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Jimmy Kimmel Comes Alive

Talk show host makes late night a little more rock-friendly

In the eighteen months since Jimmy Kimmel Live debuted on ABC, the late-night show has become a favorite destination for bands seeking to flog their latest wares. In an effort to avoid the typically sterile experience of playing a talk show, Jimmy Kimmel Live recently debuted the outdoor Walkman Stage, where performers including Lenny Kravitz, the Cure, Jason Mraz, Flogging Molly and Jimmy Eat World have played to a live audience assembled specifically to see music. Immediately after the show, tracks from the live spots are available as “Kimmel Downloads” at connect.com. Kimmel, who will also serve as host for the American Music Awards on November 14th, spoke with Rolling Stone about his many rock & roll encounters, from Lil’ Jon’s porn stars to Marilyn Manson’s kisses.

Where did the idea for the Walkman stage originate?

We felt like we were not going to beat the other shows as far as guest bookings went, but one area where we could be better than them is in musical guest bookings. On talk shows, musical guests are kind of cast aside — they’re put at the end of the show, they’re rarely interviewed, and there’s not much production value as far as sets when the band plays. We just wanted to do it differently. Because the truth of the matter is you wind up interviewing the sixth biggest star off a sitcom for seven minutes, and then somebody like Robert Smith or Perry Farrell comes on and no one even talks to him. It doesn’t make any sense, because these guys are bigger stars than the vast majority of people on television.

It makes it seem like more of a concert. I went to a taping of Leno a couple years back: the band’s off in the corner, and all of a sudden it’s like, “Ready? Rock!”

Not only that, but doing a concert at 5:30 in the afternoon in front of a bunch of people who just cleared out of a bingo hall somewhere in Burbank has got to be awful for a band. We wanted to make it be more of a rock environment.

Who has been your most memorable guest?

Marilyn Manson played on our outdoor stage, and he was entertaining from the moment he walked into our building until the moment he left at three in the morning. That night I had to catch a plane to New York, so I had to leave immediately after the show. And as I was doing the close of the show, thanking all the guests, he climbed on my head — and he’s a big guy — and he kissed me on the forehead. He had a lot of red lipstick on, and what I didn’t realize was there was a huge lip print on my forehead: big and red, like the Rolling Stones logo. And I went right to the airport, and people were looking at me — but I normally get that anyway. I was on the plane for like two hours before I saw it in the bathroom. I thought I’d been wounded or something.

Do you hang out with the bands after the show?

Some nights it’s crazy, and some nights it’s a total family-oriented environment in my dressing room. One night, my best friend’s dad is sitting here, and Lil’ Jon brings in these two porn stars. And the porn stars are getting naked, taking off their clothes absentmindedly, and one of them winds up sitting on my friend’s dad’s lap. It was a bizarre thing for me.

From the host perspective, what do you look for in bands?

Well, we want them to play, but we also want them to play along with the show. Like, Alanis Morissette was here, and we were trying to think of what the opposite of Alanis Morissette was. And we decided it was a Hooters waitress, so we asked her to be a waitress at Hooters. She got in a Hooters outfit, and we shot a bit with her, and she was great. It’s nice if they have a little bit of fun on the show. Slipknot did not: I wanted my parents to interview them, but they didn’t go for it. I guess they’re pretty serious.

Have there been any bands you’ve been turned onto through having them on the show?

I’d never heard of Los Lonely Boys before, and I just fell in love with those guys. We try to get bands on early, so are a lot of bands that I hadn’t even heard on the radio before that are really good.

Do you find that having bands play in a more concert-like atmosphere affects the energy level of the audience?

It actually makes it hard to do the show sometimes — if you get a band that’s really specific or hardcore who could give a shit about seeing me and my suit. [That audience] wants to get to the band, and they could really give a shit about some of the guests. It’s like, “Relax, everybody, relax.” You have a band like Slipknot on, and then you’re interviewing Kathy Griffin and they’re like, “All right with the Hollywood anecdotes, let’s kill something!”

Do you remember what got you into music?

I always loved to listen to the radio. I grew up in Las Vegas — the first concert I ever went to was Sammy Davis Jr. when I was fourteen years old, so I didn’t have the typical musical upbringing. But the first album that I really got into was Punch the Clock by Elvis Costello. I heard the song “Everyday I Write The Book” on the radio, and I thought, “I like that song!” I hadn’t really been a record buyer, didn’t really have a job yet, and I went and bought the record. I listened to it over and over and over again, started buying some of his other records, and that really started it. I was a mobile DJ in college, so I have almost every record from 1985 until 1989. I know everybody says they like a wide variety of music, but when I was a kid I liked Lionel Richie and Elvis Costello and Jeffrey Osborne and the Clash and George Benson and Huey Lewis and Madonna and Cyndi Lauper.

What venues did you play as a mobile DJ?

College parties, weddings and high school dances, and bar mitzvahs sometimes — although there are not a lot of those in Phoenix. I did Christmas parties.

What was your play list like?

It varied according to the crowd. For a college party, I played the Cure, Modern English, New Order — that was really popular back then. If it was a wedding, I’d play Fifties, Sixties, Seventies, Eighties, big band. I did a couple purely Mexican weddings where I played “La Isla Bonita” eleven times in a row. I didn’t have much in the way of Spanish music, so it was like “Low Rider” and “La Isla Bonita” and “Tequila” over and over again.


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