This Week in Necessary Talk
by Jay S. Jacobs
“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.”
Like most 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.
Comedian 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 credits. Big names like Mariah Carey, Jack Black, Jessica Alba, the cast of Grey’s Anatomy, Jon Stewart and Teri Hatcher all hit the comfy chairs in the show. Famous directors like Quentin Tarantino 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.”
In fact, 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.
“I 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.
“Actually, the 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.
“Ultimately, they pitched Win Ben Stein’s Money. I 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 Ferris Bueller.’ 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.”
Between 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 Carolla, 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 whole lives.
“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 laughs. “But 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 South Park.”
The Man Show 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 Crank Yankers. 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 Nightline with Ted Koppel. 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 Nightline timeslot. Letterman strongly thought that Koppel had earned the right to decide when he left the air.
ABC reupped with Nightline, 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 Fear Factor’s 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 for the stars’ footprints and handprints immortalized in cement.)
Kimmel feels that the 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 that luxury.”
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.”
ABC 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.
“Somehow we 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 fare.
“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 The Apprentice, then-notorious cast 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 laughs. “He’s very 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.”
The 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 inappropriate things.
Kimmel explains, “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 Nightline. 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.
“People 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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Copyright ©2006 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: June 27, 2006.