be Jimmy."

Check out the full interview here.