Jimmy Kimmel Wants Nothing More Than to Interview Trump in Prison
With blockbuster movies like Top Gun: Maverick and Avatar: The Way of Water nominated for Best Picture, more eyes will be on this Sunday’s Academy Awards — and the night’s host, Jimmy Kimmel.
The Jimmy Kimmel Live! ringleader will be hosting the Oscars for the third time. He was, of course, famously emceeing the glitzy event when the infamous Best Picture snafu happened between Moonlight and La La Land, only to have that chaotic moment be eclipsed by last year’s slap seen ‘round the world. And, after Chris Rock turned down a do-over in favor of a reported $40 million live Netflix stand-up special wherein he absolutely unloaded on Will Smith, Kimmel stepped in.
According to Academy CEO Bill Kramer, part of the reason they hired Kimmel is because, should something go haywire, he “can really pivot and manage those moments,” adding that the Academy’s hired “a whole crisis team” and “run many scenarios” in case another Will Smith-style incident occurs. If only they told Kimmel what those scenarios were.
Congratulations on the Oscars.
[Laughs] Thanks! You know, I always laugh when people say “congratulations” because I’m not sure if that’s what you should say!
I was gonna say, I’ve heard people describe this as a “thankless gig” because of how much shit the host generally receives. Why are you still drawn to it?
That’s a good question. Let’s see… I think it’s a situation where the first time I was asked to host it was last-minute in December, so they had gone through a lot of people. The second time I got asked was right after the show ended — that night, after the wrong Best Picture winner got announced. Then they abandoned the idea of having hosts, there were some things that didn’t work out, they had three hosts last year, and I thought it was all behind me. And then I was surprised and flattered to be asked again, and that’s what probably made me eager to do it.
How long does it take for you to prep for something like this, and who have you assembled to help with the joke-writing?
If they hired me to be Oscars host in ten years, we’d probably have a meeting once a week for ten years. The way I approach these things, you can never put enough work into it. With the daily show, you have a nightly deadline that limits your zealotry, but we are working on it constantly. The writers I hired are all the writers from my show and that’s it, so it’s really our staff working on it while we work on the regular show every night.
How many My Year of Dicks jokes do you have right now?
You know, there are a couple in the packet! But that’s gonna get whittled down. “Dicks” likely won’t make it to air.
There seemed to be a line in the sand of sorts as far as award-show hosting is concerned when Ricky Gervais began hosting the Golden Globes. He transformed it into this no-holds-barred roast of Hollywood. What did you think of that approach? And do you think it’s representative of a growing hostility toward celebrity?
I think there’s always been hostility toward celebrities. First of all, the Golden Globes is not a real awards show. Let’s be honest. I don’t think any of them are necessarily valid, but if there is one that is valid it’s the Oscars and the ones where you’re voted on by your peers, like the SAG Awards, the Writer’s Guild Awards, and the Director’s Guild Awards. But the Globes are some foreign bike messengers who realized they’d get some free dinners if they decided to form this organization. I don’t know why it took so long for the world to figure that out! I think perhaps the world didn’t want to figure that out. We also know that if you have a trophy made, somebody’s gonna go up to take it. Trophies are like catnip for celebrities. We want them. I’m not sure why we want them! Art as a competition doesn’t seem right and doesn’t seem in the spirit of any of it, but what Ricky did was largely appropriate for the awards he was handing out, which were nonsense.
I thought people would’ve caught on when Burlesque got a ton of Globes nominations after the studio took a bunch of Hollywood Foreign Press members to Vegas to see Cher.
[Laughs] You’d think! But I guess as long as people are getting on a plane to go see Cher, people are gonna keep their mouths shut.
It’s different though because Ricky Gervais isn’t really friends with too many of these people in the audience, whereas you are. So that afforded him the ability to take some low blows. How do you navigate this as someone who socializes with some of these people?
That’s not really a factor. If there is somebody I’m friendly with I’m much, much more likely to make fun of them onstage. Now, I do have a television show that I have to book, so that’s something you have to be aware of, but that has very little to do with it. If it was a roast, and I’ve done roasts before, I would absolutely roast everyone, but this isn’t that. You have to remember that, as hokey as it sounds, the Oscars are meaningful to these actors, directors and craftspeople who’ve been thinking about them their whole lives, and they’re not really there to be abused. That doesn’t mean I won’t poke some fun at people or deliver some sharp elbows to those who deserve it, but it’s not why you’re there. It’s easy to rip people a new asshole, you know? It’s a much lower bar to clear. I want to approach this in the same way as when I was in college and was a wedding DJ: you want everybody to have fun and have a good time, but it isn’t really about you.
Speaking of people who will never host the Oscars, Elon Musk recently called Rolling Stone “Scolding Stone.” This was supposed to be a joke. It seems like he’s on a life-long quest to be recognized as a mildly funny person. It’s kind of… sad.
[Laughs] Yeah, I know. You know, I have less of a problem with his terrible jokes than I do with the terrible things he puts out in the world, like when he decided to pour gasoline on that horrible, cruel, false story about Paul Pelosi when he was attacked. You have an old man who’s in his home hit in the head with a hammer by a lunatic, and to do anything other than hope for the best is vile, as far as I’m concerned. I think Elon Musk is desperate for attention. It’s a shame, because it seemed like he was gonna be one of these guys who would try to save the world when he was just making these electric cars, but I guess that should be a lesson to us not to assume. I don’t know what’s going on with him. I’ve had him on the show and met him once, but he’s like a chatbot with legs.
Another thing that happened recently is that CNN added Bill Maher’s Overtime segments to their lineup. How do you feel about this strange melding of comedy and news? Do you think this is good for society?
I think it’s OK in relatively small doses. If you think about it, Andy Rooney was on 60 Minutes for a very long time and it was always kind of fun at the end of the show. I like to see funny people mixed in to things like news and sports. I think Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal are good examples of that — or people like Kenny Mayne and Neil Everett. I always think it makes it more fun. I’m not programming CNN, and if my directive was to make sure it was a very evenhanded news organization, I think adding a comedian might make that more difficult. But I’m OK with it.
You joked about the Academy going to Chris Rock first to host in your Oscars-hosting intro video. What do you think of the Academy asking Chris to host? Do you feel that was a cynical move?
No, I don’t think it was cynical. I think he deserved that opportunity if he wanted it. The least they could do is offer him that slot.
The Oscars handled The Slap quite poorly, which led to it becoming an even bigger thing. If Will Smith was ejected immediately, which he should have been at a minimum, I don’t think this thing would have dragged on for quite as long as it did.
Yeah, maybe so. Maybe so. But this is a group of human beings running a television show, and as much as you can be prepared for, I don’t think this is something that anyone could imagine would happen. I’ve had this thought: I’ve been hosting these live award shows, and there’s very little protection as far as the stage goes. Anyone who’s in that building can walk right up onstage. I almost hesitate to say this because I don’t want to encourage people to do that, but there are going to be some dingbats in a room full of 3,500 people, and the fact that it hasn’t happened more surprises me. They were saying they “ran through a bunch of scenarios” and are “prepared for everything,” and I would have loved to have been in that meeting because I can’t imagine what those scenarios were.
I was wondering what sort of security measures they’re taking in case someone rushes the stage again. Are they going to have Jason Momoa standing on the side of the stage or something?
Well, I’m gonna have Guillermo there so I’ll be fine.
You offered compassion when the ABC/racist tweet stuff went down with Roseanne—
—I asked people to slow down because you hate to see somebody harm themselves as a result of an online effort. It doesn’t mean I agree in any way with what she said, and I think she may have said something before that one, so there was definitely a pattern.
Now she’s making the rounds attacking you and bringing up your Karl Malone sketches.
I don’t know if she’s even aware that I said that? I guess it doesn’t really matter. I think she’s trying to draw a pretty weak comparison between something I apologized for and something she didn’t. I think she’s been making herself the victim, but I chalk that up to perhaps her not thinking so clearly. I’ve known Roseanne for a long time. I’ve never known her that well, but she’s gone from being a very hardcore liberal Democrat to now I don’t know what, so consistency doesn’t seem to be her forte when it comes to thinking.
I spoke with Steven Soderbergh recently, and he said this will be an interesting Oscars because there are big movies nominated, so people can’t really use that as an excuse anymore for the telecast’s ratings. Does that bring added pressure as host?
It is great to have movies that people have seen nominated. Just from the standpoint of telling jokes alone, it’s hard to sell a joke when people don’t know the setup. I do remember a couple of occasions when I was hosting the Oscars in ’17, and I knew it was a good joke, and I don’t remember exactly what the joke was, but it was about Moonlight, and it was very clear that the vast majority of the audience had not seen that movie. So having movies that people saw is sixty percent of it. It’s kind of the reason we make fun of Trump so much: You know everything about the guy and there’s no setup required, so you can cut right to the punchline.
Soderbergh also said something interesting, which was that “movies don’t occupy the same cultural real estate as they used to.” Now we have so much television as well as other forms of entertainment like YouTube and TikTok and the like.
I think there’s some truth to that. People focus on the Oscars, and the ratings of the Oscars, but this is what’s happening to television. The Oscars are just a visible part of the iceberg. People have a lot to say about the ratings, and they read a lot into the ratings and what it means, but what I think it means is that there are a lot of options, and just by virtue of that you’ll have less people watching. Also, you don’t have to wait until the next day to find out who won anymore. As a kid, I remember waking up in the morning, reading the box scores, and not getting the West Coast baseball scores for two days. There was an element of, I have to make sure I see this while it’s happening or I’m going to be one of the people who won’t know what’s going on in the world, and that’s not true anymore.
I also grew up loving Dave Letterman and Howard Stern, and really enjoyed their interviews, because Letterman had this amusing hostility to his guests and Howard just asked the wildest shit and got his guests to open up about things they never would with anyone else. What did you learn from those guys? And do you feel that take-no-prisoners approach is missing nowadays?
Well, Howard’s still on. I just think he’s become such an institution, and he’s in a position where he’ll only book a guest if he wants to talk to that guest, which is a great position to be in. There are so many things I learned from them. Starting with Dave, he probably more than anyone — other than my parents — shaped my sense of humor. His way of looking at things was so different from anything we’d seen before. I think people overuse the word “irony,” and I don’t think his humor was ironic. It was no-bullshit and anti-show business in a way, and I loved it. Watching that show was the most interesting thing in my life for a period of probably seven years. I would draw Dave on my book covers at school. I was maybe not clinically obsessed, but as close to it as you might wanna get. And Howard was forbidden fruit for me, because my Uncle Vinny would make cassette tapes of Howard and send them to me, and he’d only make them once a month. So, I’d listen to one hour of Howard Stern over and over again, play it for my friends, and we just couldn’t believe it was happening because we didn’t have that in Las Vegas. If you want to talk about a practical thing I learned from those guys, it’s that everybody’s part of the show. Whether you talk about Biff Henderson with Dave, or Howard bringing in the guys around the office, everyone can be in on it and it doesn’t have to be a Vegas-style production.
It’s been 20 years of hosting Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and you extended your contract to 2026. How’s the ride been?
Oh my god. This place was a circus when we started. There are things I’ve forgotten, and every once in a while I’m searching for an email and I put a keyword in and a bunch of crazy things pop up. We’re still on the air and I can’t explain how nutty that is. I don’t know how we stayed on after the first three years. I don’t think we even figured out how to do the show properly for 12 or 13 years, so I always have empathy for people who launch a talk show because I was fortunate to have a lot of time to get it right. There’s been so much crazy shit. It’s so calm and regimented now compared to what it used to be. When the show was live, it was on at 9:05 p.m. and ended at 10:05 p.m. I was sharing custody of my children, who were eight and ten years old at the time, with my ex-wife — so that meant they were sleeping at my show at least one night a week. There was a party in our green room that I was usually never a part of happening every night. There were so many nights where we didn’t have a guest at five in the afternoon, so I’d have to ask Sarah Silverman to be a guest that night — even though she didn’t have anything to promote. I’d just start calling friends. It was like being in a fraternity or something, except if we got kicked out of the college we would lose our house. The idea that that same person is now hosting the Oscars would be very surprising to people who were there for the first five years.
I know Jimmy Kimmel Live! takes up a lot of your time, but is there something you really want to do after? Anything on your bucket list?
Yes, there is one thing on my bucket list that I want to do. It just popped into my head when you asked the question. I want to visit Donald Trump in prison and interview him from jail.
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