Anticipation had been building for the interview that porn star Stormy Daniels was set to give late-night host Jimmy Kimmel on Tuesday night following President Trump’s State of the Union speech.
And then just a few hours before it hit the airwaves came a curveball: Daniels, who in 2011 gave an interview in which she claimed (in lurid detail) to have had an affair with Trump, apparently issued a statement saying she hadn’t actually had such a relationship after all. “The fact of the matter is that each party to this alleged affair denied its existence in 2006, 2011, 2016, 2017 and now again in 2018,” the statement read. “I am not denying the affair because I was paid ‘hush money’ as has been reported in overseas owned tabloids. I am denying this affair because it never happened.”
“I will have no further comment on this matter,” it continued.
Which made her appearance on ABC’s Jimmmy Kimmel Live a little… awkward? Superfluous? What was left to talk about, then?
Kimmel opened his show with a quick sketch winking at the predicament. In the taped segment, Kimmel and Daniels were seated and appeared to be watching the State of the Union speech together.
“Okay, enough of this,” the comedian said, holding up a doll on a stick. “Stormy, show me on the puppet what he did to you.”
Daniels then held up her own doll, which had a piece of tape over its mouth. (Get it? She would talk, but she’d been gagged!)
“Kinky,” he replied.
Before the interview, Kimmel also defended himself against Republicans who have said it was disrespectful or unfair to the president to have Daniels on his show. First, he addressed comments last week by conservative commentator S.E. Cupp, who had said while co-hosting The View that Kimmel should also have as a guest Monica Lewinsky, the former White House intern who had an affair with President Bill Clinton. Kimmel then showed clips of his old shows — three of them — on which he had, in fact, had Lewinsky as a guest. “Put that in your S.E. Cupp and smoke it,” he concluded.
He also reminded viewers of when Trump himself brought as guests to a debate with Hillary Clinton three women who had accused Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct. To his critics, Kimmel said, “I give you exhibit A,” as a photo of Trump at a panel he held with the women flashed across the screen.
Okay, so the interview was fair game. Got it.
But that didn’t mean it wasn’t seriously awkward. “I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted to ask you,” Kimmel began, and then described how he, too, had seen her statement just a few hours before she was due on his show. He then read the statement aloud and asked her if she had, in fact, signed it.
Daniels was cagey from the get-go. “I don’t know, did I?” she parried, “It doesn’t look like my signature, does it?” she added, suggesting she didn’t know where it came from and that it was just another scrap from the Internet, which was rampant with crazy rumors about her.
(The Washington Post had confirmed the authenticity of the signed statement with Daniels’s representative, Gina Rodriguez, earlier in the evening. Reached after the Kimmel interview aired, Rodriquez noted that Daniels had “not answered any of the questions directly” and that the porn star had definitely signed the document that afternoon in front of her and Daniels’ lawyer.)
Daniels managed to give a non-answer answer to Kimmel’s next line of questioning, when he asked her if she had a nondisclosure agreement. Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal reported that Trump’s attorney arranged a $130,000 payment to Daniels before the 2016 election in exchange for her silence on the matter. The lawyer, Michael Cohen, called reports of hush money to the porn star “completely false.”
“Do I?” she asked in return, offering up a shrug. Kimmel then deduced that if she didn’t have a NDA, she could probably say so.
“You’re so smart, Jimmy,” Daniels said. So that was a yes, right?
If so, that would explain the rest of the interview, which was a study in weirdness that somehow felt appropriate to the moment.
There was more dodging from Daniels, who said she didn’t think the transcript of the 2011 interview, which she gave to InTouch magazine, was accurate — “not as it is written,” she said, but then claimed not to have seen the whole thing. “I’m too scared to look at it,” she said.
On whether, as she claimed in the 2011 interview, Trump was watching Shark Week on TV during one of their trysts? “Everyone loves Shark Week.”
Is Trump terrified of sharks, as she’d said in that interview? “Aren’t we all?” she wondered.
Kimmel rattled off more details about the alleged affair. “Is any of that true?” he asked.
“Define true,” she responded.
Stymied, Kimmel gamely resorted to gags. After rolling a video clip in which Trump talked about the size of his … hands, he presented her with three carrots and then told her to, you know, just pick one.
Daniels demurred. “I’m used to a sparkly carat,” she said. “Who wants a carrot?” (Poor Kimmel, who brightly contended that “they’re good for you!”)
He then presented her again with a “Stormy puppet” and another puppet resembling Trump in his underwear. “Look familiar?” he asked.
Still nothing, so the comedian tried playing a game of “Never Have I Ever” with the puppets that did not go well.
Finally, a last-ditch question as the show closed: “One last thing, have you ever made love to anyone whose names rhymes with ‘Lonald Lump’?”
Her answer was the porn star’s equivalent of a Mona Lisa smile: “I’ll call you whatever you want me to call you, baby.”
Of course, Daniels’s alleged-then-maybe-denied affair has been denied by the White House, too, with a spokeswoman calling the allegations “old, recycled reports, which were published and strongly denied prior to the election.”
Still, Daniels has certainly capitalized on her newfound attention and her connection to the president, with strip-club appearances on her “Make America Horny Again” tour hyped by photos with American flag backdrops. Her apparent statement on Tuesday night concluded with another bit of self-promotion and an invitation to be seen but not heard: “Please feel free to check me out on Instagram at @thestormydaniels.”
Daniels will have more opportunities to not talk about Trump (and maybe promote her Instagram account again?) when she appears on ABC’s The View on Thursday.