Jimmy Kimmel On Jokes You Won’t Hear At The Oscars, His Biggest Fear For The Show, His Future At ABC, And The One Thing He Does Other Hosts Never Do – The Deadline Interview

Jimmy Kimmel On Jokes You Won’t Hear At The Oscars, His Biggest Fear For The Show, His Future At ABC, And The One Thing He Does Other Hosts Never Do – The Deadline Interview

Jimmy Kimmel is hosting the Oscars this year for the fourth time. Other than Bob Hope (19 times), Billy Crystal (9 times) and Johnny Carson (5 times), no solo host has done it more (Whoopi did it 4 times as well). But it is a good bet that among those hosts no one has seen as many of the nominated films. Kimmel is a self-described movie fan, and as I learned from our conversation he not only spends weeks, months even, prepping his monologue but he also may be one of the few in the room at the Dolby theatre who has actually seen everything. And I mean everything.

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Kimmel’s first Oscar show in 2017 was a baptism of fire that ended with the infamous Envelopegate when Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway pronounced heavy favorite La La Land as the Best Picture winner over what was soon revealed as the actual winner, Moonlight. He returned the next year with plenty of comedic fodder from that mixup. After a few years off including, fortunately, the infamous Will Smith slap show, he was called back last year to put a bit of normalcy into the show, and the ratings climbed back in the right direction which the Academy hopes will continue this year, especially with juggernauts like Barbie and Oppenheimer leading the conversation, a key reason Kimmel decided to do another back-to-back turn as M.C. It always helps, he correctly thinks, when viewers have actually seen the movies.

When I hopped on the phone with him shortly before his nightly taping of his long-running late night show, Jimmy Kimmel Live, we talked about how it helps to be a true movie fan, why he decided to return to host again and what jokes won’t be in his monologue, his relationship with the Academy in shaping the show, what he thought of criticism of Jo Koi’s Golden Globes hosting , other studios being upset over spotlighting only Barbie in his widely-seen ABC promo for the Oscars (which he premiered on his own show), the pressure of lifting the show’s ratings and his fears of moving it an hour earlier this year, whether he will be ending his nightly show after this contract, and much more. Here is the Deadline Jimmy Kimmel Oscar interview.

DEADLINE: Can you believe this is your fourth Oscar show? That puts you in a very rare category just below Hope, Carson, and Crystal in terms of multiple Oscar gigs as a solo host.

JIMMY KIMMEL: It just really shows you how far we have fallen as a culture.

DEADLINE: Do you actually enjoy hosting this show. It seems like a lot of pressure, and sometimes like a can’t-win proposition.

KIMMEL: I do. I don’t love the lead-up to it, but I do enjoy actually hosting the show. When I’m onstage and everything’s ready to go, it’s fun to show everyone what you’ve been working on. I think it’s like secretly fixing up a car in a garage, and then you bring the family in to see it.

DEADLINE: How much time do you prepare, once you get the notice that you’re going to host it?

KIMMEL: Well, we really start in earnest when it gets announced because we can’t tell anybody that we’re doing it until then, so I start thinking about things. I make little notes about award shows all the time. You know, if I think of something, I put it in a little folder in my computer, and I refer back to that stuff when I need it, but as far as like writing specific jokes and coming up with ideas for the show, I think we started like the day that we announced it to the press (mid November this year).

DEADLINE: Do you see some of the films to prepare for it?

KIMMEL: Yes. I think I see more movies than almost anyone, not even just when I’m hosting the Oscars, but I figured it out. I think I see around 100 movies a year. I make a point to see all of the features, even the short films, the short animated, the animated, you know, everything.

DEADLINE: Do you try out your monologue anywhere before the show? Some hosts go to comedy clubs to see what works.

KIMMEL: I don’t trust a group of strangers, and also I’m not sure that it really helps because, you know, if you were to go to a comedy club and try out the jokes in front of a comedy audience, I don’t think you’re necessarily going to get the same response as you will get from the people who the jokes are about. So, what I try to do is to test the jokes on people I know who get it, who’ve been to the Oscars, who understand the dynamic there, and also who will be honest with me and say like, ‘yeah, I like that one more than this one, and maybe miss this’.

DEADLINE: As I recall, last year you steered clear of any Trump or political jokes. Is that intentional because it is the Oscars?

KIMMEL: Yeah I mean, I don’t rule it out completely, but it’s not necessarily what the show’s about, and it’s not like I don’t have an outlet to do that five other nights a week. So it definitely has to be a joke that I can’t resist for me to use it on the Oscars.

DEADLINE: So I would think that maybe George Santos might be hard to resist, especially since he announced he is suing you.

KIMMEL: I mean it’s a shame we’re at odds because I was hoping to give him a lifetime achievement award as best actor this year… I don’t think any politician is off limits, but it may be past his expiration date.

DEADLINE: The Barbie promo you did for the Oscars with Ryan Gosling, Kate McKinnon, and America Ferrera was hilarious, but I heard some other Best Picture contenders were upset that movie was being singled out. But that movie was the number one film of the year at the boxoffice, a global phenomenon. It makes sense. I mean it would be hard to do a comedic promo around ‘The Zone Of Interest’.

KIMMEL: Yeah. I heard that (complaint) too. I haven’t heard that, specifically, from anyone, but you know, if a promo is going to tip the scales, as far as voting, for best picture, then I don’t know, maybe people’s convictions should be a little bit stronger, you know? I don’t really think that that’s going to have any impact on who people actually vote for, but people do like to complain. And that is one of the joys of hosting the Oscars is you get to hear from all manner of everyone, inserting their own agendas, and complaining about this and that, and why isn’t there more of this, why isn’t there enough of that? And you know, I feel for the producers of the show because they have to deal with all that.

DEADLINE: You can say that again! For instance every year the producers have to deal with controversy over who is left out of the In Memoriam reel .

KIMMEL: Oh, yes, I mean, that’s a very emotional decision that has to be made, and it is really like the final indignity, as far as show business goes, is not making the cut for the In Memoriam montage. Being rejected in death.

DEADLINE: So if a joke doesn’t go well do you plan on blaming your writers this year?

KIMMEL: Absolutely. Absolutely. I’ll do it privately when I go to their homes and fire them in front of their families.

DEADLINE: I was wondering if you watched the Golden Globes and Jo Koy doing just that when his monologue wasn’t going so great.

KIMMEL: I did and I felt bad for him. I don’t think he was put in a great position. I think he would be the first person to tell you that publicly blaming his writers was not the right move, but you know, it’s overwhelming. I just think he’s a funny guy, and I think it’s a shame that for a lot of people who saw him for the first time, that was the impression that they got, and I hope that they look at his other work.

DEADLINE: So in making the decision to come back this year, what was the overriding thing for you that made you think ‘all right. I am going to do the Oscars again’?

KIMMEL: Well, there’s never really one thing. I mean the fact that there are popular movies that seemed likely to get nominated is a big part of it. The fact that there was a writers and actors strike and that it might feel like a celebration of getting back to work was part of it. Giving our writers some extra work was part of it, and ultimately, for me, it’s just kind of like what mood I’m in when I have to make the decision, and I haven’t regretted it. You know, I felt like, especially sitting at home for six months, it seemed more appealing than difficult.

DEADLINE: This is your fourth time hosting, but Jimmy Kimmel Live was associated with the Oscars for many years with a special live Sunday edition following the Academy Awards.

KIMMEL: Yeah. A post-Oscars show. Those were fun to do.

DEADLINE: You’ve also hosted other shows like the Emmys including a very funny one with an empty audience during the pandemic, but the Oscars just seem to stand alone, and it gets blamed for everything, but everyone watches it. Is it something different for you than the many other shows you’ve hosted?

KIMMEL: Yeah. Well, you know, obviously, it’s the crown jewel of award shows. You know it’s an analogy people use. It’s like when people say ‘this guy is the Michael Jordan of this,’ these are ‘the Oscars of the chemical engineering world’, you know? They don’t say ‘this is the Golden Globes of the chemical engineering world’.

This is the Oscars, and so there’s so much history associated with it, and there’s so much glamour associated with it, but it’s why it makes it particularly puzzling for me that I’ve been involved with it so many times. You know, when we used to do those post-Oscar shows, it felt like the Oscars didn’t want us doing them. The Academy was very difficult, and then we had to get their permission for every little thing, even like the show was live, even like jokes we wrote that were going to air in minutes, we’d have to get somebody on the phone and get a yes or no, and they were very restrictive. So, it is refreshing to have a completely different relationship with the Academy now, where not only aren’t they restrictive, no one even asks what I’m going to do. They just let me do it.

DEADLINE: Well there is a new administration over there now with Bill Kramer as CEO and Janet Yang as President and I think after the ‘slap’ and the pandemic, and this year the strikes, that they were just relieved to bring the show back to some level of normality, I think there’s something about having someone like Jimmy Kimmel hosting it that seems, well, comfortable.

KIMMEL: Well, I will say that Bill’s enthusiasm was also a big part of why I decided I wanted to do it. I mean he really wanted me, and he wanted my wife Molly (McNearney) to executive produce, and he even wanted her to executive produce if I wasn’t hosting the show, and you know, that stuff ultimately means something.

DEADLINE: And I think ABC is happy you are back. Are you going to want to come back and do more Oscars?

KIMMEL: I think I’ve retired from ruling things out. So I would never be so presumptuous as to assume that they would want me back year after year after year, but this year, they wanted me, and they asked me, and so, I’m definitely going to do this one.

DEADLINE: I have read rumblings that at the end of your ABC contract for JKL in two years that you are talking about that being the end for your series. Say it ain’t so.

KIMMEL: I know, I say that every single time. I know I’ve lost all credibility, and I should probably stop talking about that, too.

DEADLINE: You are the longest running late night host right now. The ratings seem good.

KIMMEL: I know. I know. It’s crazy to think about it. I mean, it’s funny because even just like my offices in our building, like, ABC didn’t want to pay 50 thousand dollars to remodel a room that had windows in it because they weren’t so sure that we were going to be on and it would be worth it. So the first two years I was in a windowless basement and really had to beg them to move me upstairs and so I could get some sunshine on my body.

DEADLINE: Speaking of ABC, do you have plans to continue the ‘Live In Front Of A Studio Audience’ Specials reviving classic comedy episodes that you did with the late great Norman Lear?

KIMMEL: We would like to, yes. We would like to keep going with that, and I know Norman wanted us to keep going with it, and so, for me, a lot of it is just finding the time to do it, because after the Oscars I start focusing on the ABC Upfront, and then I have the summer off, which I like to actually take off. So, there’s not a ton of extra time, but it is something that we have a lot of fun doing, and I think it will be a nice tribute to Norman.

DEADLINE: Yes, you are the only late night host who not only takes the summer off but also puts their show in the hands of guest hosts, which no one since Carson really has done.

KIMMEL: Well, I think all the other hosts will tell you, I’m, by far, the most secure of the group. The others fear that their shows would be stolen from them, you know?

DEADLINE: Okay then. Back to this year’s Oscars. Can you give us any preview of what you might be planning, what to look forward to?

KIMMEL: I got a lot of jokes about all the movies and I’m not being coy. I mean that’s basically what it is. We’re pretty focused on writing jokes, and jokes that haven’t been beaten to death already, and having some fun with the people who are in the audience, which is ever-changing, and hopefully it will go over.

DEADLINE: Can we expect any bits outside of the Dolby Theatre, like when you went out on Hollywood Blvd and brought unsuspecting bystanders into the Academy Awards?

KIMMEL: Well it turns out that people just want you to keep the show moving… Some of those bits are designed specifically for them to change over the stage, and so, sometimes, you have to do that kind of stuff just to keep the show moving, but right now, we don’t have anything big like that planned.

DEADLINE: Well there IS one very major change this year. The show is going to start a full hour earlier at 4pm Pacific Time. Plus it is the first day of daylight savings. Is the earlier start time a plus? Is that a good thing from your point of view?

KIMMEL: No. That is definitely not a plus. I think it’ll be a plus next year, maybe the year after that, but I think there’s a very good chance that people miss the whole first hour of the show, and that’s something we are definitely concerned about because after who knows how many years, you’re conditioned to watch the Oscars at 5 o’clock (8pm in the east). Now, having them on in the middle of the day is going to be confusing.

DEADLINE: The Academy told me it is designed to help the ratings, especially on the East Coast where the biggest categories aren’t presented until near midnight some years. So it sounds like you are concerned about the change.

KIMMEL: Yeah. I am for sure. I don’t necessarily agree that it’s going to help the ratings, and for me, you know, I’d like people to see my monologue. So, the worst-case scenario is they tune in 20 minutes late, you know? So, maybe I should do the monologue at the end of the show.

DEADLINE: That would be a first. By the way as someone who sits in the audience at the Dolby I love the years you host because you always make sure food is served at one point to everyone sitting there. One year you had lunch boxes, each with a different Best Picture nominee on them. Any thing like that this year?

KIMMEL: Yeah. We are going to do one of those things. We are going to do something like that. So, don’t worry. At the very least, there will be snacks.

The 96th Annual Academy Awards airs Sunday March 10 at 7pm ET/4pm PT on ABC.