Jimmy Kimmel on His Brooklyn Shows, Jay Leno’s Burn, and Beards

Brooklyn Jimmy Kimmel. Photo: Randy Holmes/ABC/Getty Images

Jimmy Kimmel is coming back home. Starting Monday night, the ABC late-night host will stage Jimmy Kimmel Live! from the Howard Gilman Opera House at the Brooklyn Academy of Music for the week. I sat with Kimmel on the second floor lounge on Sunday morning as the production crew readied the 2,090-seat Beaux Arts venue for his first show the following day. Kimmel looked every bit the relaxed Brooklyn dad, wearing a brown flannel button-down with jeans, and yes, sporting that sexy beard. We talked about the “late-night landscape,” Jay Leno’s recent comments that Kimmel has a “mean streak,” and of course, his facial hair.

Why’d you decide to do your show in Brooklyn instead of, say, Queens?
Well, I’m from Brooklyn. Brooklyn is set up well for a television show. The theater here, this beautiful opera house, makes you feel classy about telling penis jokes.

It’s the right ambience.
I imagine it’s going to be a wildly different audience than they had here for the opera last week.

How do you feel the energy is different playing to a New York crowd versus an L.A. crowd?
The energy is times-100. First of all, the size of the audience. We have 140 seats in the audience in L.A. There are more than 2,000 here. We had 19,000 ticket requests for the first show. And that makes you feel good, because I always worry: Do we need to plug the tickets again? Uhh, no, I don’t think so. I always assume nobody’s interested and nobody’s going to come, so it’s a nice surprise to see people line up waiting to get in.

Would you ever consider moving the show to New York?
There are already two shows here, so it’d be very crowded if we did. But a lot of people, myself included, would be pretty excited about that.

Is the Brooklyn show the reason why you grew the beard?
It’s the reason why I kept the beard. I usually grow a beard when I’m on vacation. I usually keep it for a couple of days because I know the people at ABC hate it. My natural inclination is to do whatever they don’t want me to do. Plus my wife likes it, Halle Berry complimented it, and then it did make sense to have the beard for Brooklyn week.

Did you see that the internet was kind of freaking out because they think you look hot with a beard?
I know. You know, it’s kind of insulting in a way: Now that there’s hair covering most of his face he seems to be attractive.

Well, we’re just in peak beard season.
Maybe that is what it is. Santa’s just around the corner.

I watched you on Colbert last week, and the two of you seemed to have a great rapport.
It’s the Colbert Report.

He’s doing great. It’s hard to get a show going. People are so focused on the host and his performance, but your whole staff is learning a new thing, and that’s hard, especially when you’re starting from scratch bit-wise, and you can’t really bring your material from the other show to this show. But he’s doing a very good job.

Did you give him any advice?
He didn’t ask. [Laughs.] I don’t think he needs advice from me.

You started back in 2002, and now you’re the elder statesman of the crowd.
Conan’s been on longer than I have, and Colbert’s a few years older than I am. But I’m in the old-guy group.

Does it feel strange to be in that role?
It does, yeah. It feels strange to get older in general. I do always think of myself as the new kid. I’m sure Dave and Jay felt the same way, and maybe still do in a way.

Do you think that sensibility still drives what you do?
No, you know, fear drives what I do. More than anything fear of bombing for that group of people that are there to see the show that night probably drives me more than anything. Fear of being unprepared. Fear of not delivering. That’s what really makes me hit my deadlines every night.

Deadline pressure is all I think about.
It really is a good thing though, because if ABC said to me “Do as many shows as you feel like a week,” I don’t know if I’d even do one. [Laughs.] Maybe do part of one.

How do you think the late-night landscape has changed?
Well, for one thing, this phrase “late-night landscape” has been created, which always makes me think of the guys working in my garden. And everybody says “late-night landscape” as their way to get me to bad-mouth other people. There are a lot of shows, but there are also a lot more ways to watch shows now. People don’t have to choose between one show and the other anymore. When I was a kid, you did. If Joan Rivers was on opposite Johnny Carson, you had to pick one, and now you don’t. And you can watch everything.

Obviously that’s because of the internet in large part. Do you feel like the internet informs how you make the show?
Yeah, it does. When we started, YouTube just became a thing. On our first show, we showed a YouTube video of Andy Milonakis — what we thought was a little kid strumming a guitar and singing “the Super Bowl is gay” over and over again, and we premiered on Super Bowl Sunday, and that was probably the first time a YouTube video was aired on television.

You’ve been very ahead of the curve in terms of bringing attention to the digital world.
But not by design or smarts or anything. I’m not being humble when I say it all just happened. You have to do a show every night, you look for things, you start to figure out what works, and then people start posting your videos online, and they become popular, and then we have such a thing called a viral video. Our first viral comedy bits were videos from The Man Show. We had this young boy have a lemonade stand but selling beer, and people started emailing these videos around. Of course it took forever to download. And we had viral audio with Crank Yankers. People would email these crank calls around. I would even get them and people didn’t know it was my show. We had one from Tracy Morgan and one from Wanda Sykes that became very, very popular. So I was kind of aware.

The first viral video I can remember was the video of the preacher where somebody added fart noises to it, but it was a VHS video, and people would copy it and the quality would get very low, and they would pass it around physically. Same with the Jerky Boys cassettes, you would physically pass these things around. It was more fun then, because it was really a treasure when you got a hold of something like that. Now it’s so easy. It’s like pornography. You used to find a Playboy magazine in an empty lot — you would, like, fire a weapon in the air to celebrate. Now just type in the word porn and you’re deluged.

There’s a lot of discussion about the lack of diversity on late night and I wanted to know what you thought about that.
People need to remember that this is an industry where all the networks care about is making money. Somebody’s going to figure out that you’re going to make money from a female host or a black host — I know we have a couple already. These executives are like sheep — they’ve been known to be — and suddenly you will have tons of female hosts, tons of black hosts. But the fact of the matter is that there are a lot of women that have been offered late-night television shows, and they’ve just chosen not to do them. The networks need to reach that kind of happy medium where they have somebody whose career is on a path that they want. I’m sure Amy Poehler and Tina Fey would be great at hosting late-night television shows. I’m sure Amy Schumer would be great at it. They’re just too big to do it. It’s not like the opportunities aren’t there, the people to whom they’re being presented don’t want them.

Jay Leno recently said that your comedy had a mean streak. What do you think about that?
Well, we know that Jay only does nice things for people — for his competitors. I can understand how he would feel that way. If there’s one thing he is, it’s nice 100 percent of the time.

Jimmy Kimmel on Late Night, Leno, and Beards