Jimmy Kimmel on Battling Politicians, His Future in Late Night and His Unexpectedly Tumultuous Year

Plus, how his show has changed and his annual upfront roast

Kimmel spoke with Adweek about hosting the Oscars again and turning 50.
Photography by Scott Witter for Adweek

Since launching his ABC late-night talk show in 2003, Jimmy Kimmel has never had a year like this. Two major events, both very personal to the comedian, unexpectedly turned Kimmel into the conscience of late night—if not the entire country. In April, his son Billy was born with a heart disease that required emergency open-heart surgery at just 3 days old, which prompted him to urge Jimmy Kimmel Live viewers to contact their member of Congress and urge them to uphold the Affordable Care Act. He returned to the topic with a vengeance in mid-September, spending three straight nights criticizing the healthcare bill that Republicans were trying to rush through Congress. Two weeks later, in the wake of the Oct. 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas, where he grew up, he admonished Washington for failing to take meaningful action on gun control.

“It has been a year of much anxiety and tumult,” says Kimmel. Yet despite it all, the host is in great spirits. He reports that Billy, now 6 and a half months, is doing “very well.” And his entrée into the national conversation about healthcare and gun control has jolted Jimmy Kimmel Live’s ratings: last month’s weeklong visit to his hometown of Brooklyn was the show’s most-watched week in a year and a half, and put him on top for the week in both total viewers and adults 18-49. On several Mondays this fall, he has beaten his 11:30 p.m. rivals Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert in the 18-49 demo.

Kimmel spoke with Adweek about how his show has changed in the past six months, why he loves his annual ABC upfronts roast (yes, he’ll be back in May), hosting the Oscars again and turning 50.

Adweek: After Billy’s heart surgery, was it a tough decision to go on your show and let everybody know what had happened?
Jimmy Kimmel: You might be surprised by how little thought I give to major decisions. [laughs] I have to make so many decisions every day because of the nature of my job, that I make them quickly. Sometimes they aren’t even really decisions; I just start moving forward. I knew I was going to have to say something. I’d been on the air for the past seven months talking about the fact that my wife was pregnant. So I was hoping that this would be a run-of-the-mill, happy announcement with a cute baby picture at the end. Instead, it turned into something much more.

Obviously, you had more important things to focus on at the time, but did you get a sense of how deeply that monologue resonated with people?
Absolutely. Hearing directly from thousands of families who rely so desperately on the Affordable Care Act, who did not have healthcare before it and now do, and face these difficult situations where they have preexisting conditions and sometimes lifetime caps on their health insurance—that really made it feel real for me.

You were back at it again in September, speaking out against the Graham-Cassidy bill.
Senator Cassidy, as you know, coined the term, “The Kimmel Test.” I wanted to discuss that with him and make sure that if my name was on something, that I supported it. We talked about it and it seemed like we made a reasonable agreement. Then, when it came down to a vote, I didn’t feel like any of what they were suggesting passed the so-called Kimmel Test. And I just wanted to make it clear that the Kimmel in the test gave it an F.

Then, shortly after that, you had another heartfelt, eloquent monologue following the Las Vegas shooting. How much of that was mapped out in advance as opposed to being more or less off the cuff?
That happened the night before, so you don’t get much time to prepare. In fact, I went to sleep early that night, so I didn’t know what had happened until I woke up in the morning. A lot of that was just me speaking from the heart.

This story first appeared in the Nov. 13, 2017, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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