Jimmy Kimmel covered a lot of ground during his interview with Kanye West last week. But it was the rare instance when West was left speechless that stood out to nearly every media outlet—including this one. Now, Kimmel is speaking out about what West’s “silence” meant to him.
Toward the end of their first segment, which was dominated by West’s enduring “love” for President Donald Trump, the Jimmy Kimmel Live! host brought up the rapper’s infamous comments about George W. Bush after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005. “You so famously and so powerfully said, ‘George Bush doesn’t care about black people,’” the host noted. “It makes me wonder what makes you think that Donald Trump does, or any people at all?”
West sat silently for several seconds before Kimmel ultimately cut to a commercial break before his guest could formulate an answer. In the eyes of many viewers, he was “stumped.”
A few days later, West tweeted his response to the moment that got so much attention:
In turn, Kimmel wrote on Twitter, “Not every question warrants an immediate answer. Some answers need to be considered and a talk show with time constraints is a difficult place to do that. I know how much Kanye cares and I am so impressed by what he is doing quietly and without fanfare to help those who need it.”
When I sat down with Kimmel in his office this week for a wide-ranging interview ahead of next month’s Emmy Awards, he elaborated on what he made of West’s silence in the face of that question.
“Kanye is kind of in a perpetual state of being interviewed and he shares his thoughts constantly. So the idea that he needed to come up with the answer right there on the spot isn’t necessarily something I agree with,” Kimmel told me. “I think he doesn’t feel the same type of pressure that most people feel in a situation like that. And I think it’s a question that I hope he will answer eventually. But to force an answer out of somebody isn’t necessarily the way to go.”
For the record, West’s tweets about the controversy did not include an answer to Kimmel’s question.
As for why Kimmel decided to cut to commercial at that particular moment, he said it was merely a matter of time constraints. “I went to commercial because the segment was supposed to be eight minutes long and we were already at 10 minutes,” he said, explaining that he “didn’t have time to pick another leg of the conversation up there.”
And yet, notably, Kimmel did not return to the question again during the two segments that followed.
“I felt that his silence answered the question in some ways,” Kimmel added. “And I also know that if Kanye wanted to continue on a subject then he is not shy about continuing on that subject.”
Earlier in that same interview, West forcefully pushed back on the idea that “blacks are supposed to have a monolithic thought, we can only be Democrats.” He told Kimmel that when he posed in his “Make America Great Again” hat on Twitter, it was not an endorsement of Trump’s policies, but instead “represented overcoming fear and doing what you felt, no matter what anyone said, in saying, ‘You can’t bully me.’ Liberals can’t bully me, news can’t bully me, the hip-hop community, they can’t bully me.”
However, both ends of the political spectrum seem to have seized on West’s silence in that moment. On the one hand, some say his inability to answer Kimmel’s question on the spot could bely his ambivalence about the president. On the other, Trump supporters have been arguing that Kimmel’s question was so absurd that West didn’t feel the need to dignify it with an answer.
And then there is Trump himself, who seemed more than pleased with West’s appearance on the show, tweeting his message of thanks the next day: