HOST WITH THE MOST
Jimmy Kimmel Talks Interviewing Obama, Women in Late Night, and His SXSW Takeover
The first-rate host of Jimmy Kimmel Live! is once again taking over Austin. He opens up about his highly anticipated interview with the president, late-night gender politics, and more.
“We’re going to Austin, Texas, next week!” says a jazzed-up Jimmy Kimmel. “I’m very excited.”
Yes, for the second straight year, the talented host of ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live! will broadcast his late-night talk show for a whole week—March 16-20—from deep in the heart of Austin. In anticipation of his SXSW takeover, the local restaurant Iron Cactus will be serving up a special margarita dubbed the “Kimmelrita.” And judging by last year’s edition, a wildly diverse cast of characters should file through. The 2014 SXSW broadcast attracted the likes of Seth Rogen, Snoop Dogg, Robert Duvall, Lil Wayne, and even Gov. Rick Perry. The whole shebang was capped off with Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell declaring March 14 the city’s official “Jimmy Kimmel Day.” Not too shabby.
And in yet further evidence of unrelenting schedule, on Thursday, March 12, Kimmel will be sitting down with President Obama for what the comedian promises will be a wide-ranging interview on Jimmy Kimmel Live! The commander in chief’s last appearance on the program was in June 2008, but his failure to return before this week wasn’t for any lack of trying on both sides.
“It’s been something we’ve been wanting to do and [Obama’s] been wanting to do for a couple of years now,” Kimmel tells The Daily Beast. “A few times, due to current events, the president had to cancel his appearance. Hopefully this time he’ll make it here and be on, but we’re always prepared for the possibility that something will prevent that from happening.”
The 47-year-old Brooklyn native says that while the interview will feature plenty of “the nonsense that I’m inclined towards,” he won’t be pulling any punches.
“The way I look at it is as long as I ask questions that I’m genuinely interested in hearing the answer to, I think I’m in good shape,” Kimmel says. “I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on foreign policy, or health care, or any of those things. But we will definitely get into stuff that is a little more serious.”
Kimmel also confirms that his wrists won’t be tied by the Obama administration. None of the jokes or questions he’ll shoot POTUS’s way will be screened beforehand, and oddly enough, the process of interviewing the “Leader of the Free World”—or any politician, for that matter—is less diva-ish than hamming it up with celebs.
“There’s much less pre-planning in an interview with the president or any politician than there is with a celebrity,” says Kimmel. “I think that politicians—and rightly so—understand that they work for the public and that they’re required to answer any appropriate questions that they’re asked. It’s actually easier in that respect to interview politicians than celebrities.”
And when it comes to POTUS, well, Kimmel says Obama’s comedic chops are second to none. At least intentionally speaking.
“[Obama’s] definitely the most intentionally funny president of my lifetime,” says a chuckling Kimmel. “It’s tough to beat President Bush for sheer physical comedy, though.”
Our chat eventually veered into the state of late-night television. With David Letterman leaving on May 20, to be replaced by Stephen Colbert (“It would be very foolish to underestimate Stephen Colbert,” Kimmel says), and James Corden taking over for Craig Ferguson on The Late, Late Show, Kimmel will soon be the OG of late night—a development he finds surreal.
“You never think about yourself that way,” he says. “I think I’ll always feel like ‘the new guy,’ but clearly I’m not. We’ve been on for over 12 years now.” He pauses. “I think I’m ready for my heart procedure.”
There’s also been quite a bit of fuss lately—and rightly so—over the dearth of women in the refurbished late-night ranks. And Kimmel is, like the American public, irked at how major networks play gender politics in choosing TV hosts.
“You know, TV networks are stupid,” Kimmel says. “There’s this idea that women have to host the shows in the daytime and men have to host the shows in the nighttime. What will happen is some woman will come along, be super popular, do a great job, and all the other networks will say, ‘We must get a woman on the air!’ They’re sheep, and that’s the way it goes, and somebody needs to lead the way.”He adds, “If Ellen, Tina Fey, or Amy Poehler decided they wanted to do a late-night talk show, it would be no more than three minutes before they’d be given the opportunity. But some of the women that are attractive to networks are too big for it.”
As for Kimmel’s late-night future, the comedian says he has no plans to hang up his suit just yet. Planning in what he calls the “black hole of work” that his job requires seems next to impossible.
But he does have a pretty fun suggestion for who should fill Jon Stewart’s seat at The Daily Show. “I would like to see Mike Tyson take that spot,” Kimmel says. “I think there are a lot of sides to him that have yet to be explored.”