A year ago, executives from Caesars Entertainment approached Jimmy Kimmel with an idea.
They were looking to open a comedy club across the street from their Las Vegas hotel, and they wondered whether he, a native of the city, would be interested in partnering.
Kimmel, who already had his hands full with his ABC late-night show, two small children and a collection of other projects, didn’t hesitate. “It was an easy yes,” he says. He loved the idea of having a presence of some kind in his hometown — and he loved the idea of it being with Caesars, where his vast and tight-knit family has a long history. His late Uncle Frank, once a staple of Jimmy Kimmel Live!, had been a security guard at the hotel; his bandleader, Cleto, began his music career at its bar, Cleopatra’s Barge; and Cleto’s dad, also in the JKL band, was a room-service waiter at the hotel in a former life.
So, Kimmel signed on, and in the spring of 2019, Caesars Entertainment will open Jimmy Kimmel’s Comedy Club. The 8,000-square-foot space will be housed on the nearby LINQ Promenade, near the High Roller observation wheel and the popular Brooklyn Bowl. The famously meticulous host will help curate the list of talent coming through, seven nights a week, along with the food and drink options on offer. Already he’s been busy surveying his comic friends about the ideal conditions for a club, and he intends to employ many of his learnings in the coming months.
“Kimmel’s longtime Las Vegas affinity means he understands the city and what audiences want to see,” said Caesars’ president of entertainment, Jason Gastwirth, adding, “Together, we look forward to delivering a top-quality comedy experience on the Las Vegas Strip.”
During a break from his late-night show, Kimmel hopped on the phone to discuss his plans to launch what he hopes will be “the best comedy club in the U.S. for comedians.”
Let’s start simple: Why this, why now?
Look, it’s exciting for me because I grew up in Las Vegas and, beyond that, a lot of my family worked at Caesars Palace. So, to do something there is really exciting for me personally. Also, I think a lot of comedy clubs were something else first — like, a restaurant that got converted — and I always thought it would be great to set out to build the perfect comedy club for comedians. I really feel like comics have been mistreated.
They get stuck in these shitty condominiums in these towns, and then they’re picked up in a 1991 Datsun B210 and driven to some kind of rathole [to perform]. I want this to be a place where the comics are staying at Caesars Palace, where they’re treated very, very well, and they want to keep coming back because the audiences are great.
You’ve consulted with a lot of comics to figure out what an ideal venue would entail. What did you learn?
There are a lot of considerations. The height of the ceiling is important. The sound system is important. The way the food and drinks are served is important — the timing. But also I want to have no utensils whatsoever in the club. I want the food to all be things you can eat with your hands — I don’t want there to be a lot of clatter. I wanted the comics to be undisturbed as much as possible. And we’ll have a podcast studio in our club, too.
Will you bring your late-night show there for a week of shows the way you do in Brooklyn?
We are working on a week of shows, hopefully, in Vegas. We’d probably do it in a much bigger theater, but this club will definitely be a part of our show in a variety of ways. We’ll be able to go live to the club from L.A. to put comics on the show from there. which will be great. I really think we lose something when we have a comic in a TV studio. It’s not the same feel. Everything about it is artificial. So, this feels like a great opportunity to give comedians a chance to really score. And the facility itself will be designed around making it as pleasant experience for them as possible, from the backstage greenroom area to the way they enter. They won’t have to walk through the audience to get into the show; they’ll be able to watch from a semi-private area or a private area, whichever they want. And I think it’ll just be a great place to hang out. I feel like the late-night entertainment part of Las Vegas has gone away, and I want this to be a place where we have midnight shows in the way Don Rickles would do a show late, late at night. I want that to happen in Las Vegas again.
In those days, comedians wouldn’t go on until two or three o’clock in the morning in Las Vegas.
Yeah, nowadays it’s so regimented because they want to get you back into the casino to gamble. But I really want to have a lot of comics dropping in. If they’re in town to do a big show in a showroom, maybe they come in to do some material or they warm up the night before. I want it to be the best comedy club in the U.S. for comedians.
Obviously, this news will only fuel the speculation that you’re considering stepping down from your ABC show when your current deal is up next year. What do you say to that?
(Laughs.) Well, this is not a big money-making endeavor! It’s certainly not something I could retire doing. Honestly, this is for fun. If it were anywhere other than Las Vegas, I wouldn’t be interested. But I’ve always wanted to have a business or a presence of some kind there, and this is perfect for me because it’s comedy and food and cocktails — all things I’m interested in.
The Comedy Cellar has been in the news a lot lately for playing host to Louis C.K.’s surprise appearances, for which it incurred some backlash. At your club, how are you going to approach who comes through and how they’re vetted, if they need to be vetted, and revealed to audiences?
If we get into the business of sanitizing every comedian and doing a thorough background check before they walk through the door, it’s going to be a very empty stage. (Laughs.) I think people tend to focus on the one or two people who walk out of a situation like that. Ultimately, the audience decides whether someone is welcomed back.
Sure, but you talk about curating your lineup — will you give thought to that curation with regard to having more female comics, for instance?
Comedy is very democratic. The people who are great, rise to the top; the people who are good, rise to the middle; and the people who aren’t good, don’t make it. We want to get a lot of very funny people, and we want to give new comics an opportunity to work. I don’t focus on their gender or their skin color. I’d never want a woman to think that the reason she’s booked to be onstage at a club is because she’s a woman. The reason she’ll be booked to be onstage is because she’s funny.
Right, my question was more in the context of how do you create a safe space…
Oh, I don’t know that comedy clubs should be a safe space! (Laughs.)
Fair enough. How long have you been toying with this idea?
The guys at Caesars came to me a year ago and asked me if I was interested. I didn’t realize that the club would not be inside Caesars Palace. It’s across the street at the LINQ. It’ll be right across the street from the Brooklyn Bowl, which is a great venue, too.
You managed to dodge my question about your future at ABC, so what else should I be asking you?
My future is Wednesday. [Editor’s note: This interview was conducted on a Tuesday.] That’s how I look at it. (Laughs.)