Jimmy Kimmel, back in Los Angeles after conquering the White House Corespondents’ Dinner, says the high-wire act of headlining the prestigious annual “nerd prom” was like “having a baby.”
“The most terrified I’ve ever been was the first time I went on [David] Letterman – this was number two,” Kimmel tells EW.com.
The White House did not put any restrictions on his jokes, Kimmel says, nor did anybody ask to see his material ahead of time. While the comedian was worried about his jokes being funny, Kimmel says he wasn’t inordinately concerned about the president’s reaction, having seen him laughing at himself at other televised events in the past.
“It’s just a very strange room,” Kimmel recalls. “One person told me afterward they were scared to laugh at a joke because they were sitting next to [House Majority Leader] Eric Cantor, who I didn’t even realize was there. She didn’t want him to see her laughing at a joke I made about him. Half the people on any given joke have to keep [the laughter] to themselves.”
Kimmel rated his performance as “solid” (critics were more complimentary – especially given the difficulty of the room) and President Obama didn’t seem to take offense. “The President and the First Lady both said they thought it was very funny,” Kimmel says.
The comedian says he hasn’t received any negative reaction from his comedic targets that night. “I could see [New Jersey governor Chris Christie] laughing in the crowd, which is nice. As much fun as it is when people get mad, it’s not as much fun as when they laugh at themselves. You don’t necessarily want to hurt people’s feelings. Kim Kardashian was laughing as well, which I guess she’s used to this sort of thing and is a good sport about it.”
The one exception: Keith Olbermann, who suggested on Twitter that Kimmel’s jokes about his employment status since leaving Current TV were motivated by “revenge,” saying he recently turned down an offer to appear on ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live!. (“Funny that Jimmy Kimmel ripped me after his people desperately wanted me to fly to LA to be on his show this past Wednesday,” Olbermann wrote. “I’m fair game. I’m complaining about the revenge element. It reminds me of O’Reilly.”)
“I didn’t even know they asked him to be on the show,” Kimmel says. “The way I look at it, he’s a major political figure in broadcasting over the past year and jokes had to be made about him. I guess he took it the wrong way. I’ll call over or something and clear it up.”
Kimmel said he thought the president’s set was “very good, very funny.” Some took Obama’s jokes about eating dogs were criticized as as less-than dignified, but Kimmel says everything about the event is rather “un-presidential.”
“I met the French ambassador afterward and he was amazed I could stand there and make jokes about the president right there in the room and people would laugh,” Kimmel says. “He didn’t think that would be the case in France.”
Kimmel added that the most powerful draw in the ballroom wasn’t the president. “George Clooney is far more popular than any person in Washington D.C.,” Kimmel says. “They were pushing people back [from him]. It was starting to get crazy.”
And if you’re wondering about the story behind Kimmel’s shout out to a teacher who said he would never amount to anything, here it is: “My history teacher in the tenth grade,” Kimmel says. “I used to try to make him laugh, that was the goal. At one point he cleared the room out and told me I was not allowed to make any jokes and if I did I would fail the class. He explained that people were there to learn – which at the time was a revelation to me. The class kind of revolted and he allowed me to make one joke per week. So I would save up all week until Friday and wait for an opportunity to say something.”
How to survive the White House Correspondents’ Dinner red carpet
Jimmy Kimmel and President Obama at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner: Jokes about Mitt, Hillary, and dogs, dogs, dogs
White House Correspondents’ Dinner: 10 Funniest Moments