The other day, I had a foie gras hot dog,” says Jimmy Kimmel, dressed in a gray hoodie and baggy jeans, sitting in a makeshift office at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, where he was hosting a week of his namesake show, Jimmy Kimmel Live! “That might sound gross, but it was the best hot dog I’ve ever eaten,” he raves. “A foie gras hot dog. That’s me in a nutshell right there.” At least it was until a couple months ago, when, spurred by his newborn son’s congenital heart defect, he began laying into Republicans for their attempts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and, in the process, became an enemy to some on the right and an unlikely hero to many on the left. Those partisan feelings only intensified when, in the wake of the mass shooting in his hometown of Las Vegas, Kimmel tearfully admonished Washington for failing to take any meaningful action on gun control. It was a moment that recalled Walter Cronkite speaking out against the Vietnam War. In the space of six weeks, this seemingly apolitical 49-year-old comedian, who, since his show debuted in 2003, has done exceptionally well by coming across as late-night’s unexceptional guy, had transformed himself into a riveting teller of truths — with the ratings bump to match. “I never wanted to come on too strong politically,” Kimmel says. “I never wanted to preach to the choir.” Yet here he is, talking about not just his politicization and whether the Trump era has changed late-night TV forever but other, crucial things, like loopholes in vanity-license-plate laws and why now’s the right time for a Man Show reboot.
We’re in this moment where it’s expected that people with your job — late-night-talk-show hosts — be part of the political conversation. Do you think in the future there will still be the Jimmy Fallons, the Jay Lenos, the hosts who are just like, “Sorry, talking politics is not my thing”?
I never really thought about it that way. Maybe you’re right. Maybe we’ll never go back. Maybe the days of fun are over, but I like to think that they aren’t. I don’t think politics affect daytime television. Ellen DeGeneres is doing pretty well without talking about a lot of this stuff, for example. I just think that for me personally, it so happened that my son had a heart operation, and then my hometown got attacked. So that’s what prompted me to speak out in a way that a lot of people noticed, but the truth of the matter is, we have been talking about politics for a very long time. I mean, with the exception of one show that I declared a “No-Trump Tuesday,” there wasn’t one night of the year leading up to the election where we didn’t talk about politics. So, for me, it’s always just a matter of what people are talking about and commenting on and what’s going on in the news.
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