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If you’ve read The Hollywood Reporter‘s cover story on Jimmy Kimmel, Late Night’s Late Bloomer, you already know the ABC late-night host is a hard-working David Letterman devotee who is finally getting his due.
Kimmel is also an artist, a prankster and a competitor who recognizes the value of rival host Jay Leno — sort of. Here’s a look at 10 surprising insights into the world of Kimmel.
On Rival Jay Leno
Kimmel famously inserted himself into the late night battle between Leno and Conan O’Brien, when he decided to do an entire show parodying Leno (complete with a wig and fake chin). The tension grew stronger the following night when Leno invited the ABC host onto his show and was, as Leno told Oprah weeks later, “sucker-punched.’ While Kimmel’s disdain is still apparent, he acknowledges that Leno offers value that Kimmel and many of the other hosts do not. “Jay knows that he’s supposed to get ratings and that is his goal. I think that’s a secondary goal for the rest of us. I think our primary goal is to be funny and to be cooler or edgier,” says Kimmel.
He continues, “I know it makes us sound like we’re better than he is, but I don’t think that that’s the case. I think that he understands that his job is to get people to watch the show and I think that he has figured out that the best way to get a lot of people to watch is to do the kind of comedy that he delivers, which is more palatable to a larger group of people.” Applying a metaphor he’s used before, he likens Leno’s shtick to McDonalds. “McDonald’s doesn’t make the best hamburger in the United States,” he says, “but they sell the most hamburgers in the United States.”
On Idol David Letterman
Kimmel has idolized Letterman since he was a teen growing up in Las Vegas. As anyone who knows the ABC host will tell you, he’d wear a Late Night with David Letterman (then on NBC) jacket, celebrate his birthday with a Late Night cake and host parties to watch Letterman specials on Friday nights. When he got his first car, an Isuzu I-Mark, he had a Late Night vanity plate. So perhaps it’s no surprise that when Kimmel set out to book his first guest for his ABC show in 2003, he went to his idol first. Letterman turned him down in a note that now hangs in Kimmel’s office.
Years later, he says, “I’m glad Letterman wasn’t my first guest because you’re already nervous enough doing your first show. But I would have been an absolute basket case. And if he ever is on my show, I will be a basket case.” (The usually press shy Letterman reacts to Kimmel’s lifelong worship in our story.)
On Role Model Howard Stern
While Letterman is his ultimate idol, Kimmel also counts Howard Stern among his role models. (Unlike Letterman, Kimmel and Stern have a relationship now.) “My Uncle Vinnie used to tape him when he was on WNBC in New York and then sense me cassettes,” recalls Kimmel. “I’d get one cassette every six months. I’d listen to it hundreds of times, you’re talking about 45 minutes. I craved it.” In fact, Stern’s career inspired Kimmel to begin his in radio.
For years, Kimmel had closed out his show with “Apologies to Matt Damon, but we ran out of time.” Damon finally came on the show in the fall of 2006, only to be told that they had indeed run out of time. The actor stormed off set spewing a string of expletives, leaving viewers wondering if he was legitimately mad. He wasn’t – and the proof is in the cue card Damon signed following the show. “Go f— yourself, Jimmy. I’m not coming back… ever. I’m serious. Matt.” It now hangs framed outside of Kimmel’s office. Damon retaliated a year or so later with the now famous ‘I’m F—ing Matt Damon video, with Kimmel’s then girlfriend Sarah Silverman. And then again at the end of Kimmel’s viral Handsome Men’s Club video.
On the Misconceptions About Him
Ask Kimmel what the biggest misconception about him is and he’ll tell you, “people think I’m genuinely the guy from The Man Show, and that is definitely part of who I am but I’m interested in a lot of things,” he says, adding that he wanted to be an artist when he was a kid. “I do a lot of cooking; I’d say I’m a pretty creative guy.”
He’s also a big prankster. “I devote a lot of my time to f—ing with my friends — pranks and that sort of thing,” he admits. Proof: each year, he famously sends out hilarious –and humiliating– holiday cards on behalf of his agent, James Dixon. Last year’s card featured Dixon sitting on the toilet, with a note that read, “I put up with your s— all year. Now you can put up with mine. Good luck in 2011. I happen to be set for life.” Kimmel still prank calls his parents every time he phones them. “The best part,” he says, “they fall for it every single time.” (The tables were turned growing up. He says his mom used to “lay on the ground and pretend to be dead, until my sister and i started crying. We’d punch her in the head trying to get her to wake up.”)
On the Need to End The Man Show
By the time Kimmel got the offer to do Jimmy Kimmel Live!, he had had enough of Comedy Central hit The Man Show, which he co-hosted with Adam Corolla. “The studio audience had become so unruly. I mean, really we got to the point where all they wanted to see were girls in bikinis and they were just screaming and yelling,” he says, laughing now. “It would be like a tailgate for a college football game to get into the audience. There were lines around the block to get into the studio, and guys would be out there drinking all day long.”
Kimmel recalls the moment in which he knew it was over. Corolla was making a point about what an idiot his friend’s father was growing up, telling the audience how the man had said, “Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one.” The audience started to crack up. “We’re like, ‘Uh, alright… that wasn’t a joke,” says Kimmel, laughing now. “That was an example of a person who isn’t funny and i think we’re done here.”
On the Making of Handsome Men’s Club
Handsome Men’s Club was one of Kimmel’s more recent viral videos about an exclusive fraternity of the industry’s most attractive men. (Kimmel goes from running the club to being expelled from it for his “lack of handsome.”) To get everyone from Rob Lowe and Matthew McConaughey to Lenny Cravitz and Sting involved in time to air as part of Kimmel’s Oscar special, it was put together over several weeks in multiple parts earlier this year. Now, months later, Kimmel’s club tie and paddle remain on display in his office. (Sharing shelf space is a collection of bobble heads and a Tickle Me Elmo doll with all of its fur plucked out. Yes, really.)
On the Making of the Chewbacca and Sponge Bob Videos
On the cover of The Hollywood Reporter, Kimmel is surrounded by his Hollywood Boulevard street performer neighbors, including Wonder Woman, Superman and Cookie Monster. After the suit, Sponge Bob and Chewbacca stuck around, joining Kimmel and the crew on the roof of his theater. During a lull in shooting, Kimmel started interviewing the characters; minutes later, Chewbacca was handed the camera and began grilling Kimmel. Words don’t do these two videos justice, so watch them here and here.
On his Annual Upfront Skewering
Last month, Kimmel once again stood before a packed Manhattan theater and skewered his own network, its broadcast rivals and the Madison Avenue buyers lining his show’s coffers. He remembers the first time he was invited to entertain the ad buying community nine years ago like it was yesterday. He didn’t know what the event was all about — and unlike his competitors, didn’t have a background in stand-up. “I ran out and I was rocking back and forth, shifting nervously onstage. I don’t think my suit fit very well. I was as honest as I could possibly be. I was like, ‘The network tried to get David Letterman, and they wound up getting me. That can’t be seen as a win,’ ” he recalls. “No one looked at my script. No one even thought to look at my script. The president of the network at the time said, ‘that was great. If I’d known you were going to do that, I’d never let you go out there.'”
He continues, “But it all worked out, so now it’s become expected of me.” Nearly a decade later, he says, “I almost wish they would tell me I’m not allowed to do it. I feel like eventually people are going to get tired of it. So every year I kind of obsess about making sure it’s just right. Staying up most of the night the night before working on it.”
On the Leash ABC has Kimmel On
If you think Kimmel is one of those bitter comedians who is always clashing with his network’s standards, think again. Much the opposite, Kimmel says the net gives him a long leash and he respects it. “We get away with a lot. I don’t need to curse on the air, and that’s the only thing that we can’t really do,” says Kimmel. “And there’s a weird lesson that I learned long ago on the radio, which is that a bleep is funnier than the actual curse.” So much so that he devotes a regular skit to unnecessary censorship.
Of course, even if the network executives did want to give him regular notes, Kimmel says it would likely be too exhausting for them. On many nights, his show doesn’t finish taping until an hour before it airs on the east coast, and his monologue is often finished only minutes before the taping begins. “So it’s really almost physically impossible for them to weigh in,” he says. “And comedy by committee is a disaster.”
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