“Sometimes there is such low-hanging fruit, you have to choose between 12 jokes on one subject, and picking the right ones is something I obsess over,” Jimmy Kimmel admits about his preparation for his annual sardonic stand-up routine during ABC’s upfront presentation. “Then I’ve found too that, almost inevitably, my best jokes come to me around 3 in the morning when I’m sitting there alone.”
In a room packed with network executives, media, producers and advertisers, Kimmel certainly won’t be alone when he takes the stage at Lincoln Center’s David Geffen Hall on Tuesday for his 15th roast of the Disney-owned net and the television industry. This year would actually have been the two-time Oscar frontman and late-night host’s 16th upfront, but Kimmel bowed out in 2017 to stay close to home after his newborn son Billy had to undergo open heart surgery just three days after being born.
The network soldiered on last year without Kimmel, but ABC is clearly glad he is back in the fold again and ready to unleash upon their broadcast rivals in TV’s big money week.
With a current contract that runs until 2019, Kimmel chatted with me about his return to the New York upfront spotlight and taking on Donald Trump and Fox News’ Sean Hannity. The host also spoke about the threats posed by the streaming services to the Big 4, in late-night and beyond. Of course, after the Best Picture Oscar mishap of 2017 and the Time’s Up tone of this year’s Academy Awards, we also talked about whether another Oscar-hosting stint is in the cards.
DEADLINE: Having missed last year, this will actually be your first upfronts of the Trump Era. Having you been saving up a barrelful of barbs for the President and his ongoing big show?
KIMMEL: Oh, wow. Yeah, you know, I hadn’t really thought about it that way, but I guess you’re right. Hopefully it’ll be the last upfront of the Trump era, too. So, I don’t know, I don’t know how much focus there will be on that. I think people have had an ass-full of Donald Trump, and I feel like the upfront is a time to look within and make fun of ourselves.
DEADLINE: So, next week is a Trump-free zone for you?
KIMMEL: Well, I can’t imagine that it will be entirely Trump free, but I’m not planning on that to be my focus. Already I’m seeing a lot of other things to point out, to make fun of. We’re getting all sorts of new terminology that doesn’t seem to last one year to the next. There are initials that I’m trying to decode. I always wonder if the people in the audience even know what some of these things are, so that’s something I want to get into.
KIMMEL: Yeah, it’s really genuinely confusing, the whole thing. I think it took me a full two years to even understand what the upfront was. Now a lot of that was me not really paying attention, but I didn’t really understand what it was for the first couple of times I did it. Even now, I’m just barely kind of grasping it.
DEADLINE: Well, going into to your 16th year and 15th presentation, I think you have a pretty fine grasp of it.
KIMMEL: Well, thanks.
DEADLINE: Having said that, obviously, you didn’t participate in the 2017 upfronts because of Billy’s health issues. So I wondered, and please don’t think I’m a jerk for asking this when you were dealing with a family matter, but did you miss not being there after a decade and a half?
KIMMEL: A little bit, truthfully. Obviously, my focus was elsewhere. You know, my son had an operation, and I wasn’t really thinking about the upfronts. But I will say, that week when you start reading other people’s jokes, I did kind of feel left out. I kind of missed being there, as crazy as it sounds, because it’s a huge pain in my ass.
DEADLINE: How has that huge pain in the ass, as you call it, changed for you over the years?
KIMMEL: Certainly, the Internet wasn’t as active as it is now, and we had no Twitter. I say that because now every joke is evaluated instantly by hundreds of people. I sometimes wonder if people are even listening to the jokes, because they’re transcribing them and reposting them and then weighing in on whether they’re funny or not. I now also have a lot of competition because other hosts will do basically what I do, and I’m not up first.
DEADLINE: This year you follow the NBC and Fox presentations but are ahead of the CBS one on Wednesday at Carnegie Hall, where Colbert or Corden will likely do their thing…
KIMMEL: Exactly — that puts me at a bit of a disadvantage because I have second or third crack at the jokes sometimes. I used to be all alone in this, so I always hope that there’s as little of that as possible. I don’t relish following other comedians who are doing material about the same subject, but for the most part, it’s the same thing. It’s a bunch of people being held prisoner for a week in a series of ballrooms and theaters, and I like to think of myself as a little release valve in an Instant Pot of bulls*t.
DEADLINE: Are you tweaking that Instant Pot right up until you hit the stage?
KIMMEL: Always, Fact is we write about 50 percent of the monologue the night before the upfront. We want it to be current, and we want to react to what the other networks are doing. So, if NBC and Fox go ahead of us, we like to work that stuff in.
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