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Born in Brooklyn and raised in Las Vegas, Jimmy Kimmel's career began in morning radio, where he rose to become "Jimmy the Sports Guy" on KROQ-FM Los Angeles' "Kevin and Bean Show." In 1997 he became co-host of the critically-acclaimed game show, Win Ben Stein's Money, for which he won an Emmy as Best Game Show Host in 1999. He spent three years on the program and, since 1999, has served as the on-air prognosticator for Fox NFL Sunday. Not limiting his talents to television, Kimmel appeared as himself in the romantic comedy, Down to You, and lent his voice to the box office hit, Road Trip. Kimmel was co-host and co-creator of the highly rated program, The Man Show. In 2002 Kimmel launched a new primetime series that he created with his Jackhole Industries partners Adam Carolla (also his co-host on The Man Show) and Daniel Kellison. Crank Yankers features outrageous crank calls from real comedians to real people, delivered to viewers through puppets.
Jimmy Kimmel: What It Feels Like To Have Narcolepsy
Truth be told, I'd rather have narcolepsy than not have it. When I get on a flight to Vegas, I'll fall asleep before the plane takes off and wake up after it's landed. I'm always very close to sleep. [Yawns.]
I had no idea I had it until recently. All I knew about narcolepsy was a character on Hill Street Blues, Vic Hitler the Narcoleptic Comic, who would fall asleep in the middle of his act. But I did know that every afternoon between about three and six, I would get very tired for no reason. I would doze off in meetings, watching TV, even driving. You know how when you're regular tired, your whole body is tired? With narcolepsy, just the inside of your head is tired. It's like somebody's gently sitting on your brain. You have almost no focus. All you're thinking about is not falling asleep.
When I was emceeing Win Ben Stein's Money, I actually fell asleep during the show a few times. I would sit on the safe over to the side and just sort of doze off. But that was probably a combination of the narcolepsy and Ben's voice. Another time I was on the freeway in bumper-to-bumper traffic. My head was diving, then jerking back up. All of a sudden, this loud voice over a megaphone says, "Are you awake enough to drive that vehicle?" And I practically jumped out of my skin. It was the police, one lane over.
Anyway, I just always figured I wasn't getting enough sleep, so I would drink gallons of iced tea to get me through the afternoon. Finally I went to a doctor. When I told him how much iced tea I drank, he said, "What?!" He decided I was self-medicating, and he prescribed these pills called Provigil.
I have a pretty mild case with no other symptoms. Some narcoleptics experience cataplexy, which is a limpness in the arms and legs. I don't have that. I'd like to, though. It sounds great.
I've never used my narcolepsy in my work, though I do have a dream to someday use up an entire hour of television time by sleeping. Have I been approached to be the public face of narcolepsy? No, nobody wants me associated with their groups. I hope that changes, though. I would like to be to narcolepsy what Camille Grammer is to irritable-bowe
Jimmy Kimmel's Vision
As the new kid in late night, Jimmy Kimmel keeps one eye on censors, the other on guests (hi, Cousin Sal!)
The other night, says Jimmy Kimmel, "I put my kid to bed and he goes, 'Dad, your breath smells like goat's milk!'" It's a good thing that the host of ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live doesn't let Kevin, 9, or daughter Katie, 11, stay up to watch his new late-night talk show. Otherwise Dad would have to explain why he was pouring vodka out of a milk carton into shot glasses for himself, his cohost of the week, Snoop Dogg, and guest Adam Carolla on Jan. 29.
Kimmel's "Got Booze?" gag came in response to ABC censors who had complained, among other things, about the show's serving liquor to the studio audience during its Super Bowl Sunday debut. One inebriated woman had to be helped out after throwing up. The milk-carton pour three nights later did not amuse the network suits, and since then Kimmel, 35, and his guests have gone dry. They have also refrained from flashing obscene hand gestures toward the audience as Snoop did during his cohosting stint.
But things can still get out of control. On the Feb. 27 show Kimmel's cousin Sal (a staff writer and occasional sidekick) grabbed a cake that had been baked for Anna Nicole Smith and playfully threw it at another guest, heavyweight champ Lennox Lewis, who then slipped on a piece of it. "It was just total chaos," says executive producer Daniel Kellison. "We try to have a moment like that every night."
Kimmel's midnight jousts, while hardly a cakewalk, have drawn some 1.9 million viewers, edging out Craig Kilborn while lagging behind Conan O'Brien in the same time slot.
Catching up with his idol, David Letterman, remains Kimmel's ultimate fantasy. The oldest of three children of Jim, 57, an IBM executive, and Joan, 55, a homemaker, Kimmel was 9 when the family moved from Brooklyn to Las Vegas and 15 when he discovered Dave's irreverent wit. "He was so reserved to the point where he made everyone [else] look foolish," says Kimmel. Then a straight-A student at Las Vegas's Clark High School, Kimmel thought it was Lettermania that caused him to stagger bleary-eyed to class each day. Instead he might have had narcolepsy, a sleep disorder he was diagnosed with only a few years ago. (Now it's "no big deal," he says. At midday "I get very tired, I take a [prescription drug], and I'm all right.")
Like Letterman, Kimmel not only got his start on college radio but shared similar career goals, evident in the L8NITE vanity plate he flashed while driving around the University of Nevada in Las Vegas. At 19, after transferring to Arizona State University, he fell in love with a classmate, Gina Maddy. "I think Gina was the third woman he ever dated," says his aunt Conchetta "Chippy" Potenza. They wed two years later.
Following a string of radio gigs in the '90s, Kimmel landed on TV, hosting Win Ben Stein's Money on Comedy Central and appearing as a smart-mouthed jock baiter on Fox NFL Sunday. In 1999 he pitched ABC The Man Show--what he calls "the anti-Oprah"--offering such stunts as bikini-clad women on trampolines. The network nixed it as "too dirty," says Kimmel, but it became a ratings hit for Comedy Central. (So did Kimmel's Crank Yankers, in which puppets reenact crank phone calls.)
ABC didn't forget. After failing to sign Letterman last spring, the network went after Kimmel. He jumped at the chance. Meanwhile his marriage to Gina, 38, was on the rocks. After 14 years together the couple separated last fall. They share custody of the kids, and she lives around the corner from the four-bedroom L.A. house Kimmel shares with his brother Jonathan, 26, a writer-producer with Jimmy on Crank Yankers. "We had a lot of great years," says Kimmel, now dating actress Sarah Silverman (Greg the Bunny), 31. "But people grow apart, especially if you're forced to live with me. I'm kind of crazy."
How crazy? On one show Kimmel called up QVC to order a birthday gift for Oprah. Or tried to. None of his calls went through. "We've got the crappiest $9 phone," he says. "The show's not running smoothly, but it's fun to do." The weird thing is, he says, "is going home and turning on the TV, and there's Leno, Letterman and you! You're like, 'This is not right! This should not have happened!'"
In the Land of the Insomniac, the Narcoleptic Wants to Be King
Here comes Jimmy Kimmel, sauntering along Hollywood Boulevard in a red T-shirt, walking right over the bronzed star on the sidewalk engraved with the name Pee Wee Hunt. At this point, Kimmel is only marginally better known than Pee Wee (a Dixieland trombonist of the 1940's), but that's going to change. In January, on Super Bowl Sunday, ABC will introduce Jimmy Kimmel as the next star of late-night television, the network's hot young hope to take on Jay Leno, David Letterman, Conan O'Brien and Craig Kilborn, the stars of NBC and CBS. Kimmel's show will start at 12:05, right between the other networks' 11:35 and 12:35 shows, so he'll be competing with all of them.
Kimmel has brought his posse with him today: his mother, his father, his close friend and producer, Daniel Kellison, and Bill Simmons, a sports columnist whom Kimmel is courting to join the new show's writing staff. Lloyd Braun, the ABC Entertainment boss who found and championed Kimmel for this job, is on hand, too. Kimmel introduces Simmons to Braun, who lets the would-be comedy writer know, "More people have come up to me and asked me for jobs on this show than any show we have."
"More than 'According to Jim'?" Kimmel deadpans, referring to the rather pedestrian sitcom. "I heard that was No. 1."
The group has turned up at what will be the site of Kimmel's show: a huge former Masonic temple, which ABC's parent, the Walt Disney Company, acquired along with the grandly refurbished Capitain Theater next door. Grauman's Chinese Theater is across the street, along with the new Kodak Theater, home of the Oscars. According to Braun, who is just a bit passionate about it, this address is "the most spectacular location imaginable for a late-night show." As if to punctuate his point, a guy dressed in an eight-foot-tall Frankenstein costume is walking by across the street. "How great is that?" Braun says, pointing to the guy. "This is why we're going to do this show live."
That is the breaking news. In a throwback to Steve Allen and the earliest days of late-night TV, Kimmel's show is going to be broadcast live every weeknight (at least in the Eastern and Central time zones), which means taping begins at 9:05 p.m. in Los Angeles. The other late-night shows tape in the evening, around 5:30, allowing them to edit out flaws, not to mention unfunny bits.
Going live was Braun's idea, but Kimmel was more than willing. "I think live will give it an intangible electricity," he says. "On Letterman and Leno, it always bothers me when they go outside the studio and it's daytime. That's one thing I won't have to deal with. And I think it's going to be a good thing for Los Angeles, if it goes well. The 'Tonight' show is not a Los Angeles show. It's a show for America."
He offers it as a neutral observation, but he has already tipped off his views on that late-night institution, and its host, Jay Leno. Kimmel told TV Guide, "I want to do the comedy version of the 'Tonight' show." "Jay called my publicist," Kimmel says. "He said he didn't understand why I would say anything bad, that he thought I was a friend of the show." He makes a pained face. "Jay, I was just goofing around."
Kimmel's a goofball, all right, but he's a smart, ambitious, tough-minded goofball. He seems untroubled by how many doubters Jay Leno has swatted away in his eight years of ratings dominance. Nor is he backing down on his assessment. "Leno was so great when he was a guest on Letterman," Kimmel says. "Great, great. I just think he's worked it too hard. I think he turned comedy into factory work -- and it comes across." As for the phone call, Kimmel says, "It's just amazing how insecure he is."
Inside the temple, Kimmel extends his arms and says, "We're going to set up a full bar and serve cocktails." That's not a joke. "The Man Show," his testosterone derby of a variety show on Comedy Central, regularly served beer to audience members -- mostly beefy guys in beefy T-shirts. "It had pluses and minuses," he says. "The minus was they were drunk and unruly; the plus was we didn't ever have to buy an audience."
Kimmel plants himself on the proscenium and asks me: "Do I have to wear a tie? I know there are, like, 12 rules for late night: a desk, a band. Will people take me seriously if I don't wear a tie?"
He has reason to wonder. There does seem to be a roster of unwritten but unwavering rules about the look and format of a late-night show: Wear a suit; open with at least four jokes; hire as writers 20 or 30 young guys who specialized in college in delivering put-down lines; don't put on a music act until after the last commercial. On the tie issue, Kellison is willing to break one rule. "No way should he wear a tie," Kellison says. "You've never seen anyone more uncomfortable in a jacket and tie. Jimmy's never going to be a fashion plate. This is a guy who buys everything at Costco." At an audition a few years ago, Kimmel wore his father-in-law's sport jacket. It did not match his pants. One network executive at the audition speculated that Kimmel was overtly trying to suggest the look of a clown.
Kimmel says it wasn't deliberate. He did not own a jacket, and besides, he's mostly colorblind. He is also narcoleptic, but that's another story. To this point in his career, nobody has cared about Jimmy Kimmel's wardrobe. The relaxed-fit look has been perfectly tailored to the Kimmel persona: a 34-year-old blue-collar everyguy, who plays his humor crass and loose.
"If I have one criticism of the other late-night shows," Kimmel says, "it's that they're almost entirely scripted. Hopefully people will notice our show is looser." As for his previous show's lewd and crude humor, he says: "I'll figure out where my comfort area is. I don't really need to be dirty to be funny." But, he adds, "I think the show will be dirtier than the others, certainly."
Kimmel wants to blow up as many of the late-night rules as he can, and for the moment at least, ABC says it will let him. The plan is for him to drop the stand-up monologue, opening the show directly from his desk. And instead of a constant sidekick, Kimmel is leaning toward using weekly co-hosts. Kellison is particularly excited about what can happen in the deep parking lot outside the studio. "There's so much square footage to do crazy stuff," says Kellison, who, as a segment producer, once helped stage stunts for another late-night show, in New York: divers jumping off roofs, Formula 1 drivers racing taxicabs down Broadway. "I really want to use this location the way we used 53rd Street on Letterman," he says.
Kellison knows this plan will play well with his star. Kimmel's devotion to David Letterman goes beyond professional admiration and all the way to lifetime fan-club membership. "Did he tell you about the lifelong-dream element to getting this job?" Kellison asks me. "Did he tell you about the 'Late Night' cake his mother baked him for his birthday, or the 'Late Night With David Letterman' jacket she had made for him?"
Kimmel admits to all of it and adds that in high school, his license plate read: "L8 NITE." "Really, the reason I got into show business is I wanted to be David Letterman's friend," he says. "There are kids in high school, and this guy's a baseball player, this guy's on the wrestling team, this guy is really smart. I was the guy who watched David Letterman."
In a time before VCR's reached ubiquity, Jimmy Kimmel, living in Las Vegas, stayed up till 1:30 every night watching David Letterman, whose show was still in the 12:30 slot and still on NBC. "I watched every night on a little black-and-white TV at my desk. I wanted to be an artist at that point, so I'd draw and watch the show all night."
Since then, of course, Letterman has left the very late shift for the more desirable 11:35 slot, and he left NBC, the network that passed him over for the "Tonight" show, in favor of the more solicitous CBS. In March, ABC tried to lure him away, offering him the same time slot, even more money and the promise of bigger audiences delivered from their local stations. That would have meant displacing Ted Koppel and "Nightline," a prospect that horrified many news viewers and made ABC's news division apoplectic. The ensuing media furor, and Letterman's ultimate decision to turn down the offer, left ABC divided and deflated.
And so it must qualify as coincidence on a classic scale that, seeking to rebound from a lost love affair with Letterman, ABC would turn to Kimmel, who has been suffering from just the same starry-eyed obsession for the last 20 years.
After the letterman letdown, Lloyd Braun allowed himself a week to decompress. Then, toward the end of March, he got back to work. He knew ABC had to refocus its plans on the midnight hour, following the now sacrosanct "Nightline." All the publicity had put the show that occupied that slot, "Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher," in an untenable position.
Braun began to assemble a list of potential late-night hosts -- mostly, by his definition, "the usual suspects." At the top of that list was Jon Stewart, the critically celebrated host of "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central.
ABC had talked to Stewart before; now hotter than ever, he expressed a strong interest in the late-night opening. Braun had always been enormously impressed with Stewart. But Braun had the nagging feeling that there might be someone else out there.
For one thing, he worried that any "usual suspect" would forever be branded as a second choice, the person ABC turned to when Letterman said no. For another, he knew that the prime audience for a new late-night entry would be young men, who tend to stay up late, often drifting all around the cable dial. He also knew that television does best when it makes new stars. Could ABC could find an unknown who appealed to that target audience? Someone young enough to be a star on the network for 20 years or more?
In late March, Braun met his friend Michael Davies for a round of golf at the Riviera Country Club. Davies, a former ABC executive, had hit it big as the executive producer of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." Walking to the green from the ninth fairway, Braun asked Davies's advice. "Knowing it could be anyone," he said, "someone I've never heard of, someone without a name, and knowing I have the luxury of offering the midnight show, if you could pick anyone, anyone, who would it be?"
"I know the guy," Davies said. "Jimmy Kimmel."
"Who?" Braun responded. The name meant nothing to him. It wasn't on his master list. Davies began describing him. "You mean the guy who does the football stuff for Fox?" Braun asked.
Five years earlier, Davies hired Kimmel to be the co-host of the Comedy Central game show "Win Ben Stein's Money." Davies told Braun: "The thing that separates Jimmy Kimmel from everybody else is that he is, in his heart and soul, a broadcaster. He has trained his entire life to do this, and he is as smart and funny as anyone wanting to do this."
By the time Braun reached his office, Davies had hand-delivered a cassette featuring a particularly apt clip: a Kimmel appearance on "Late Show With David Letterman." Braun slammed it into his machine. There on the screen was this outgoing, hefty-department sort of a guy sitting as Dave's lead guest. Bantering with Dave about how much the Fox football guys hated him, Kimmel struck Braun as not at all the wiseacre sports guy, and even less the "Man Show" sexist. Instead he was self-deprecating and respectful, even charming. As Braun pushed the eject button on his VCR, he said out loud, "I think this is going to be the guy."
He wanted to learn as much as possible about Kimmel, but his research was hampered by an unfortunate coincidence. Kimmel's agent, James Dixon, was also Jon Stewart's agent. And as far as Dixon knew, he was moving toward closing a deal for Stewart.
Braun managed to get a stack of videotapes of Kimmel's other shows. Some of the early material seemed completely raw. The most egregious stuff Kimmel was doing on "The Man Show," like the signature bit, girls bouncing on trampolines, might seem to have disqualified him from ever appearing on a network show. But Braun noticed something else: Kimmel seemed far smarter than that material, and he was steadily getting better.
With a 1 a.m. show, to follow Stewart, as the implied bait, Braun invited Kimmel to lunch, and came away even more impressed -- convinced, from both his quick wit and his thorough analysis of what worked in late night, that the comic was "wicked smart."
With time pressing, Braun took a pile of tapes home. He watched 15 minutes of Jon Stewart followed by 15 minutes of Jimmy Kimmel. Then back to Stewart. On and on, for much of the night. He was leaning toward Kimmel, who seemed as if he might be able to take late-night in a new direction: one based in the in-your-face extreme comedy that young male viewers seemed to flock to, with enough wit to attract more sophisticated and female viewers.
Perhaps more important, Kimmel's comic voice had a classic blue-collar timbre. Nothing is deeper in the DNA of ABC television than blue-collar comedy. From "Laverne and Shirley" through "Roseanne," "Home Improvement" and the current "My Wife and Kids," most of the comedy hits on ABC have been about middle-American, working-class folks. Braun knew the high price the network had paid for moving away from that heritage toward yuppiecentric NBC-style shows in the late 1990's.
Braun admired Stewart's topical commentary, but he was not sure how broadly it would play, and how it would fit the ABC comedy brand. Still, he asked himself, "Am I really going to say no to Jon Stewart?" He was. Braun brought in Kimmel and gave him the news.
"I was totally blindsided," Kimmel says. Then Braun called Jon Stewart, who expressed his displeasure, mainly at the way ABC handled the situation, keeping him hanging as they explored other options. But Stewart had only good things to say about Kimmel. "I really like Jimmy," he says today. "I respect his talent. I'm very happy for him on a human level, even though I was disappointed for myself."
Only about six weeks later, Jimmy Kimmel had his first assignment as ABC's new man in late night. The setting was the New Amsterdam Theater in New York, where the network was introducing its fall lineup of shows in the annual ritual known as the "upfronts." The assignment was to walk out onstage, stand alone in front of hundreds of advertising executives (who knew him, if at all, as a misogynist "Man Show" neanderthal), and, in comedy terms, kill.
Kimmel has never been a professional stand-up comic; never stood behind a mike in a hundred smoky clubs and honed the skill of pacing a routine, drawing out a laugh. And this was a considerably larger room. In front of a huge ABC logo, Kimmel ambled out, wearing a gray suit that matched and even fitted O.K. He got right into it: "Please don't breathe a word of this to Ted Koppel. We all saw what happened the last time a talk-show thing came up, and nobody wants to go through that again."
He punched the jokes out with authority, even though he was rocking side to side on his feet like a man having a conversation on a cruise ship. His self-deprecating theme was playing well. Referring to ABC's announcement regarding a dusty relic of the 50's, Kimmel said: "This is your plan to resurrect the network? 'Dragnet' and me?" As far as that previous talent search, he noted: "It looked like David Letterman was coming to ABC and instead you got me. ... This is not a step in the right direction."
Advertisers left the building talking about him. "Jimmy's performance was nothing short of spectacular," Braun says. "He was our story coming out of the upfront."
Kimmel's house is perched on one of the winding hills above Los Angeles, with panoramic views of brown, desert brush in every direction. It is very much a guy house: cluttered garage, disarray here and there, a projection-screen TV so big it might have previously served a drive-in theater. In a first floor bathroom, an R. Crumb poster with some crude suggestions about proper use of toilet tissue hangs in a position of honor.
"It's kind of symbolic," Kimmel says. "I was married for 14 and a half years, and my wife would not allow me to hang that in the house." The marriage broke up last winter. Kimmel has two children, an anomaly among the current late-night comics, none of whom have any. As a result, perhaps, his off-screen persona seems more grown-up than his comedy. But that's not the reason for his perpetually sleepy look, which tends to mask his fire-at-will wit. He sometimes stops midconversation to take a pill to counter the effects of narcolepsy. So far it has had little impact on his career, though he says he has on occasion nodded off in his car, as well as in afternoon writers' meetings -- "not the best way to make people feel good about their material," he grants. And he acknowledges that "Jimmy Kimmel, the narcoleptic late-night host" has a certain weird, circus-sideshow ring to it.
Kimmel spent his earliest years in the Mill Basin section of Brooklyn. When he was 8, a teacher told him he should be a comedian. In high school, he disrupted classes so much that one teacher limited him to one joke a week. "I knew I had to get off a good line with that one," he says. His family expected him to pursue his talent in art. But Kimmel had read in a Playboy interview that Letterman had worked in radio. "So I thought I should start in radio," he says. He took a series of jobs in places like Seattle, Tampa, Palm Springs -- where his sidekick was Carson Daly, now the host of "TRL" on MTV -- and eventually Los Angeles, where he began auditioning, not entirely successfully, for television. He still rankles at the memory of every slight.
"The Man Show" arose out of one producer's comment that he wouldn't appeal to women. So why can't a show appeal to just guys? he wondered. He and his friend Adam Carolla pitched the idea to several ABC executives, including Michael Davies, who loved it. The overarching concept was the "anti-Oprah show," with a heavy emphasis on midgets, explosions and beer. They shot the pilot and sent it to the network. "It was the most poorly received pilot ever," Davies recalls. "The Standards and Practices guys said they could never put it on." But within days of the rejection, seven cable networks were bidding on the show, and Comedy Central won.
As for the unapologetic buffoonery of his "Man Show" character, Kimmel says: "That is definitely one element of my persona. If I'm out drinking with my buddies, that's when it comes out. But I'll be totally different at other times, depending on the situation. 'The Man Show' -- I knew what that was. I gave them what they wanted."
Lately he's been trying to do that for Fox Sports. Kimmel tapes a comedy sketch each week in the apartment of his producer, making picks on games and poking fun at the occasional pomposity of the N.F.L.
Some at Fox aren't laughing. Kimmel's weekly bit is routinely derided by his castmates on the Fox pregame show. "Keep in mind, I have a sterling ratings track record for Fox," he notes, dropping the usual self-effacing humor for a more telling dose of self-promotion. "You can isolate a ratings bump to the day I started and the quarter-hour that I'm on."
Off his sports success, he did get a meeting with Fox's senior entertainment management, but it did not go well. They suggested that he could start a late-night talk show at a Fox station in Minnesota and maybe expand to other local stations from there. Kimmel called the idea "ridiculous and insulting." "We're going, 'Are you insane?'" he says, his extremely healthy ego flaring up in response to yet another perceived snub. "Do you know I've been offered sitcoms and all kinds of stuff?"
The experience left him with a very dim view of that network's late-night prospects. Earlier this year, Conan O'Brien declined Fox's offer to sign on for an 11 p.m. show, even though the proposed salary of more than $20 million dwarfs the $8 million O'Brien took to stay at NBC -- to say nothing of the $1.75 million Kimmel will be getting at ABC. "If Conan turned down even $25 million, he was smart," Kimmel says. "Fox isn't going to be successful in the talk arena as long as the present administration is in charge."
For Fox to break into late night now, it would take "an ironclad contract with a big, can't-miss star," says one executive who has been involved in the effort. "Jimmy Kimmel may be a lot of things, but that, he ain't."
Opening up his laptop, Kimmel reads out the letter he sent as an invitation to be the first ever guest on his late-night show: "Dear Dave: Please be my first guest. Thanks in advance, Jimmy. P. S.: Let's not be childish about this." Kimmel sent the note on some Lionel Richie stationery he had acquired. Letterman sent back a polite no.
Given his feelings about Letterman, you might think Kimmel is headed for some deep soul-searching conflict. He is, after all, being set up to draw away some of Letterman's viewers. But he has a rationalization he can live with. "I really would feel badly if I cut into David Letterman," he says. "But I figure this: The people who like Leno are largely the stupid group. The people who root for Letterman are the smarter group. The people who like me? Also stupid. I figure I cut into the dummies."
In the annals of what Leno calls the late-night wars, such provocative rhetoric has often backfired -- most memorably in the case of Arsenio Hall, who promised rather colorfully to dethrone Jay Leno but who lost his show and now turns up frequently as Leno's guest. Still, Kimmel seems unbeholden to the usual niceties. In fact, he seems entirely unfamiliar with the established show-business poses. Even his put-downs do not come across as nasty or venomous; they're just a straightforward dose of what he thinks.
As in his take on the competition. He calls the "Tonight" show "the McDonald's of comedy." Of Craig Kilborn, he says: "I almost feel sorry for him. The guests are horrible. He has to pretend to be interested in them." Conan O'Brien, he says, he admires for his exceptional comedic mind. "When Conan first came on, I thought, This guy is going to be great. A lot of silly and smart stuff. I thought, When this guy smoothes out, he's going to be real good." But, he adds, "he never smoothed out."
Kimmel knows he will get his own share of slams soon enough, and his candid remarks won't endear him to devoted fans of the other shows. Even now, Kimmel doubters are not hard to find. One longtime senior network executive says of ABC's gamble: "To me this guy is the David Spade of late night. This is someone who is the fourth or fifth guy on a sitcom, who walks into a room, hits one line out of the park and leaves. I just don't feel he's a guy you want to spend an hour with every night."
Kimmel grants that that assessment might prove to be right, though he would advise his doubters to check with the guys who like midgets, explosions and beer. He notes that the average audience age for the two big guys in late night has been creeping higher and higher. Kimmel will be the youngest late-night host on network television and, he intends, the freshest.
"Here's why I think I'm going to do well," he says. "Ultimately the show is going to be my vision. And I'm lucky enough to have a boss, Lloyd, who wants that, which I think is pretty rare." Still, there is reason to resist being overconfident: David Letterman, the man he idolized is, after all, not the No. 1 man in late night. "It's insane that America votes for Jay," Kimmel says. "It's my biggest fear. Everybody says it's going to be great; everybody is positive. But in a world where Jay Leno beats David Letterman every night, you can't be sure of anything. You really can't."
Jimmy Kimmel: A Man for the Men Who Stay Up Late and Watch TV
Had you tuned in to the May 19 episode of "The Man Show" on Comedy Central with Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Corolla as hosts, this is what you would have seen: a hypnotized college student chasing a midget in a flesh-colored body suit, a skit featuring two pornography fans attending an adult film fantasy camp and a half-dozen women dancing in bikinis while being cheered on by a rowdy beer-chugging audience.
In short, Johnny Carson it ain't. But "The Man Show" is also not what ABC executives say you can expect to see in January when Mr. Kimmel rolls out his late-night talk show, in the midnight to 1 a.m. slot, opposite the second half of David Letterman's and Jay Leno's shows and the first half-hour of Conan O'Brien and Craig Kilborn.
It will appear after "Nightline," the venerable nightly news program, which almost never features girls in bikinis. "I think we were looking for the person who was most compatible with Ted Koppel," Robert A. Iger, the president of Disney, ABC's parent company, said in an interview. "And we found him."
The time slot is about all that ABC knows about Mr. Kimmel's show, which as of yet has no name, no staff and no executive producer. The one thing it does have, however, is Mr. Kimmel, an affable former radio disk jockey, whose sudden ascendancy from little-known cable guy to potential network star has surprised many people in the business.
Including Mr. Kimmel. "I think the best word to describe what I felt when they offered me the job is `bewildered,' " he said, speaking from his office in Los Angeles. "I am not surprised that I've been successful in television. I was surprised to get the job at ABC."
It is exactly his success in television, notably among those coveted men, 18 to 35, that ABC is banking on, especially after its botched efforts earlier this spring to lure Mr. Letterman to the network. "The Man Show," which is now filming its fourth season, is one of Comedy Central's highest-rated programs, scoring (not surprisingly) especially well among men. That said, network officials are downplaying how much audience Mr. Kimmel's brand of humor will initially have. "There is no expectation that he'll come out of the gate and topple late-night institutions," said Lloyd Braun, the chairman of ABC Entertainment. "This is someone we want to groom. We don't care if it takes two, three, four years."
After Mr. Letterman rebuffed ABC, network officials said they were still committed to finding another talk show to replace "Politically Incorrect," the comedian Bill Maher's political chat show. (It was canceled after showing lackluster ratings, though it didn't help that Mr. Maher alienated advertisers with some remarks after Sept. 11.)
Mr. Iger said the network flirted with several other ideas for hosts, including Jon Stewart, Garry Shandling and Greg Kinnear, but chose Mr. Kimmel after executives saw a recent appearance he made on "The Late Show With David Letterman."
"There are certain personalities that when they're on camera are very accessible," Mr. Iger said. "Even if Jimmy was behind a desk, there is always a feeling you can touch him."
There is an undeniable teddy bear quality to Mr. Kimmel, who is 34 and whose dominant features are a couch-potato physique and a mischievous smirk. His comedy, like Howard Stern's, mixes the obscene with the ordinary; while he ogles scantily clad women on "The Man Show," he also makes a point to talk about his wife of 14 years, Gina, and their children, Katie, 10, and Kevin, 8.
And while his looks may scream radio, Mr. Kimmel says he has spent his entire adulthood with one goal: to be David Letterman. "The only reason I ever even got into show business was that I might be able to hang out with him someday," Mr. Kimmel said of Mr. Letterman. "He practically invented my sense of humor."
He continued (perhaps to the chagrin of his new bosses): "It's silly for me to think of anyone wanting to watch me instead of Letterman." He paused. "I wouldn't."
Brooklyn-born but raised in Las Vegas, Mr. Kimmel says his fascination with Mr. Letterman manifested itself in high school. His personalized license plate read "L8NITE"; on his 18th birthday, his cake was decorated with the "Late Night" logo.
And when Mr. Kimmel learned that Mr. Letterman had started in radio, he headed there. At 17 he had a weekly show on a college radio station where he'd "find local celebrities and make fun of them," using such time-honored techniques as massive pizza delivery orders. The show was on KUNV-FM, part of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, which Mr. Kimmel briefly attended. It didn't take.
"I really think college is completely unnecessary for 80 percent of the population," he said. "Had anybody who knew anything talked to me for half an hour they could have saved me a lot of time." Mr. Kimmel actually took one more stab at school, attending Arizona State University in Tempe, a suburb of Phoenix, as an English major. Even then, however, he was moonlighting as a call-in guest and part-time writer for an afternoon show.
After two years he followed Mr. Voss to Seattle for his first full-time radio gig, as co-host of a morning show called "The Me and Him Show" on KZOK-FM. It was the first in a series of jobs, and cities. After Seattle (where he was fired), he got a radio job in Tampa, Fla. (fired). That was followed by a morning show in Palm Springs (not fired!) and another stint in Tucson (fired).
Along the way, however, Mr. Kimmel was developing a roster of characters, including Moe the Angry Midget and Jimmy the Sports Guy, a comically rabid sports fan.
It was the Sports Guy persona that brought Mr. Kimmel to the attention of KROQ-FM, the modern rock bulwark in Los Angeles. Once there, Mr. Kimmel distinguished himself, mocking sports figures (except Mike Piazza, whom he loved) and displaying a knack for picking winning bets on games. His shtick soon drew the attention of several television producers who approached him about doing shows. He turned most of them down.
"I just didn't want to do anything bad for money," he said.
In 1997, though, he took a role as the sidekick on the Comedy Central quiz show "Win Ben Stein's Money," where he parried with Mr. Stein and regularly bested contestants with his knowledge of trivia. (His cousin Sal Iacono is now the co-host.) He also began working as a football prognosticator for Fox's Sunday pre-game show.
In 1999 he was a surprise winner at the Daytime Emmys for best game show host. That same year Mr. Kimmel met with Michael Davies, the producer of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" to discuss an idea.
"I told him it's a show for guys," Mr. Kimmel recalled. "It's the anti-Oprah. It's all the stuff you see on beer commercials. And every show ends with girls on trampolines."
ABC bought a pilot of "The Man Show," and blanched. "The list we got back from the network censors was just reams and reams," Mr. Kimmel said. "The Bible was shorter."
Comedy Central, however, had no such qualms. "The Man Show," trampolines and all, made its debut in the summer of 1999 and has been a weekly staple ever since.
Now Mr. Kimmel is primed to confront an even bigger audience. What can viewers expect? More girls? More midgets? More girls and midgets? Mr. Kimmel says he doesn't really know, though he is firm about what the show won't be.
"I would kill myself if I was forced to interview C-level celebrities and pretend to be interested in them," he said. "I can't do that. And I don't think they want me to."
Jimmy Kimmel: Mr. Couch Potato Head
Jimmy Kimmel is down in the basement of his hillside Hollywood home and de facto studio, where his cousin Sal-- allegedly 29, but with the decorating instincts of a 14-year-old who's too scared to talk to girls--has been living for the past two years.
Everything in the room looks as if it came free with a magazine subscription--from the official NFL curtains to the "Dallas Cowboys Boulevard" sign above the door. There are sweat socks on the floor, underwear on the bed and a camera crew in the doorway. The lens is focused on Kimmel, plopped on the sofa, the spot from which he tapes his shot-in-the-dark predictions for the Fox NFL Sunday pregame show, a gig that has made him--at least for 90 televised seconds a week--the personification of every chip-eating, beer-swilling, relaxed-fit-pants-wearing, football-watching guy in America.
He's a proponent of untucked shirttails, hot wings, waitresses in hot pants and the idea that John Madden should be president of the United States. Just like you, Kimmel yells at the players from the safety of his own home, second-guesses the coaches and makes fun of the announcers (sometimes referring to Terry Bradshaw and Howie Long as "Beavis and Flathead"). Unlike you, he gets paid for it.
"It's weird how people take sports so seriously," says Kimmel, 33, whose first dose of national attention came from his Emmy-winning stint as the original sidekick on Win Ben Stein's Money. (He left the show when producers were unwilling to rearrange the shooting schedule to accommodate his workload for The Man Show.)
Kimmel has taken his share of critical shots from the sporting press since he started his NFL prognostications last year. "I mean, every local channel in America has a wacky weatherman, but there's no room for comedy in sports? Weather is something you should take seriously. Weather kills people. Of course, so do athletes," he says.
"He doesn't know diddly-squat about football," says Bradshaw, who once responded to Kimmel's pre-recorded taunting by saying, "I'd like to get my hands around his throat."
"But we wouldn't be so rough on him if we didn't like him," Bradshaw continues, admitting the on-air feuds are just for fun. "None of us are splitting any atoms around here. And he's been a huge plus for us."
Between his appearances on Fox and his role as cohost and cocreator (with former Loveline host Adam Carolla) of the unashamedly chauvinist The Man Show--a weekly salute to belching, scratching and girls on trampolines that just began its second season on Comedy Central (Sundays, 10 P.M./ET)--Kimmel may be the embodiment of the postfeminist American male: our Couch Potato King.
And don't think he hasn't earned it. Kimmel is no Hollywood pretty boy pretending to be a regular guy. Just ask his long-suffering wife, Gina, who has borne him two children (a 9-year-old daughter, Katie, and a 7-year-old son, Kevin) and cleaned more crumbs from behind sofa cushions than she cares to think about.
"He is a slob," she says with impressive equanimity. "I don't know if he could feed and clothe himself if he wasn't married to me. Basically, he's as immature as the day I met him."
Which was 15 years ago in Phoenix, when Kimmel was just beginning a trouble-filled radio career that, until he landed at KROQ in Los Angeles six years ago, largely consisted of getting fired everywhere he went.
Carolla and Kimmel have known each other since their days at KROQ, where Kimmel was hired as "Jimmy the Sports Guy" in 1994. Carolla, at the time a mostly unemployed construction worker and part-time boxing instructor, was hired to coach Kimmel for a ratings-stunt boxing match.
Kimmel recommended Carolla, who was also doing improv comedy around town, for an on-air position, which led to his hosting the radio--and eventually MTV--version of Loveline. Now, in addition to The Man Show, Carolla and Kimmel have signed a deal with producer Ivan Reitman to write and star in their own feature film.
"He got me into the business just because he thought I was funny," says Carolla. "He bent over backward to help me when there was nothing in it for him. When I got a TV show and he was still on the radio, there was not an ounce of jealousy," he says. "That takes a pretty secure guy."
Through the NFL playoffs, Kimmel will be securely and happily ensconced on the couch. Earlier this season, he summarized his lazy-faire attitude for viewers: "I know it's Sunday, and wisely you've skipped church to spend the next 11 hours on your couch watching football," he said.
"And I applaud that."
Bobcat Goldthwait and Jimmy Kimmel team to produce 'Joe Schmo'-like "reality film" for Comedy Central
Comedy Central and Jackhole Industries have teamed-up to pull one of the greatest and most elaborate prank ever played. Premiering Sunday, October 12, at 9 PM on Comedy Central, "Windy City Heat" is a two-hour original reality film that is the climax to a decade-long practical joke played on its "star" Perry Caravello.
Windy City Heat" is a movie-within-a-movie -- a real-life "Truman Show." Perry's friends/tormentors/co-stars, Don Barris and Tony Barbieri, have been promising Perry a starring vehicle for more than seven years. Perry's ego knows no bounds. Though he lacks any measure of talent or charisma, he believes he is a star because he wants to believe. Hidden and "documentary" cameras record Perry's every move as he wins the lead role of "Stone Fury," a hardboiled "sports private eye" in a movie called "Windy City Heat." What Perry doesn't realize is that there is no movie called "Windy City Heat." No one around him is who he or she says they are. Every actor, every cameraman, every PA and producer is in cahoots to manipulate our susceptible, egomaniacal, fame-hungry star.
Actors/comedians Don Barris and Tony Barbieri have been laying the groundwork for this mother of all pranks for more than 10 years. "Windy City Heat" also stars Jimmy Kimmel, Carson Daly, Adam Carolla, Tom Kenny, William "The Refrigerator" Perry, Dane Cook and many other actors too obscure to mention. Bobcat Goldthwait both co-stars and directs.
Jimmy Kimmel, Daniel Kellison and Adam Carolla are executive producers of "Windy City Heat." The movie is produced by Jackhole Industries in association with Comedy Central Films.
Jimmy Kimmel sang a Christmas song with Mike Tyson
Heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson proved he had more than his fighting skills to boast about on Wednesday night - when he sang a Christmas song with comedian Jimmy Kimmel.
Tyson was one of a host of stars who appeared on the special JIMMY KIMMEL'S NON-DENOMINATIONAL ALL-STAR CELEBRITY HOLIDAY SPECIAL and he quickly broke into song.
He told Kimmel, "You know what my favourite part of the holiday season is? I truly love music, beautiful music," before the two broke into their comical rendition of WINTER WONDERLAND.
During their faux music video, Tyson and Kimmel frolicked in the snow and built a snowman.
KENNY ROGERS, SNOOP DOGG, PHARRELL WILLIAMS, ANNA NICOLE, GREEN DAY, SERENA WILLIAMS and FLAVA FLAV were among the long list of stars who also made brief appearances.
ABC renews Jimmy Kimmel through 2005
I'm delighted that ABC has exhausted all other options and picked up mine for another year," Kimmel joked in a statement released by the network.
The program, which debuted in January 2003 and follows "Nightline," has featured guests such as Britney Spears, Serena Williams and Billy Bob Thornton.
The nighttime talk-show circuit has been changing lately. CBS lost Craig Kilborn in August from the "Late Late Show," which follows David Letterman's "Late Show," when he quit. A new host has yet to be announced. Last month, NBC said that Jay Leno will leave "Tonight" in 2009 and be replaced by "Late Night" host Conan O'Brien.
Jimmy Kimmel is every man
"It's funny how all of this has worked out -- I wasn't popular in high school, but now every drunken guy in the United States wants to be my pal. They all want to buy me a shot, and pretty soon I'm throwing up."
On the 13th of November 1967, future comedian James Kimmel was born in Brooklyn, New York. His parents moved to Las Vegas when he was quite young, and he grew up loving comedy in the gambling capital of the world. With influences like David Letterman, John Belushi and Woody Allen, there was little doubt that Kimmel wished to be involved in entertainment in some capacity or another.
His first foray into the business came in the radio industry. Stations in Seattle, Tampa Bay, Tucson, and Phoenix hired and then subsequently fired Kimmel, either for structural reasons or because his edgy humor had gone too far. Still, he persevered and found a solid job at Los Angeles' KROQ-FM. On the popular Kevin and Bean Show, Jimmy was known as "Jimmy the Sports Guy," a character who got increasingly more airplay thanks to his rants and sportscasts.
Earning recognition with this role, executives at Comedy Central asked Kimmel to be the audience's link on the new game show, Win Ben Stein's Money, which pitted contestants against the cerebral actor at the end of the show. Kimmel's "average Joe" image helped make the show a success and won him a Daytime Emmy as Best Game Show Host in 1999. WBSM became hugely popular and made it easier for Kimmel to host other shows on the cable network, including a couple of movie specials.
Kimmel quit the radio gig he had kept up and, in 1999, teamed up with buddy Adam Carolla, who also worked at KROQ. They put their heads together and, in defiance of a negative comment sent Kimmel's way, dreamed up the concept for The Man Show, a quasi-talk show devoted to all things male. Though it was deemed too racy for ABC, Comedy Central picked it up.
With its anti-feminist theme, models galore and beer-drinking hosts and audience, The Man Show became an instant hit, trailing only Comedy Central's South Park in the ratings department. Those who realized the jokes were all in good fun ate it up, while others didn't let the chauvinistic subjects slide. Still, a large fan base was formed and Kimmel and Carolla became the coolest guys on TV.
Kimmel was a busy man outside of The Man Show as well. He was the voice of "Corky the Dog" in the 2000 film Road Trip and signed on to do "Jimmy's Picks" during FOX's NFL pregame show every Sunday, in which he frequently picked on former football greats Terry Bradshaw and Howie Long. Further cementing his reputation as a hilarious man's man, Kimmel served as Roastmaster of The New York Friars Club Roast in 2002, with Hugh Hefner as the subject.
In 2002, Kimmel teamed up with his Jackhole Industries production partners Adam Carolla and Daniel Kellison, to launch the animated primetime comedy, Crank Yankers, which features comedians making prank calls (delivered though the use of puppets) to real people. Kimmel serves as executive producer and lends his voice to several of Crank Yankers' characters. He was even credited with some writing for the 2002 Grammy Awards and appeared in the Lil' Bow Wow film, Like Mike.
A testament to Kimmel's skill, ABC signed him to a late-night deal in 2002, with the post-Super Bowl debut of Jimmy Kimmel Live. With guest co-hosts, an abundance of alcohol and the type of comedy that made him famous on cable, Kimmel has shaken and stirred the world of late night that has been dominated by idol David Letterman and NBC's Jay Leno.
With two young children to keep in line, Kimmel is not all dirty jokes. He is a man who knows when to increase his testosterone-driven rants to overdrive at the right time. This keen sense of humor and timing serve as a guarantee that Kimmel has a long career ahead of him.
Jimmy Kimmel is the man. Now, we don't mean the man in the "Michael Jordan" sense of the word, but in that Kimmel is every man. He represents the most primitive male in all of us; the brutally honest guy whose love for beer is only trumped by his love for conversations about breasts and masturbation. With the ability to bring out the real guy in all of us, The Man Show disgusted some but delighted many.
Though we may not admit it in front of our lady friends, something fundamental about Jimmy Kimmel's shtick appeals to us. We watch his comedy for the same reasons we tune in to Howard Stern once in a while or watch other shock-value TV shows. The combination of models, toilet humor, alcohol, and sports cannot be ignored and we must admire Kimmel for bringing all of these things together successfully. Many other personalities try to mask pandering to this lowest common denominator, but he attacks these sleazy topics head-on. And most importantly, he's not ashamed of it.
Now that Kimmel has extended his reach to a major network, many thought he would have to tone down his act. In a style that is unique to him, Kimmel has kept up the chatter that keeps censors on high alert. Kimmel is no sellout and continues to push the envelope in an entertaining way. Party on, brother.
Jimmy Kimmel just speaks his mind
For those who think Jimmy Kimmel is simply "in character" on television, forget about it. He is a wisecracking fiend off the air as well, projecting the same brash, brutally honest, funny-guy image that we all love. The reason Kimmel is able to get away with so many TV don'ts is because his approach is nonchalant, a natural progression from his easygoing personality. Like many others cut from the same crude cloth, he does not give a four-letter word about what people think of his work, knowing that he appeals to our basic male needs.
Of course, he does take time off from cursing, drinking and talking about his anatomy while at home with his two children. Still, it is his celebration of the things men hold dear that makes him one of the most popular comedians (and late-night hosts) around.
Ironically, it is the absence of any discernible talent that Kimmel claims led him to TV. He's just a regular guy who speaks his mind. To get to where he is, though, you need some sort of skill, and he possesses a creative, rebellious mind coupled with comic wit and impeccable timing. Other than that, Kimmel would be the first to admit that he's a lucky man who gets paid to do the things other men perform on a daily basis, namely talk about women, athletes and alcohol.
Most women resent Kimmel more than anything else. His dirty comments and degradation of women tend to annoy rather than attract the fairer sex. Whittled down to his fundamental skill (comedy), he should technically be a big hit with the ladies, as humor is often viewed as a major turn-on. Although he doesn't score too well with female audiences, the models on The Man Show sure seem to enjoy his company.
After bouncing around several radio stations doing morning commentary, Jimmy Kimmel found a place on Los Angeles' KROQ-FM as "Jimmy the Sports Guy." During his stint as the popular comedian/sportscaster, he met and became close friends with Adam Carolla, a fellow KROQ personality.
As his spot on KROQ became more and more popular, he landed the job of co-host and announcer on Comedy Central's game show, Win Ben Stein's Money in 1997. His scathing remarks shocked audiences and boosted ratings, making WBSM one of the highest rated new game shows. During his gig on the successful game show (for which he won an Emmy in 1999 as Best Game Show Host), Kimmel lent his voice to "Corky the Dog" in the gross-out film, Road Trip.
Spurned on after being told that he needed to appeal to women more, Kimmel decided to do just the opposite and came up with the idea for The Man Show. ABC took a look at the show but balked at its racy content, and Comedy Central consequently picked it up. Bringing Carolla on board as co-host, The Man Show took off in 1999, just as WBSM was peaking. Male audiences ate up the controversy and vulgarity, and Kimmel became a big-time star.
As The Man Show continued to gain momentum, Kimmel appeared on FOX NFL Sunday to make his picks on the day's football games and crack jokes. He exercised more clout when he came up with Crank Yankers in 2002, an animated comedy on which he serves as executive producer and the voice of several characters.
Now granted with a late-night show in competition with Jay Leno and idol David Letterman, Kimmel is riding a strong wave of popularity. His new brand of shock-talk has tapped a new audience sure to support him no matter the bumps in the road.
Kimmel has our dream job. He gets to talk to celebrities, drink at work, freely ogle women, and recite fart jokes without fear of reprisal from disgusted family members. His involvement in sports further heightens our admiration for this comedian and writer, and the late-night gig is only icing on the cake. Way to go, Jimmy! Kimmel and his casual look fit the late-night mold perfectly (in fact, his style is pretty similar to his ABC time slot predecessor, Bill Maher). Polo shirts and sports jackets seem to be his favorite, with the occasional trendy outfit thrown into the mix. His fashion sense is perhaps the only aspect of his life that he keeps on the straight and narrow...