Tonight, 11:30 p.m. is getting more crowded as ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live! moves to that earlier slot to do direct battle with David Letterman’s Late Show and Jay Leno’s Tonight Show. The time-slot change has been ten years in the making, and when I spent a few days with Kimmel this fall for a feature in New York, he seemed ready for battle. Back then, I wrote about Kimmel’s bald spot, why Carson Daly will never golf with him again (it involves Kimmel spelling his name in piss in a sand trap), and how he lost his virginity. Below are nineteen more things I learned about Kimmel but didn’t have room to include, from his favorite annual prank to his obsession with fresh eggs to how his early days as a wedding D.J. were his introduction to stage panic. Familiarizing yourself with them will help you get pumped for the new late-night paradigm.
1. He thinks a little too much is being made of this late-night competition. “It probably is not a smart thing to say, but when you add up what percent of America is watching late-night television at 11:30, you come up with around ten,” he says. “That means that 90 percent of people watching television are not watching any of the shows, and yet we get all of the attention. It’s a strange thing. I mean, our competition really is people watching prime-time shows on their DVRs; that’s what hurts late-night television. People come home from work and they wanna catch up on Game of Thrones, and we’re the victim of that.” As for whether he’s going to be pulling audiences from Leno and Letterman, he doubts it. “I don’t think there’s a ton of crossover. In fact, the research shows there’s not a tremendous amount of crossover between the talk shows. A lot of it, truth be told, is what channel they happen to be watching the news on. And then if they’re interested in your guests, they’ll stick with you.” (His guests tonight, by the way, are Jennifer Aniston and No Doubt.)
2. He is a gracious host. When you meet him well before noon, he’ll offer you water, soda, coffee, and beer. Beer? His morning beverage of choice? “No, no, but I wouldn’t judge others,” he says. “Actually, I would, but I wouldn’t tell you I judged you.”
3. His assistant Tim is actually a kid Kimmel met years ago when he was buying his son a Mini Cooper for graduation. “Tim sold me a car,” Kimmel says. “I just liked him, and he seemed efficient.” So when the assistant position became open six months after the car purchase, Kimmel gave Tim a call.
4. For reasons no one can really explain, Kimmel attends most meetings for his show barefoot.
5. He once thought he was a narcoleptic, but now is not quite so sure if he was or if he was just really tired all the time from waking up at 4 a.m. to do morning radio early in his career. “But I do fall asleep within three minutes, and I can sleep almost anywhere,” he says. “I mean, I fall asleep while I’m driving sometimes, which is not good. I was nodding off at the wheel once, and I had a policewoman pull up next to me, and through the bullhorn of the police car, she said, ‘Are you awake enough to operate that vehicle?’ I said, ‘I am now!’”
6. Growing up in Las Vegas may make him uniquely qualified to be a late-night host, given how skewed his perception of normality is. He was raised in a land of 50-cent shrimp cocktails and $1.99 steak dinners, where there were slot machines in the supermarket. “When I moved to Phoenix, it seemed oddly silent,” he says. “I didn’t know there was such a thing as closing time until I moved to Phoenix, and that seemed crazy to me.” As a kid, he says, “I saw Liberace wearing a hairnet buying meat at the Mayfair Market in the middle of the night and Sammy Davis Jr. shopping for clothes in the boys’ department in Saks Fifth Avenue. Siegfried of Siegfried and Roy, he didn’t really work out at the gym that I went to when I was a kid occasionally. He would sit in the hot tub, and I couldn’t really figure out why he would never really work out and would only be in the hot tub. When I became an adult, I figured it out.”
7. He inherited a prankster mentality from his mother, who used to lie on the floor and pretend to be dead until he’d cry; from his grandfather, who once floated facedown in a pool at a party so long that Kimmel’s father jumped in, fully clothed, to rescue him; and from the dad of his best friend and JKL band leader, Cleto Escobedo III, who used to wear a scary old-man mask around Caesar’s Palace, where he worked, and scare celebrities. “Scaring people or surprising people, it makes me laugh,” says Kimmel. “It incapacitates me, I’ll laugh so hard. If there was a video of people walking into glass doors thinking they were open, I’d pay thousands of dollars for it because — I don’t know what it is — but it just makes me laugh harder than anything else makes me laugh.”
8. For the past four years, he’s sent out bizarre Christmas cards from his agent, James Dixon, to everyone they know. “I put his return address on it, and I put something crazy on the cover,” he says. “A lot of people think it’s from him, and they think he’s a lunatic, especially the wives and husbands of people in the industry who don’t know him and don’t understand why he would do this.” He actually commissioned a nude oil painting of Dixon one year (it’s hanging in his office) and used that for the cover. “I’ll put a profanity on the front of it, like, ‘Merry Fuckin’ Christmas or Whatever the Fuck You Celebrate.’”
9. When Live debuted ten years ago, Kimmel was 34, and he says, “I looked like a vampire” — both because of his lush black hair and because he was working fourteen hours a day in a basement. “The first year he was, like, in this cave in the bottom of that theater, and he actually started to look bad,” says Grantland founder Bill Simmons, a writer on the show for its first eighteen months. “The color of his skin wasn’t right, and we realized we had to move him upstairs to where there was a window. It was legitimately unhealthy.”
10. His work ethic is legendary. Daniel Kellison, his longtime producing partner, tells of an exhausting day on a boat shooting a disastrous parody of Girls Gone Wild called “Guys Gone Wild” for The Man Show. (Basically, they had to go around asking men to flash them their balls.) When it was over, Kellison collapsed in his hotel room only to look out his window and see Kimmel alone with the P.A. on the dock unloading equipment. “The greatest Jimmy story is that he is the first Emmy host ever to do his own show that week,” says Simmons. “Every other Emmy host has taken the week off, and like an idiot, he did three shows — which he admits was insane — because he doesn’t know any other way.”
11. He has a bit of an online shopping addiction. “No item is too small for me to buy on Amazon,” he says. The purchases are usually cookbooks (he has more than 1,000), cooking supplies, and gifts. His gift-giving: also legendary (as is his insistence on always driving friends and family to and from the airport himself). “He bought me my first barbecue,” says longtime friend Carson Daly. “He bought me a clock from KCMJ from Palm Springs” — a radio station where they worked fifteen years ago and Daly was Kimmel’s intern — “that he must have found on eBay. He bought a real sign from somewhere that says Carsy Cakes, which is what my mother calls me.” After noticing a label on my messenger bag reading “Will Leather,” Kimmel immediately went online to buy one for a director on his show named Will Burke.
12. His greatest passion seems to be cooking. As soon as I express interest in his sous-vide machines, he runs to the refrigerator to grab a packet of vacuum-packed salmon. “I season it, and you stick it in the thing at 120 degrees for 30 minutes and it comes out perfect,” he says. When I spy a few yams lying randomly on the table, he tells me, they’re there “in case anyone wants a yam.” He puts them in the toaster and eats them with butter, like a baked potato. At home, he has a pizza oven and for the past seven Christmases has hosted 200 people for feasts. He used to host football Sundays but found it too harrowing. “I would spend all of Saturday preparing and then all of Sunday with my animal friends tearing my house to pieces,” he says. “I was so relieved, actually, when I finally gave it up.” Recently, he bought a dilapidated house next to his in West Hollywood and tore it down to make room for a barn and chicken coop. “Listen, do you want to know what I get excited about? It’s chickens and fresh eggs, more specifically,” he says, very excitedly.
13. Despite his love of practical jokes, Kimmel has a very strong sense of propriety. Carolla recalls that the first year they were doing The Man Show and had to make a presentation at the Comedy Central upfronts, Kimmel insisted that they both wear jackets. “I said, ‘It’s The Man Show, Jimmy! What do I need to wear a blazer for?’ And he said, ‘No, no, no, no, no. It’s the upfront — you need to show some respect, you need to, you know, put something on.’ I went out and bought like a $400, like, salmon, herringbone, like weird, tweedy, bad … I mean, like I’ve never worn the thing again. I put it on, Jimmy put his blazer on, we walked into the event, and our producer took one look at both of us and said, ‘What are you guys all dressed up for? I thought this was The Man Show!’”
14. His penchant for rules may have something to do with his upbringing in a big Catholic family. “Jimmy’s very family oriented. He wouldn’t want to disrespect his parents or upset them or have them disappointed in him,” says Carolla, who’s an atheist. “I wouldn’t call him deeply religious, but he doesn’t have the kind of moral latitude that I get, because he does feel like he has something or someone to answer to.”
15. According to Carson Daly, Kimmel is a terrific singer. “I would love to have him on The Voice one day; I think he thinks he would get all four chairs to turn. Well, I think he’s good enough to maybe get one or two,” Daly says. “I would love for him to come on and sing ‘Cool It Now’ by New Edition or something like a Huey Lewis and the News song or Toad the Wet Sprocket, because he sings very earnestly. Like, you’re driving with him in his car, he sings out loud with a lot of confidence. Favorite Jimmy Kimmel: Tom Cochrane, ‘Life is a Highway.’ He loves that song.”
16. Longtime producer Kellison says Kimmel once turned down a $250,000 deal to do a Pepsi commercial back when he was on The Man Show and making no money because he was too much of a Coca-Cola loyalist. “He said he’d never drink Pepsi in a million years,” says Kellison.
17. He thinks Seth MacFarlane is going to be a great Oscars host. “I think he’s one of those guys that people constantly underestimate, and I think that movie Ted was hilarious. I don’t see any reason why he isn’t capable of doing a great job of hosting the Oscars,” says Kimmel. “I don’t like it when people assume somebody’s going to stink or put these negative things out there beforehand, because there’s no reason for it. Like, let the guy do the show and then decide. Like these creeps over at Deadline Hollywood: This creepy witch Nikki Finke wrote a bad review of the Emmys. If you look at her review of my Emmys performance, she wrote a bad review before it aired. Before it aired! She decided it was going to be terrible and then went ahead to fulfill her prophecy.” Is he trying to start a war with Nikki Finke? “I couldn’t care less about Nikki Finke. She’s a negative person and that’s her thing, and I’ve had conversations with her, and there’s no reasoning with her. So … you know, they couldn’t be shittier to me than they already are.”
18. He D.J.-ed weddings for two and a half years in college, and it was where he first really felt a fear of flopping onstage that continues to this day. “Every time I went to work I would think, This is their wedding; this is their one wedding day maybe of their life. If I screw this up, it’s just another day of work for me, but I’ve screwed up the wedding that these people planned maybe for their whole lives.” When he was growing up, he explains, his idol was baseball player Steve Garvey. “And Steve Garvey, he showed up at every game, he played in like 1,200 consecutive games or something, and I read something that he said. He’s like, ‘You know, if somebody comes out to the ballpark and they came out to see me, I want to make sure that I’m there.’ I remember that made a big impression on me when I was a kid. And my dad took us to Dodgers stadium from Vegas, and of course he was there. It was one of like the biggest things ever for me, you know. Seeing the Dodgers. I’d only watched them on a black-and-white television, so I’d never seen them in color before, and I was really amazed by it. I was like, Wow, they have red numbers on their jerseys, which was kind of awesome. And something I didn’t even realize. And so I just kind of feel the same way because I remember going to see David Letterman when I was 16 years old in New York, and it was such a big deal to me. And if he’d come out and was pissed off and, like, shitty and sloppy or whatever, I would’ve been bummed out because that was my one chance to see him. And I kind of have that. Even if people want to take a picture with me, I’ve probably declined pictures maybe five times in my whole life just because you never know if there’s someone that really likes you, you don’t want to disappoint them like that. And I know 99 percent of them just want to get a picture with a celebrity and they don’t give a shit about me, but I do feel like, you know, I wouldn’t want to ruin that for them.”
19. He does have a backup plan. “Believe me, if I could make this much money fly-fishing, I would be fly-fishing every day.”