Masthead

Emmy Awards 2016

This Man Has All of Letterman’s Neckties

Jimmy Kimmel is Emmys host for a second time (ABC, Sept. 18) as the 48-year-old sits down with longtime pal Tim Goodman, THR’s chief TV critic, to talk about his hatred of the phrase ‘late-night landscape,’ why he refused to campaign for an award this year (‘it makes you feel like a real piece of shit’), the penis picture he’s going to text when he wants out of the business and that final gift he got from his idol.


By Tim Goodman
Photos by Wesley Mann
5 min

Tim Goodman You have to be both host and nominee at this year’s Emmys. Are you nervous?

Jimmy Kimmel I get nervous any time I’m out of my studio, any time I’m in a different environment. I suspect I’ll be less nervous than I was last time. I watched my monologue from last time the other night just to see what worked and what didn’t work, and I was like, “Oh wow, I look nervous.” And it’s funny, I didn’t feel like I was nervous when I was doing it, but I kind of rushed through the jokes a little bit. I think you get better at it each time you do it. You become acclimated. So I figure I’ll be really good if I’m able to do it between nine and 11 times. In the year 2048, I’m gonna kill.


As a nominee, did you do any campaigning?

No, I didn’t do anything. I had done that a couple of times. Like, we had an event where you invite the Emmy voters to come and you do a panel. And there was a party where you meet people and stuff like that. And you know what? It’s a bummer, really. It makes you feel like a real piece of shit. People shouldn’t vote for you because they like you or they met you at a bowling alley; they should vote for you if they think you’re the best one. And I don’t see myself doing that kind of thing ever again.


It’s a political year, so John Oliver is probably gonna win the Emmy. I’m going to be honest with you, John Oliver is gonna win and you’re not gonna win.

I think so. I think he does a great show, and honestly I don’t care that much. (Laughs.)


Hopefully when people hear the actual sound of this [you can listen to this full interview at THR.com], they’ll realize you were joking there. Do you feel like you’ve gotten better as a talk show host over the years?

I watch some of those early shows; every once in a while I’ll see a clip on YouTube or something, and I just don’t know. There is no way if I was running ABC I would have kept me on the air. “This guy doesn’t know what he’s doing, his producers don’t know what they’re doing, the guests are ridiculous.” We had no business being on television. They should have taken us off and extended Nightline for another 90 minutes. There were probably six or seven times where the show was going to get canceled, and I would’ve welcomed it at that time because I really just was spent. We were on from 9:05 to 10:05 every night Monday through Friday, and I’d go home, I’d go to sleep, I’d wake up, I’d come right back in here, and it was brutal. And I was begging for guests. I would have to get on the phone and call my friends, anyone who was in my phone got a phone call. David Alan Grier, Sarah Silverman, Anthony Anderson. Adam Carolla [Kimmel’s former co-host on Comedy Central’s The Man Show] appeared the first year on the show 75 times. I think people thought he was still my co-host.


How has that grind changed from the days when you were thinking, “Just get me out of this”? How is it now?

I think it’s like being an athlete in that when you’re young, you have a ton of energy and a lot of enthusiasm, and you kind of float on that, on that athletic ability or whatever it is. And then, as you get older, you figure out how to do things, you become more conservative in the way you approach things. It’s like, I know I can write a six- or seven-page monologue in two hours. I know I can. I know I could probably do it in an hour if I really, really had to. And so you have a confidence and also a routine. And then on top of it, you have people around you who know what they’re doing. Whenever there is a new late-night host, I always will call and say—if I get in touch with them—“You have to have at least a few people who’ve done this before because if everybody is learning, it’s going to be an uphill battle.”


You were shocked when you got the late-night job, right?

Totally. You hear about companies doing research and doing audience testing and all of these things that—I mean, none of that was done. I went into a meeting with the president of ABC, Lloyd Braun at the time, who was looking for a late-night talk show. Nobody knew he was looking for a late-night talk show, and I didn’t know I was meeting about a late-night talk show. In fact, my agent told me, [ABC] lied to him, too, they said, “We want to put a variety show on Thursday nights, and we’re interested in maybe Jimmy hosting it.” I had no interest in that because I knew it wouldn’t work. I knew it would be terrible. But my agent said, “You have to go.” I said, “Just tell them I’m not interested but thank you.” He said, “You have to, it’s the president of ABC. He doesn’t take meetings like this, you have to meet with him.” So, OK, fine, I’ll meet with him. And I went in, and the whole time we talked about late night, never once did he mention that he was looking for a [late-night host]. I went home, and they called my agent, and they said, “We’re interested in hiring Jimmy to host the late-night show.” And my pal Adam Carolla—his wife was Lloyd Braun’s assistant at the time—she called me and told me about it before anybody knew. I thought there must be a mistake. It happened so quickly. It seemed like there was no thought put into it, other than Lloyd Braun and Bob Iger each sat down in their respective offices and watched a long highlights reel that somebody put together, and they decided, “OK, yeah, this is the guy.”


Which all these years later still blows my mind because it was those guys; theoretically, you would have been more of a Fox guy. You going to Disney/ABC was weird.

But Michael Davies, who is a producer, was a very big supporter of mine—he helped us with The Man Show, we pitched it to ABC originally. And also, you have to remember, at that time they had had success with blue-collar-type shows, and they saw me as a guy who fit in alongside guys like Drew Carey and Jim Belushi and that kind of thing. And they had Monday Night Football at the time. It was a relatively male network, and then things changed about a year and a half, two years in when Grey’s Anatomy became a huge hit and suddenly it became a very female network. And suddenly my antics were out of place.


But you survived that. And you’re not going anywhere. They’re not gonna fire you.

No, I mean unless I do something terrible, which I could. Sometimes I’ll sit there with my phone in the middle of the night, and I taunt my wife. I say, “I could tweet this one word and it’s all over.” Then I could just go fishing forever. (Laughs.) I just do it to scare her.


Well, yeah, barring a stray tweet or some kind of scandal that we don’t know about, you’re not gonna go anywhere.

You know what I’m gonna do later? I’m gonna text you a picture of my penis and then I’ll let you decide whether I remain on television or if I sail into the sunset.


Well, for now you’re still working. I’m not going to use the phrase that you and I talked about not using, but I want to ask you about…

…the “late-night landscape.” Every interview I do they use the words “late-night landscape,” as if it’s a thing. It’s just a way of getting me to talk about the other shows. “What do you think about the late-night landscape?” It’s like, what? (Laughs.) Mow it!


But the difference between now and when you came in—late night was just two guys, and now there’s what, 30, maybe 35 people hosting late-night shows?

Yeah, but you also have to look at it this way: On the one hand, it was nice when there were only two; on the other hand, if there were only two, I probably wouldn’t be one of them.


What else has changed in the 13 years you’ve been hosting?

You don’t have real time-slot competition anymore. Anybody can watch anything at any time. You used to have to choose between David Letterman and Jay Leno; no one has to make that choice anymore. And, of course, the vast majority of our audience is now watching online; they’re watching clips of the show. We have 20 million to 25 million people a week watching our show on YouTube, and that doesn’t count Facebook, which is almost as big, and that doesn’t count Hulu and ABC.com and all this stuff. Add everything up, and you realize that these late-night talk shows are like a Super Bowl every week.


So do you stress about ratings anymore?

Not really, no. I mean, of course you always want to be No. 1. Who wouldn’t? If you do something that you’re proud of, you want as many people to see it as possible. I think that’s just human nature. I think that everybody feels that way. But does any of it really matter? Does it matter if people are talking about you? It only matters financially, really. And when you reach a point—the point that Jay and Dave have reached—how much money can you spend in your life?


You’re a food guy, and I want to get into that, but how did you—you’re looking great. You’ve lost weight.

I starve, number one. That’s number one—and, really, one through 10.


Is that true?

I don’t eat two days a week. And people are fascinated by it, but it works. If you cut two days of food out of your life, you will lose weight.


That is the worst diet ever.

That’s what it’s called, The Worst Diet Ever. TWDE. Monday and Thursday are usually my non-eating days, yeah, so today’s one of them. Although I did eat today. Sometimes I get hungry. (Laughs.) I love food, and I love cooking, I like talking about cooking, I love chefs, and a lot of my friends are chefs. People think chefs are competitive. And there is some competition, but it’s a great community. It’s more like what late night is now—you have a certain amount of competition but also there’s learning from each other and kind of talking about the challenges you face and whatever they may be.


Have you reached out to Stephen Colbert?

Colbert I’ve known for a long time. I was on his show. I would never be bold enough to offer him advice. I think he was doing such a great job on his show, it’d be a joke for me to offer him any advice. If somebody asked me for it, or if they seem like they want it, I will definitely share what I have learned. But he is doing the show the way he wants to do it, and that’s all you can do.


You’ve had Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as guests. What was your impression of them?

Our objective every night is comment on what’s going on in the news. So at a time like this, what’s going on in the news and what people are talking about at dinner are two things: They’re talking about Donald Trump, and they are talking about what they are watching on Netflix, and those seem to be the only conversations that are being had. If you sit at a restaurant and just listen around you, you’ll hear Trump, Stranger Things, Trump, Stranger Things, Narcos, Mr. Robot, Trump. That’s really like all we talk about anymore.


Did you notice you didn’t mention any of the ABC shows?

I didn’t mention any ABC shows? Ohhhh…As far as the candidates, well, they are both really good guests. Donald Trump is everything you could possibly want in a talk show guest. He is totally unguarded, he does not seem to care about offending people, he is so different from almost everybody else. You can ask him anything, he might get mad, but you can ask him anything. I have to say it’s a pleasure to interview the guy, it really is, because almost everything out of his mouth is interesting.


But was there ever a point when you were talking to Trump and thinking to yourself, “I’m skewering you” or “I’m kind of making fun of you,” “This is a little wink-wink,” and he’s either A) not getting it, or B) not caring?

That’s my whole life. I mean, really, that’s what I’ve been doing since I was a teenager. The first thing I ever did in any kind of show business was a college radio show on Sunday nights in Las Vegas at KUNV. I was in high school at the time. And I would look in the telephone book, and I’d find people who seemed like interesting characters, and then I would goof on them, but they would not know that I was goofing on them because, first of all, I was a kid, and secondly, they were excited to be on the radio. I don’t know what it is—I think my mother has this same quality—but I’m able to lightly make fun of people in a way that doesn’t upset them.


So, you’re going to be doing this for a long time, right? I mean, you’re not going to retire anytime soon?

I have a contract that I signed recently for three more years after the end of this year, and that will take me to 17 years. I don’t know. I really don’t know. I guess I’ll figure out at that time whether I feel like I’m doing a good job and I’m still interested. I never want to get to a point where I feel like it’s a bummer to come to work. At that point, I think the audience will know immediately when you kind of give up, and I don’t ever want that to happen. So if that ever does happen, I’ll stop, but right now I don’t feel like I’m ready to stop.


Your love for Letterman was pretty boundless, but he really supported you as well. He reached out and he worked with you.

He has been very, very kind to me. And I don’t think it’s because he admired my talent or anything like that. I just think that he had an awareness of how much he meant to me, and he knew that his kindness would go a long way, and if he was anything other than that, I would be devastated. So he really was very nice to me, I think mostly because he knew I needed that.


He really cared. And I’m gonna make you tell this story, even though you don’t want to: When his show was all over, he sent you all of his ties, right?

That is true. He did send me all of his ties, yeah. I haven’t told the story. It was a huge box of ties, yeah, all his ties. I don’t exactly remember what the note said. But he said, “Maybe you can use these,” something to that effect. And I did wear one of his ties on the show. They are long ties, by the way—they’re hard for me. I really have to tuck them in. But I did wear one of his ties, and I was quite delighted. In fact, on my first show, I was wearing a Late Night With David Letterman T-shirt under my clothes.


Do you have time to watch any other TV?

I make time for it. I love a lot of the shows. Right now I am very excited about Narcos. I love Mr. Robot, I love Game of Thrones like everybody does, Veep, Silicon Valley I think is great. I always feel bad when I go through these lists because then afterward I’ll think, “Oh, I forgot to mention this or that.” I enjoyed The People v. O.J. Simpson, I enjoyed the ESPN documentary about it, I thought that was really great. I’m excited to talk about that at the Emmys.


Will it be awkward, now that you’re hosting, if you do win—which is not out of the realm of possibility? I mean, we think it’s going to be Oliver, but it could be you…

Can I tell you? I actually hope I don’t win because I have a very strong bit to do when we lose. (Laughs.) And I will be totally discombobulated if we win.


Hair and makeup by Stephanie Fowler at Grid Agency and Eryn Mekash.
Styling by Rodney Munoz.