Jimmy Kimmel: The TV Squad Interview
Unfortunately, Jimmy had a meeting to attend, so all he could say before politely kicking me off the phone was "It's a long story." But it's understandable that he might not have time to go over his sartorial choices. His late-night talk show, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, has just been picked up for a fifth season, and his first prime-time special, Jimmy Kimmel Live's All-Star Salute to Jimmy Kimmel Live!, will air on ABC on September 13 at 10 PM. In addition, he has just been named host of a new ABC game show called Set for Life. Oh, and he's also planning his football-watching activities for this coming Sunday (as you'll see, it's quite involved).
I spoke to the 38-year-old host on Tuesday about his football parties, his flirtatious relationship with Ben Stein, and other topics, all of which you can find after the jump.
JK: I heard you were watching clips before you came on the phone with me... is that for tonight's show?
KIMMEL: No, actually for our prime-time special we're putting together this montage, you know, of various moments from the show, and I had to go through them.
JK: When did you get approached for that special?
KIMMEL: Um... we've actually talked about it, on and off, for a year or so. And, uh, I don't remember exactly. But a few months ago, I'd say.
JK: But this is the first one, right?
JK: What kind of preparation do you have to do for the special that's different than for the normal show?
KIMMEL: Uh, in a way for me, it's easier than doing a normal show. Because I don't have to do that much; it's mostly clips, you know? But it is a pain, because you want to get all the best stuff, and a lot of things don't play in 10-15 second chunks, you know? So you really need things that get to the joke quickly. Some things you remember, like "This was really good," but they don't turn out to be as good because you have no time to set them up.
JK: What's a good example of that?
KIMMEL: Like for instance, we did a six-part series parody of R. Kelly's "In the Closet" videos. Did you see those things? They're fantastically funny on their own, but then we did our own parody version of them. But they just don't make any sense without context. I mean, to people who know what it is, it would make sense, but I think that's a pretty small number of people.
JK: So what kind of bits would we expect to see in the special?
KIMMEL: A lot of celebrities. The idea is to bring new viewers in, but we've got like Ben Stiller -- he's actually gonna do something live with us, I think. And Destiny's Child -- we did a bit where I was one of the original members of Destiny's Child and I got kicked out of the band. And, uh, there's a million different things.
JK: And you'll be hosting it from your studio?
JK: The one bit I remember best is when you had Karl Malone on and you had the Karl Malone puppet talking to him.
KIMMEL: Yeah, I think we have a little clip of that, actually.
JK: And I liked the one bit where you were using the puppet to talk to this little kid that you called Little Smacko...
KIMMEL: Oh, yeah, Lil' Maxso! (Laughs) Lil' Maxso... What a character, that kid.
JK: He was talking directly to the puppet the whole time.
KIMMEL: Oh, yeah... kids and my Uncle Frank don't understand the difference between puppets and humans (both laugh).
JK: And the funny thing is, and you're sitting right there doing the voice and he's just looking at the puppet, which was great.
So lay it out for me: What's the Kimmel household going to be like on Sunday for the first weekend of the NFL?
KIMMEL: You know what, normally I'd have the whole meal plan by now, but, uh, (laughs) I haven't had time to plan it all out. But it's gonna be big. It's always a big event. I have like fifteen televisions in my house. And actually, I was just talking to my assistant (chuckle) and said, "Listen, you've gotta check all the TVs to make sure they work." Because what usually happens is that my cousin Sal comes over around eight in the morning, and he comes into my bedroom and wakes me up because some of the TVs aren't working. And then we have a whole thing where I call DirecTV, and I'm on the phone with them trying to get the different receivers working; we're not getting this or that. There's always an emergency to start out the season; we're trying to avoid that this year.
JK: Anything special for the Thursday game or no?
KIMMEL: Probably not. Actually, we're shooting our prime-time special after the show on Thursday.
JK: I thought Thursday was your day off...
KIMMEL: It's changed now; now we're going to be doing shows Tuesday through Friday. Previously, yeah, we would shoot a show on Thursday, that show would air Friday, and we'd shoot field pieces on Friday.
JK: So for Sunday, you don't know if it's going to be wings, or...
KIMMEL: You know what? I'm trying to figure out how many people are going to come, because that changes it drastically. Whether I have to cook like I'm an army chef, or I can be a little more...uh...um... Martha Stewart-esque.
JK: How many people do you invite? Everybody from the show?
KIMMEL: Yeah, everybody from the show, my friends and stuff... It really varies; sometimes there'll be 30 people there, sometimes there'll be four people there. Usually leaning towards the 30, but every once in a while, holiday weekends and stuff, it gets pretty light.
JK: So you do this every Sunday?
KIMMEL: Yeah, every Sunday, yeah. It's a real pain in the ass (laughs).
JK: But you're the host...
KIMMEL: (laughs) I have to do it.
JK: I found out about this whole setup by reading your buddy Bill Simmons' columns...
KIMMEL: Yeah, he always comes. Actually, sometimes, if there's an important Patriots game, he won't come.
JK: I can understand that. Like the last time the Giants were in the Super Bowl, I didn't go to a party, I just watched the game with my dad.
KIMMEL: Yeah, sometimes you have to buckle down and really watch it seriously. You don't need some asshole who's rooting for the other team 'cause he bet fifty dollars on it.
JK: In L.A., it's kind of a weird thing with the football, because it starts at 10 AM.
KIMMEL: Well, it's not weird to me, but yeah, I guess if you're on the east coast it's weird. I like it, though; I like having it start earlier.
JK: Why's that?
KIMMEL: Because I can have everybody out of my house by 5:30 and, you know, you can have at least some semblance of an evening. Otherwise (laughs) it just all goes into the night, and then... You know, we don't watch the late game; everybody goes home and apologizes to their wives during the late game. (Both laugh)
JK: So what is your favorite food to have during the football Sundays?
KIMMEL: You'd be surprised at some of the things that I make; I mean, I make the classics, like I'll make the steak sandwiches with the London broil, flank steak, that type of thing. Or I'll make chicken wings; I make them smoked actually, smoked chicken wings. I'll make ribs in my smoker. Every once in a while, I'll just make hamburgers, relatively simple. I made shrimp salad sandwiches one time, with shrimp and bacon, and uh... (laughs) the whole thing. And that was a big favorite. I'll make chili every once in a while.
JK: Do you have one of those green egg smokers?
KIMMEL: Yeah, I do. I have one of those. Well, that's not really a smoker. I have the Big Green Egg, and I have a regular smoker -- it's just basically a metal box that you can smoke stuff in, that's a separate item -- I have a 50-inch gas grill, and a pizza oven... a wood-fired pizza oven. So I make pizza sometimes too.
JK: (laughs) You have the 35-year old guy's fantasy kitchen.
KIMMEL: (laughs) Yeah, exactly, exactly. I said to my brother when we moved, it's like we're teenagers and our parents died and left us millions of dollars.
JK: (laughs) It's like the Silver Spoons house...
KIMMEL: (laughs) Exactly. No train, but it's just like the Silver Spoons house.
JK: You just got renewed for a fifth season... when you first started doing this how long did you think you were going to last?
KIMMEL: I had no idea. I mean, there are so many things you can't control really, you know? And most talk shows don't last very long, especially when they start one up on a network that didn't necessarily have one. And, you know, I figured I had a fifty-fifty shot of going this long.
JK: Do you think people are surprised that you've gone this long?
KIMMEL: Um... I don't know... It's not like people come up to me and go, "Wow I'm really surprised that you're still on the air," you know (chuckles)? So I'm sure that there are people who are surprised, and I'm glad, that's good. I relish in those who thought we would fail and it didn't happen.
JK: How did the show evolve over the years to get it to the point where you're in this groove?
KIMMEL: Oh, it's just like anything, really. It's like doing stand-up; when you start out you don't necessarily have any material, but you find out what works, and you gather things, and you say, "OK, that was good and this wasn't good and we should try do that again, and we should try to do something like this again."
And really, it's no different than any job in that, ideally anyway, you get better at it as you go along; and not just me, but the whole staff really, you know? Because very few of the people that worked here had ever done a talk show of any kind before. And so we just, you know, we kinda got lucky enough to get past the rough times and now it's starting to smooth out, and I think it'll just keep getting better and better as we go on.
JK: Did ABC promise you that they'd give you a decent time to get your legs about you?
KIMMEL: No, they never made any promises, really. And then the guy that hired me got fired, so it was touch-and-go, you know. And you get in a situation where somebody puts you on the air and then if the show successful, that guy gets credit for it. Well, what incentive do the people who follow him have to keep you on the air? And to their credit, I think they thought more about the kind of long-term goals of the network rather than about what's gonna make them look good, and they kept me on the air, and it worked out. But it definitely could have gone the other way.
JK: Do you think the timeslot helps that out? You straddle the two late-night time slots.
KIMMEL: I don't think that helps, I think that hurts, actually.
JK: Why so?
KIMMEL: Because it's an odd time for a show to be on, and it's ... uh... If you're in the mood for watching late night talk shows, you put one on, maybe you put Letterman on or you put Leno on and you keep watching throughout. But I don't think there are a lot of people who say, "Hey I'm going to watch Nightline and Jimmy Kimmel tonight."
JK: It makes a smooth transition for those who are doing Daily Show/Colbert, though.
KIMMEL: Yeah, but you're talking about a cable audience that, as great as those shows do, that's not going to bring you much, you know?
JK: Your first TV job was Win Ben Stein's Money. Do you still hang out with Ben at all?
KIMMEL: We keep in touch; I e-mail him probably twice a week, we exchange e-mails. We never really hung out that much, but I do love the guy and keep in fairly close touch with him.
JK: Even my parents loved you on that show (Jimmy laughs) and they were upset when you left. What was your thinking in making the leap from radio to that first TV job?
KIMMEL: Well I had turned down a lot of things; I wanted to do television, but I knew if I went on and did something terrible, I did some syndicated dating show or something like that, that I would never be on television again. So even though I wasn't making much money on the radio, and it was tempting to take a couple of the jobs I'd been offered, I decided not to take them and I held out for something that sounded good. And then Michael Davies pitched me Win Ben Stein's Money, I thought, "Well I don't know who Ben Stein is or what the show is, but that's a good title. What's the show about?" And he told me, "This guy's gonna take on all comers." And I thought, "Well, that could be something." You never really know, but at least it seemed like it had the potential to be good, and luckily it worked out.
JK: How did they describe your role? Was it going to be comic relief?
KIMMEL: They didn't really know for sure. In fact, they weren't intending on having a sidekick to start; they were going to have a disembodied voice ask the questions over a PA system. And Ben was not that excited about having a partner on the show when the idea was pitched to him, he's like, "Hey this is my show!" But then when I came and auditioned for the part, we hit it off nicely, and I think he saw that the show could be funny if we did it together, and he was very receptive from then on.
JK: How did those loving references to Ben that you made before the bonus round come about?
KIMMEL: Because I just knew it made him uncomfortable, and it was always funny if I made some sort of gay come-on.
JK: So even after 100 episodes or something, he still got uncomfortable when you did that?
KIMMEL: He did, yeah, it was amazing (laughs); he still did. It was a challenge to be able to come up with new stuff, but I was able to.
JK: Did any contestant come up to you after the show and say, "Hey that shot you took at me wasn't fair"?
KIMMEL: Not really. I mean,nobody ever got too upset. Occasionally, but nobody was allowed to come up to me. Game shows are really careful about that sort of thing.
JK: The guy from Deadspin, Will Leitch, kind of launched his career based on writing about how you made fun of him on the show.
KIMMEL: Yeah... well, I don't know he built his career out of that, his website sort of stands on its own. But, yeah, (chuckles) he was... Well, you know, the funny thing is, the way he positioned that whole thing was as if I intentionally did it, but the truth is the contestant coordinators told me to mention it. It's not like I go into these people's lives; I mean, they give me like three lines about the people and nobody told me it was off limits (laughs). And I assume if he's telling them this stuff that he's OK with sharing, you know?
JK: That his girlfriend just dumped him...
KIMMEL: That his girlfriend just dumped him. I mean, if he's telling contestant coordinators at a game show, that are sitting there writing it down as he's saying it, I assume he knows what the deal was.
JK: When you left the show to do The Man Show, was it an easy decision?
KIMMEL: Well, I actually had to do both simultaneously for a long time. It took a lot of work. But Comedy Central forced me to do it, but finally they realized that The Man Show was a big hit and that I was gonna drop that if they made me keep doing both. But they wanted to make sure The Man Show was going to be a hit before they pulled me off that show.
JK: After that woman who replaced you (Nancy Pimental) was on for a year, your cousin Sal took her place. How did that come about?
KIMMEL: Well, he was always a writer on the show, and everyone thought he was funny, and he'd stand in for me sometimes. And Ben loved him, and he was just a natural fit after the first thing worked out.
JK: Ok, just a couple of more questions: Do you have Sirius and listen to Howard Stern?
KIMMEL: Yeah, I do.
JK: You work on your buddy Adam (Carolla)'s radio show, too. What's your capacity on that?
KIMMEL: I'm a creative consultant, whatever that means.
JK: Because you two are always linked somehow.
KIMMEL: Well, we're friends, and so I always want to... I especially like to be involved in his things, just to make sure everything's going right.
JK: Any qualms about working for a show that sort of competes with Howard? Because you and Howard are friends now and I know he was a big influence on your career.
KIMMEL: No, in fact, Howard and Adam are still friends. I mean, when Adam had twins, Howard sent him a really nice gift for the twins. People like to make it like there's some sort of rivalry; but the truth of the matter is that somebody was going to have to replace him, and he likes Adam a lot, and if it was gonna be anyone, he's happy that it's him.
JK: Is there anything you can tell us to look for on the special, besides Ben Stiller?
KIMMEL: We've got a couple of other things out there, but they haven't confirmed. But it should be fun.
I mean, if you watch the show it should be fun because you get to see a lot of the best things we've done on the show. And if you don't watch the show, you get to see a pretty jam-packed hour of funny bits with a ton of celebrities and stuff on it.
JK: Any thoughts by ABC or you going to 11:30?
KIMMEL: That's not my decision. I won't lie to you, we'd love for that to happen, but we're not hammering on their door asking for that to happen, because Nightline is a respected institution, and it's certainly more important than our stupid show.
JK: Did you think that when Koppel left, you'd get a chance to move up?
KIMMEL: No, I knew they were going to have a chance to try out something else.
JK: Last thing: For those people who don't see the show and are used to watching Letterman and Leno, what makes your show different from the other late-night shows?
KIMMEL: A) Inferior guest bookings (I laugh), B) I think having my family on the show is what makes the show different, because essentially all these talk shows are the same; it's a band, and it's guests, and it's a monologue, and then comedy bits. But I've got my Uncle Frank and my Aunt Chippy and my cousin Sal, who are all my real relatives, and they add a little extra something to the mix.