Feature Interviews K to O > Jimmy Kimmel
This Week in Necessary Talk
by Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2006 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
June 27, 2006.
“My plan is to make
as much money as possible and then disappear forever. Never be seen
again,” Jimmy Kimmel chuckles. “If people don’t like me, they should
support me as much as possible because [then]
I’ll be gone before they know it.”
everything Kimmel says, it’s a joke. But like all
the best jokes, you
have no idea how much truth there is underlying
in it. Jimmy Kimmel is a talk show host with a creative mind and a warped
world view. If Kimmel really is planning on
eventually pulling a Greta Garbo, America is
doing their part and supporting him and his
own peculiar vision. His series,
Jimmy Kimmel Live,
runs Monday to Friday late night on ABC. He may not get quite the press of Jay or
Dave, but currently his show is more interesting and surprising on a
regular basis than either of those long-running and
slightly stagnant competitors.
Patton Oswalt of The King of Queens
once was on the show and he said he liked
being on Jimmy Kimmel Live
because he could be
the first guest rather than the guy who gets two minutes before the end
names like Mariah Carey, Jack Black, Jessica Alba, the
Grey's Anatomy, Jon Stewart and Teri Hatcher
all hit the comfy chairs in
the show. Famous directors like Quentin Tarentino
and JJ Abrams have taken over episodes and put their
own spin on it. However, the
refreshing thing about the show is that it does not put the star wattage
above all else. Kimmel enjoys joking on the air
about the uncertainty of being number three, though, giving the whole
enterprise an unpretentious air of cool.
“In a way, it’s one
of the things that scares me about if the show ever becomes very, very
successful,” Kimmel admits. “That the bar will be raised and there won’t
be as much time. I mean when you’ve got Tom Cruise sitting in the green
room, how much time are you going to spend experimenting with your aunt
Chippy or something? That’s the thing that we have to be really careful
about, I think. If it gets too polished, it will ruin a lot of it.”
Jimmy Kimmel Live
is reminiscent of
the wild, early years of Late
Night with David Letterman
– before Dave moved to 11:30 and grew up. As a kid, Kimmel
idolized Letterman. In
his own way, Kimmel followed in
Dave's footsteps into show business. It
was not exactly a straight line, though.
didn’t really intend to get into television,” Kimmel recalls. “I was in
radio when I started in high school in Las Vegas, working at a college
radio station there. The reason I got into radio was I read that was how
David Letterman started. I liked radio. I didn’t ever feel I would be
good on television.” Kimmel laughs. “I hosted this movie show in Seattle
with my partner once. I can look at myself and criticize myself as if it
was someone else, you know? I looked at the tape and thought, well; I’m
not good at television. I’m never going to be good at television and
that’s that. So I’m going to focus on radio. That’s what I did. I got
fired in a lot of cities. I worked in a bunch of different places.”
Kimmel ended up at
legendary Los Angeles station KROQ. As he became more and more popular
as a local radio personality, television opportunities started to arise.
TV execs would listen to Kimmel on the way to work in the morning and
would occasionally call in to suggest he come in for auditions.
first job I had in television was doing promos for the FOX network,”
Kimmel explains. “This guy who ran the promo department for FOX heard
me. (Fellow K-Rock DJs) Kevin and Bean were doing voiceover and I was
helping them write the voiceover stuff.” The exec asked Kimmel if he
would like to do some promos for the network. Kimmel thought that they
wanted him to write the spots and agreed. FOX sent him a script.
“I sent them back a
note, like, you know, I could give you notes, but I think this script is
pretty funny. I wouldn’t change it at all.
[The FOX exec] seemed confused. Then
about an hour and a half later, someone called and asked what my pants
size was,” Kimmel laughs. “I was like, what’s going on here? I honestly
had no idea that I was being asked to star in the promo. It was a promo
for the show Party of Five.
I found out
later that they had another guy there who shot it after I did mine, just
in case I wasn’t good. But they wound up using mine. It was just a very
weird and confusing thing. I really thought I was being hired to punch up
this promo script. I wound up in front of a camera.”
After a couple of
years of doing the FOX promos, the TV gig dried up and Kimmel just settled
back into his radio duties. Other opportunities presented themselves, but
Kimmel was cautious, to an admittedly extreme level. Eventually he was
lured back in front of the camera in the cult comic game show
Win Ben Stein’s Money.
“Even though I had
nothing going on in television, I would turn things down all the time,”
Kimmel recalls. “People would say, ‘Do you want to do this?’ and I’d go,
no that sounds stupid. I just knew that if I did something bad, that
ultimately things wouldn’t work out. I figured I’d rather wait. It
really was a very powerful thing to say no to people. Like, (exec)
Michael Davies asked me to do a couple of shows before
Win Ben Stein’s Money.
I said no. It would make him crazy.
they pitched Win Ben Stein’s
loved the title just to start with. I didn’t know who Ben Stein was at
the time. They were like, ‘he’s the guy from
Oh, yeah, yeah.
That sounds kind of funny. So they said ‘come down and audition.’ They
really never planned to have a sidekick on the show. I was the only one
that auditioned for it. I went into this little – it almost looked like a
classroom – and we ran through the game. I just goofed around and they
liked me and Ben liked me and they hired me right there. Then we did a
presentation for a whole lot of networks live in the theater. It went
very well and Comedy Central picked the show up.”
Ben Stein’s Money
and his K-Rock
persona of Jimmy the Sports Guy, Kimmel soon started doing comic shorts
during FOX’s football preview show.
At that point,
Kimmel had met a guy named Adam Corolla, who would become his partner.
“When I met him, he was my boxing instructor, and I couldn’t believe how
funny he was,” Kimmel says. “There are a lot of people out there who
never even think about going on television or going on the radio, who
would probably be better at it than a lot of people that work for it their
“Adam and I would
go to lunch every day after the radio show and just talk for hours and
hours. At a certain point, I was just like, this is crazy. We really
have to put this time to better use. We thought it would be fun to do a
radio show together. We wanted to do it on KLSX. They actually weren’t
interested in us doing the show together, which is kind of funny, because
they offered us a zillion dollars to take over for Howard Stern.” Kimmel
they wouldn’t let us do a radio show together. So I just had the idea for
The Man Show
and we pitched it
ABC with Michael Davies. They were instantly excited about it.”
The Man Show
was essentially the anti-View.
It was, pure and simple, a haven for all things Y-chromosome
a weekly half hour celebrating alcohol, hot girls, sports, cars,
flatulence and dwarves.
Plus, you were spared the
uncomfortable spectacle of watching Meredith Viera discuss vibrators or
Star Jones troll for free stuff for her wedding.
It was a
surprisingly easy pitch. After all, it wouldn’t seem like a show with
dirty sea ditties, guzzling beer, talking about bodily functions and power
tools and closing out with loving montages of girls jumping on trampolines
would make for an easy sell to a network that was owned by the notoriously
kid friendly Disney corp. The execs bit, though.
“They bought it in
the room,” Kimmel says. “The pitch went so well that we left and went
downstairs in the building to have lunch and before we even ordered, they
called our manager and said we want to make the show. Then, of course,
they saw the show and said we will not put this on our air. Comedy
Central said we will
put it on the air.
We’ll give you 22 episodes and we’ll put you on after
became a huge success for Comedy Central, with Kimmel and Carolla helming
the show for four seasons. Kimmel also created and did voices for the
network’s popular puppet-phony-phone-call comedy
Soon enough, ABC
came calling again. They had decided that they wanted to make a run for
Kimmel’s original inspiration David Letterman when his contract with CBS
was running down. They were even ready to, if necessary, drop their
venerable late night news franchise
In the end, Letterman decided to stay put, in part because he was happy
with CBS and the contract they had offered him, in part because he didn’t
want to steal the
timeslot. Letterman strongly thought that Koppel had earned the
right to decide when he left the air.
ABC reupped with
but they still were
interested in a late night talk show. They looked Kimmel’s way. This
time, they were more willing to give him the free reign they balked at on
The Man Show.
Kimmel left behind
many of the favorite bits, like the Juggies, the beer guzzling organist
Bill “The Fox” Foster and of course those trampolines on the old series
(Comedy Central tried briefly to recast it with
Joe Rogen and
comedian Doug Stanhope as masters of ceremonies.). Jimmy Kimmel was going
to try and bring his warped sensibilities to network television without
sacrificing his vision.
Kimmel was happy to
be filming his new series in the historic El Capitan Theater on Hollywood
Boulevard – smack in the middle of one of the most popular and eccentric
tourist areas in the US. The show is
filmed right across the street from the
Kodak Theater (home of the Oscars) and the famous Chinese Theater (known
the stars’ footprints and handprints immortalized in cement.)
funky vibe of the neighborhood feeds the creativity of the show. “We love
doing the show here,” he says. “It’s a great spot. I couldn’t imagine
doing it in some generic cement soundstage somewhere, like some of these
shows have to. We could make a bit out of just pointing the camera
outside and talking to people as they walk by. Not too many shows have
Kimmel also decided
that he would employ many friends and family members. His uncle Frank
would not only be security guard, he would do many on-air bits. So would
his cousin Sal. Cleeto, his best friend since childhood, would be the
band leader. Good friend Carolla and Kimmel’s girlfriend, comedienne
Sarah Silverman, often contribute to the show.
“I definitely set
it up that way,” Kimmel says. “My uncle has always been funny. All my
friends have always thought my uncle is funny. My cousin Sal is really
one of – if not the
– funniest person I know. I just figured; people make a big deal out of
television, like you have to have a lot of experience. It’s really
nonsense. I just look at it like this; if somebody is smart, likable and
funny, they’ll probably be successful in television. You know, Carson
Daly was my intern at a radio station. I met him when he was
twelve-years-old in Hawaii with his parents. Then he was my intern when
he was seventeen. I just knew that he would be successful.”
found out on the taping of the first episode of
Jimmy Kimmel Live
that it was going
to be a bit of a wild ride. Kimmel and the show did try to recapture the
raucous frat party vibe of old series, and perhaps did it just a bit too
well. The filming of the first episode of the series in 2003 got a little
out of control for the suits.
convinced them to let the audience drink in our bar before they came in.
We were surprised that they went for it,” Kimmel laughs. “I don’t know
how it worked, but they went for it. The problem isn’t really with the
people that drink at the show. It’s the people that come in drunk.
Somebody in the studio audience threw up in the middle of the show, some
girl in the studio audience. Our warm up guy, Don, had to carry her
out.” He chuckles heartily. “It was the last we saw of the alcohol in
the green room.”
Not that the
relative sobriety of the audience made the show any less risky. “I will
say this,” Kimmel says. “I’m a pretty creative guy. I’ve got a lot of
different shows that I work on. I have a million ideas. Most of them are
ridiculous ideas. Some are pretty good ideas. And I think that
ultimately that’s the fun of the show, the creativity involved. I think
there are a lot of things that are different than your standard talk show
“There were a
million things that were weird and embarrassing that actually got on the
show, that probably shouldn’t have,” Kimmel smiles. “I love this, but
it’s the sort of thing that perplexes people, there’s this insane family
named the Cosby family who we decided to do like a sitcom with. These
were genuinely crazy people. I mean this is not a polished comedy bit.
This was people that were living on social security from the government
because there was something wrong with them. They did a bunch of bits for
us. That was weird. I mean, we’ve got a lot of weird and unsavory things
on the show…”
Weird and unsavory
perhaps… but they are also undeniably funny things. The Kimmel show has a
cracked cast of characters who they set out on video shoots like Uncle
Frank, cousin Sal, parking valet Guillermo and an odd little guy who seems dangerously
obsessed about Michael Jackson. “That’s Jake Byrd. He’s a regular on the
show. I never regret having him on,” Kimmel laughs.
Not everyone makes
it onto the show, however. For example, during the first season of
member Omorosa made some strange headlines for the series. For no
apparent reason she walked off the set moments before it was due to tape.
Kimmel was forced to cover and explain what happened, and oddly his
explanations and last-minute maneuvering made for fascinating television.
Another person who
has not made it on the show is movie star Matt Damon. At the end of every
episode, Kimmel apologizes to Damon that they could not fit him onto that
night’s show. “That poor guy, we’ve booked him every night…,” Kimmel
resilient. He’s very persistent.”
As a talk show
host, Kimmel appreciates the current apexes of comic scorn – Kevin
Federline and George W. Bush – for providing loads of great material.
“Kevin Federline is
the slacker punchline of the moment,” Kimmel says, “but George Bush has
really shown us that he can bring the stupidity year after year after
year. I think that we’ll be making fun of him for many years to come.”
show also has a group of interesting comic skits; “Uncle Frank on the Red
Carpet,” Kimmel’s hilarious take-off on R. Kelly’s epic video “Trapped in
the Closet” and “Cousin Sal – Drycleaner.”
Probably best of
all is “This Week in Unnecessary Censorship” where they beep video clips
from the news and entertainment to make it seem like they are saying
“the best case scenario is if it starts with an F or ends with a hard K
sound. I don’t know if this will make any sense at all in print, but
if you say like, ‘I just spit all over my desk,’ if you bleeped it, it
would sound like ‘I just s#!t all over my desk.’”
As his show
finishes its third season, Kimmel realizes that not everyone knows about
it, but that’s okay. It has a strong enough fan base that ABC is letting
it ride after the new, revamped, Ted Koppel-less
The show’s edgy tastes in musical and comic guests is drawing a young
following, the type that advertising execs at the network drool over.
Kimmel is also
happy that people care enough to be interested in his show and
himself, even though they sometimes get things totally wrong.
think I’m short, which is not true,” Kimmel admits. “I’m a little bit
over six foot and for some reason people think I’m short. People think
I’m dumb, also, which is something that drives me crazy because I was
always pretty much the smartest kid in my school. I was the spelling bee
champion a couple of times. And people think I’m black, which is weird,
also. I’m not black. I’ve been white since the day I was born.”
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