TV NotesNo Pressure: Just Make Obama Laugh
By Bill Carter, The New York Times
- Apr. 25, 2012
LOS ANGELES A little over a week before Jimmy Kimmel would face the assembled Washington press corps, the nation's political leaders and assorted celebrities, all decked out in formalwear in a noisy ballroom, he found himself waking suddenly in the middle of the night: He wasn't racked by nerves; he had simply thought of another joke in his sleep.
On a sunny morning in West Hollywood, over omelets, the joke (which for the moment needs to be classified) plays very funny. But the only thing that really matters to Mr. Kimmel is that on Saturday, when he entertains the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner, that event's notoriously tough audience finds him amusing especially the audience member in chief.
I've talked to Seth and Stephen, Mr. Kimmel said, referring to Seth Meyers of Saturday Night Live and Stephen Colbert of the The Colbert Report, both late-night comedy stars who have worked the dinner. And the basic message is: Make the president laugh.
The dinner has the potential to shine a bright national light on the comic who serves as the evening's entertainment or not, as Mr. Colbert found.
I think it would help me to do well and hurt me to do badly, said Mr. Kimmel, host of Jimmy Kimmel Live! on ABC. It probably hurts more if it goes badly. But being funny while standing next to the president can't hurt you.
Mr. Meyers, who won wide praise for his performance last year, told the comedian Marc Maron on Mr. Maron's podcast, It was awful; all of it was awful.
He was referring mainly to the pressure, and Mr. Kimmel is aware of what faces him. I'm going to be sitting next to the first lady, he said. And I'll be nervous about my performance on top of that.
One reason: The setup of the room couldn't be less ideal. Round tables, and the guests have silverware in front of them. Glasses clinking, people talking to each other.
But having seen a growth in recognition and respect for his late-night show during the past three or four years, Mr. Kimmel is entering this political arena with a degree of confidence.
This particular situation is tricky, but I think I'll do well, if I had to bet, he said.
It is a year of breakout opportunity for Mr. Kimmel. He will also host the Emmy Awards in September. That show is on his own network, ABC, so the selection was no real surprise. Four years ago, when ABC last broadcast the Emmys, it bypassed Mr. Kimmel to select a group of reality-show hosts.
People were kind of whispering: That's weird. Why would they have these guys host when they've got Jimmy on the network?' Mr. Kimmel said. And of course I was thinking that too.
The Emmy job has created sparks for the careers of Conan O'Brien and Jimmy Fallon in the past. But doing well this Saturday night matters perhaps more. Take Mr. Colbert's mercurial experience in 2006. His broad satirization of a conservative talk-show host was deemed too hostile to the president at the time, George W. Bush, by many attendees, although it also received wide peals of praise from outsiders for its daring and extreme laughs. In the end, despite many critics, it was a career-elevating moment for Mr. Colbert.
Mr. Colbert has since said: I didn't want to be subversive. I just wanted to be funny.
Mr. Kimmel called Mr. Colbert's effort fantastic, really brilliant. But he noted: What scares me a little is that they gave him the cold shoulder after that performance. I heard from a lot of people that they thought he was rude. That concerns me.
Mainly it concerns Mr. Kimmel because he has a comic sensibility honed on pushing limits. He took on Jay Leno with ferocity on Mr. Leno's show, then on prime time, during the dust-up after NBC removed Mr. O'Brien from the Tonight show. His style has been to lay waste comedically and not sweat the consequences.
On this occasion Mr. Kimmel will not lack for targets. He has jokes planned about the president, vice president, the first lady and the Republican candidates this primary season, especially Mitt Romney.
I like that he's emerged, Mr. Kimmel said of Mr. Romney. I think there will be a lot of fun to be had with him.
Acknowledging that he has a lot of subjects including celebrity attendees like George Clooney but only about 20 minutes for his routine, he added: You know people are going to say, Oh, he was biased this way or that.' I'm trying to strike a balance. But ultimately I will go with what's funniest.
Within limits. Mr. Kimmel has already censored a few jokes, knowing they may be too on the edge to play in a room that all but defines political correctness.
They've given me no direction whatsoever, and I appreciate that, he said, referring to the White House Correspondents' Association. I always have a regulator in my head, but left to my own devices I would say the most horrible things ever discussed.
Mr. Kimmel also knows that the quality of his material is only partly at issue. The president will deliver his own monologue first, setting up the crowd. You don't want the president to bomb before you, Mr. Kimmel said.
Not that he thinks there is much chance of that, having reviewed President Obama's previous stand-up performances at the dinner, especially last year, when, in the parlance of comedy, he killed a term that gained extraordinary resonance when it was later learned that Navy SEALs at that moment had been dispatched on the mission that ended in the death of Osama bin Laden.
Beyond having the chance to stand out on a different national stage, Mr. Kimmel is relishing the added perks. He gets to fill a table with his family and staff members, and they all will receive a White House tour on Friday. It's very exciting for my parents, he said. My parents were excited when I was a radio D.J. And then to get on television and all that. But this is serious.
Oddly, the dinner has never been widely seen, largely because it is televised live on C-Span from the Washington Hilton. Mr. Kimmel said he knew how to make it more desirable as a television event.
Give out some awards, he said. Even more celebrities will come. The President's Choice Awards. He picks his favorite musical performance, his favorite movie of the year. Give Matt Damon an award; that'll make him show up.http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/25/ar...?_r=1&ref=arts