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Talk Like a Man

Behind the scenes of Jimmy Kimmel's late-night show. Joel Stein goes backstage with his former ''Man Show'' boss

Jimmy Kimmel | HARD KNOCKS On Jimmy's first show he had an audience member hurl and scarce guests
Image credit: Jimmy Kimmel Illustration by Eric Palma
HARD KNOCKS On Jimmy's first show he had an audience member hurl and scarce guests

Behind the scenes of Jimmy Kimmel's late-night show

I always thought I wanted to host a talk show. Then I got one in college, the highlight of which was when a woman from the Safer Sex Shop told me to stop touching her knee. If I couldn't get away with that, what was the point? When I found out someone I knew was getting a talk show, I had some idea of what he was in for. I met Jimmy Kimmel four years ago when I worked, for one week, as a writer for ''The Man Show.'' Part of the reason I only lasted a week was because my best idea was a sketch called ''C. Everett Koop Teaches You How to Dance.'' Also, I'm not that manly. Despite this, Jimmy has always been very nice to me, giving me story ideas, inviting me to parties, and making fun of my hair. He's like the mean older brother I never wanted.

I spent the first few days of ABC's ''Jimmy Kimmel Live'' backstage not only to support him, but because I was interviewing Snoop, who was cohosting for the week. Also, the greenroom has a fully stocked bar and food, along with a Ms. Pac-Man game. But mostly I went to support Jimmy.

The first show didn't go that smoothly. The cops threatened to shut down the Coldplay performance outside after one audience member urinated on the street and a few others broke down a barricade. Executive producer Daniel Kellison, who had hired me for ''The Man Show,'' did a lot of wild gesticulating until the police agreed to let the band play. ''I'm not that smooth with the police and the fire department,'' he said. ''I start yelling and stuff. It doesn't work out so well.'' After he fixed that, a woman who had enjoyed the audience's free alcohol threw up. A fun night was had by all.

On the second night, Jimmy's staff found out that their musical guest, 50 Cent, was marked for death by almost everyone in hip-hop, and they realized they didn't have enough security, since many of our forces had been deployed to the Mideast. ''I wasn't worried at all about everyone getting shot,'' Jimmy said. ''I was worried about me getting shot.'' Daniel beefed up security for future shows, especially because they're live. ''It won't be long before some girl jumps up on stage and does a winger.'' A winger, he tells me, is when a woman, elbows out like a chicken, raises her shirt. That's the kind of ''Man Show'' experience ABC hired him for.

But the biggest problem was that Daniel didn't have any guests booked for the next night. It was so bad that after the show, walking from Jimmy's dressing room to the parking lot, I noticed that the star looked pretty drunk. ''No,'' Daniel explained. ''Jimmy just gets bags under his eyes. He wouldn't drink at work.'' I reminded Daniel that on two shows that week, Jimmy did multiple shots of vodka during the show. ''On air, sure,'' he said. ''That's different.''

The next day, Jimmy had on a paranormal investigator, Tammy Faye Bakker, and his Uncle Frank. Daniel says the other networks seem to have put an embargo on having their stars go on his show. ''Fox pulled Bernie Mac, who was booked. CBS said no to Ray Romano. Not that Ray Romano would have come, but it didn't get that far,'' he said. ''Meanwhile, the Bachelorette is on Kilborn and Leno.'' ABC can't force her, however, to do Jimmy's show. ''She's busy, I guess, or something,'' Daniel said. Nor could ABC force Jennifer Garner, of its own show, ''Alias,'' to come on. Daniel said it was common to have trouble booking guests before people see what the show is like. ''But for us, once they see what it's like, it doesn't make it much easier,'' he said.

All of this stress made me glad that I don't have a talk show, which is like having to throw a party every night and get your guests to like you, whereas having a column is more like having a place to make fun of your friends. I was feeling pretty good about this until I was in the greenroom and saw Jimmy's new girlfriend, comedian Sarah Silverman, yell at everyone to keep quiet while we watched the show. Then she smiled lovingly at the screen. ''If it makes you feel any better,'' Jimmy said, ''she wouldn't date you even if I'd never been born.''

Trying to be supportive, I suggested that I could come on and help in a tight spot. ''Every member of every reality show that ever aired would have to cancel,'' Jimmy said. ''From Puck to Colby to 'Joe Millionaire''s butler -- all the way to Kim Coles.'' Daniel was slightly more encouraging. ''I think we would pull the plug on the show before we booked you,'' he said. ''This column floats your ego, but there's no scenario in which you'd be a guest. Jimmy has plenty of family members to go to first.''

Originally posted Feb 14, 2003 Published in issue #695 Feb 14, 2003 Order article reprints
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