EXCLUSIVE: If and when Hillary Clinton does come back to town to make up for this week’s deep-pocket fundraisers that were cancelled Sunday with the revelation she has pneumonia, she might want to swing by Jimmy Kimmel Live! again. Clinfton’s August 22 pickle-jar opening appearance was meant to lay to rest questions of her health, but now seems poignant in a far different way.
Set to take the stage Sunday as the host of the 68th Primetime Emmy Awards, Kimmel, who is a nominee himself this year, has proved to be one of the central stops on the campaign trial for Democrats and Republicans alike — hell, he’s even running for Vice President himself.
As well as offering hints about what to expect for his second Emmy-hosting stint, the longtime ABC late-nighter chatted with me recently about the ongoing and growing controversy over Clinton’s health and how JKL got caught in the spotlight by foes of the Democratic candidate. Kimmel also discussed his very high opinion of Republican candidate Donald Trump — at least when it comes to late-night TV. He also revealed how he still misses hero David Letterman, why Garry Shandling is an inspiration, and what he really thinks of those For Your Consideration billboards all over town.
DEADLINE: Hillary Clinton’s heath has now truly become a big topic in the election and your bit with her last month opening a pickle jar became the focus of online conspiracy theorists, who claimed you rigged it for her. It’s great material no doubt, but how do you really feel about the topic and late-night becoming part of the story?
KIMMEL: It is interesting when it makes you realize just kind of how frivolous everything is when an appearance on our show becomes part of the narrative and part of the news. I mean, the idea that she’s opening a pickle jar would indicate anything other than can you open a pickle jar or not is very comical to me.
I think that 20 years ago it would barely have been a blip on anyone’s radar, but now that we have this 24-hour news and all these people looking for click-throughs, everything is news now, therefore nothing is news.
DEADLINE: How controlling the Clinton campaign acts is legit news, many would say. Is that something you have to deal with to get her on the show?
KIMMEL: When she comes in, there are no conditions on what I can ask her, no sacred cows. I think she handles herself pretty well on the show. Honestly, I think that’s probably the real Hillary that we see as opposed to the Hillary who we see making speeches.
DEADLINE: You’ve had Hillary on this election, you had President Obama last year, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. Honestly, who is the better guest?
KIMMEL: Donald Trump. Trump is one of the best guests you could ever possibly imagine because he has no filter. He’ll say almost anything. I guess he’s got a little bit of a filter now but he’s still essentially a Marlboro cigarette — somebody’s going to get cancer at the end of it. He’s so outrageous. He’s definitely more entertaining.
DEADLINE: Are you trying to get the two of them back individually before the election?
KIMMEL: Oh yeah. We have a standing invitation with both of them, so they will make us aware if they are in the area and want to be on the show and we will have them on.
DEADLINE: With all the twists and turns and sheer nuttiness of this final stretch of the election, how much is politics going to be part of your Emmy monologue on Sunday?
KIMMEL: Maybe a little bit. I’m not going to go too heavy on that unless something crazy happens that day or that weekend because I think people have probably had an ass full of that kind of stuff on every show for the last 18 to 94 months.
DEADLINE: How can you avoid the gift that keeps on giving known as Donald Trump?
KIMMEL: (laughs) Well, I’m sure his name will come up at some point. So, it’s kind of hard to avoid it, but it’s definitely not my focus.
DEADLINE: Having hosted the Emmys once before, what will be your focus this year?
KIMMEL: I’ll tell you, if there’s one thing I learned from hosting the Emmys and from sitting there watching the Emmys, it’s that it can be long, long night. So, I’m going to try to make it feel shorter. You know, the people in that room, they just want to get their categories read and go home. So, I’m going to try to make it fun for the studio audience and hopefully that will translate to the home audience as well — and shorter!
DEADLINE: With that goal in mind, who has been your favorite Emmy host over the years?
KIMMEL: You know what, I love Garry Shandling and I loved the job he did those times he hosted the Emmys.
KIMMEL: Because if you go back and watch him when he hosted in 2004, he took some real risks hosting that Emmy show. Do you remember that he blindfolded those two young adults, and he brought them out onstage and they had no idea where they were and when they took their blindfolds off they were on stage at the Emmys on television? I mean, to me that’s the kind of risky, I mean risky from a comedy standpoint – a bit that you don’t see enough on shows like this. I really thought that was an idea that was ahead of its time and I loved that Garry did it.
DEADLINE: Is the kind of thing you want to try to pull off this year? As tribute of sorts to Garry…
KIMMEL: Last time I hosted the Emmys, we pretended that Tracy Morgan had fallen unconscious onstage. Then we instructed everyone to tweet just to trick the people who weren’t watching and to get them to tune in and I thought that was a lot of fun. That was kind of a weird thing to do so yeah, that’s the sort of thing I personally enjoy and love. You know, while I still haven’t settled on everything that I’m going to do, that idea that Garry had definitely inspires me.
DEADLINE: How did his death earlier this year affect you?
KIMMEL: (pause) You know, he was very, very kind to me after I hosted the Emmys four years ago. He sent me a beautiful note that I’ve saved and that I will keep for the rest of my life. I really appreciated that greatly and it was very complimentary. Then I learned at his funeral service that this is something that he did regularly. If he saw something that he likes, he would send a note about it and that, obviously, means a lot to anyone who admired him. It’s a great lesson also I think to do the same, because I think far too often people see something they like it and then they never say anything about it — I just think it’s good karma all the way around.
DEADLINE: Speaking of karma, what are you going to do when they read out the Outstanding Variety Talk Series category Sunday? You’re both hosting the show and nominated…
KIMMEL: (laughs) I think we’ll probably swap out the envelopes or something. I don’t know. I’ll just sit there and wait and hear how it goes, and then, you know, try to wipe the tears and continue hosting.
DEADLINE: Lots of changes in late-night this year, like no nomination for Stephen Colbert in his new CBS gig …
KIMMEL: Yeah, I was definitely surprised by that.
DEADLINE: And then there’s the rise of James Corden, which did get a nomination, and the cancellation of The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore last month. How has that affected Kimmel Live?
KIMMEL: There has been a lot of change but it doesn’t affect our day-to-day operation. And, look, I certainly take no pleasure in seeing shows get cancelled, at all. But for us as a show, it doesn’t really make a difference. We still have a show to do every night and, I know it sound cliché, but we try to focus on making the show good and whatever happens outside of that happens.
DEADLINE: The show has been nominated for several Emmys and you’ve about to be a repeat host. So what do you think of all the FYC campaigns that take over the billboards around town every year?
KIMMEL: It probably was effective at one time but it seems like overkill now. I mean, I drive home from work out of Hollywood and there are 50,000 billboards asking you to vote for various shows. Maybe if it’s a show that isn’t done very well it helps, but it just seems to be something that’s written into people’s contracts now – everyone gets one.
Also, the two rounds of voting are very different. A lot of the first round is just about awareness and perception. I think that once you get nominated then it’s very different. Then presumably people are actually looking at the episodes and more focused, you hope.
DEADLINE: Your hero David Letterman, having retired last year, is now nowhere to be seen in this year’s Emmys. Nearly a year and a half after the last The Late Show With David Letterman, how do you feel now about his absence from the late-night scene?
KIMMEL: I mean, it still makes me sad. I was watching Clint Eastwood’s Sully movie recently and part of the movie is Sully on David Letterman back in 2009 and it definitely made me miss him. I mean, it really did. I haven’t seen much of the show since the night he left and just seeing him, even for 30 seconds, was a little reminder of how great he was.
DEADLINE: Letterman really wasn’t part of the YouTube viral late-night game but that’s an essential part of all the shows now. You guys have been smart and savvy on JKL but how does that demand change the way you make the show and what you make for it?
KIMMEL: Well, first of all, I appreciate you saying we’ve been smart and savvy or I’ve been smart and savvy about it, but I really haven’t. I mean, it just kind of happened. We just saw things like the Matt Damon and Ben Affleck videos as a way to get attention for the show. At the time, just a few years ago, nobody had done it and nobody was doing it — the result has been we have a lot more people watching the show.
But, you know, we have a love-hate relationship with YouTube and Facebook and that sort of thing. It’s definitely brought us a lot of attention but ultimately, the goal is for the network to make money and nobody’s quite figured that out on the social media end yet. I mean, sometimes we do acknowledge that this or that will be big on social media, but we never once had a meeting where we said, “Hey, we need to figure something out that’s going to be a big viral video.” We really just try to put something good on air and then we put it on the Internet and whatever happens, happens.
DEADLINE: You’re a guy who grew up loving television, now you’re a two-time Emmy host and multiple nominee. Were the Emmys a big draw for you as a kid?
KIMMEL: Oh, yeah. I loved it. I mean, I’ve always loved television so much. My parents tried to keep us from watching a lot of television so it really became extra attractive because of that. Then when I got my own TV in my bedroom, it’s really all I did. I mean, I’d come home from school and I’d put on Good Times and The Jeffersons and Eight Is Enough and it would just kind of go late into the night past Letterman into NBC News Overnight With Linda Ellerbee and then start all over again the next day. I always loved it and I love those award shows. I always enjoyed seeing like which actors are friends with each other and just seeing like the Six Million Dollar Man in a tuxedo is just kind of interesting and cool — still is.
— Jimmy Kimmel (@jimmykimmel) September 12, 2016