But Seriously, Folks...

After 14 years of laughter on late-night TV, Brooklyn native Jimmy Kimmel has become the voice of Everyman by speaking out on controversial subjects

just Imagine you’re a showbiz-crazy 9-year-old in Brooklyn. You write a superhero comic book called “The Terrific Ten,” which you bury in a drawer. Fast-forward about 40 years, and your little comic book is brought to life by a leading Hollywood director.

Impossible? Not if you’re Jimmy Kimmel. Recently, for his 50th birthday, the host of ABC-TV’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” was presented with a hilariously tacky trailer directed by J.J. Abrams of  “Star Wars” fame for a supposed movie version of “The Terrific Ten.”

The clip featured the likes of Ben Affleck, Jennifer Aniston, Zach Galifianakis, Jon Hamm and Matt Damon (who has portrayed Kimmel’s archnemesis in a mock celebrity war on the show for years). “The Terrific Ten” stunt was a highlight of Kimmel’s annual trip to the old neighborhood in October, when he broadcast a week of shows from the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The weeklong residency is Kimmel’s way of bragging about Brooklyn—while giving it a good-natured poke. “Last time we were here,” he says, “people asked, ‘Will you ever come back?’ I said, ‘Only if you open 2,000 cold-press juice shops.’”

“It’s especially great to be able to do our show here at BAM [Brooklyn Academy of Music] one last time,” he cracks, “before they turn it into a Whole Foods store.” Despite the jokes, it’s clear he holds the borough in his heart. “It’s great to see family and it’s great to be around the people” he said at the time. “But the No. 1 thing is the food. They’re practically throwing great food out the window at you here.”

 Kimmel’s own Brooklyn story began on Nov. 13, 1967, when he was born James Christian Kimmel, the oldest of three children of homemaker Joan Iacono and IBM executive James John Kimmel. He grew up in Mill Basin, and, upon his return last October, Kimmel was surprised to learn how many folks from the neighborhood are still there.  “I remember playing with their kids,” he marveled. “We went into my neighbor’s house, and she brought out pictures of birthday cakes that my mom made for her son.” Kimmel recalls playing stickball and going to all-day block parties. “Those were some of my fondest memories from childhood,” he says. But like the Brooklyn Dodgers before them, the Kimmels moved west, to Las Vegas to be exact. Jimmy became obsessed with late-night TV, especially David Letterman. His Nevada license plates even read “L8 NITE.”

 After attending the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and Arizona State University, Kimmel launched a career in radio that took him from Phoenix to Seattle to Tampa to Tucson. Eventually, he scored a plum job at KROQ in Los Angeles, where he spent five years as “Jimmy the Sports Guy.” That major-market exposure got him a spot on Comedy Central’s “Win Ben Stein’s Money.” Following that, he co-hosted “The Man Show,” which simultaneously lampooned and celebrated male behavior. In 2003, he made the leap into late-night television on ABC. “It seemed like a good idea at the time,” Kimmel cracks. “I realized that it wasn’t. It was overwhelming. Nobody wanted to be on the show. Nobody seemed to be watching the show. I was depressed.” 

Kimmel had also just been divorced from his wife, Gina Maddy, with whom he had a daughter, Katherine, born in 1991, and a son, Kevin, born in 1993.

 He struck up a relationship with comedienne Sarah Silverman, whose viral videos became a staple of Kimmel’s show. One clip had her bragging of sleeping with Matt Damon. Suddenly, “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” had an audience, and Kimmel became the safe comic choice for hosting the Emmys in 2012 and 2016, and the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in 2012. He and Silverman broke up in 2009, and he began a relationship with his show’s head writer, Molly McNearny. They were married in 2013, and had a daughter, Jane, in 2014. 

 When Kimmel hosted the Academy Awards show in 2017, the evening ended in what looked like a skit from “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” when “La La Land” was mistakenly announced as Best Picture instead of “Moonlight.” It was up to Kimmel to straighten it out. “We’re sitting there, and we notice some commotion,” Kimmel recalls. “So I figure, well, the host will go onstage and clear this up. And then I remember, ‘Oh I’m the host.’”

 In April 2017, however, the laughter stopped when his infant son Billy was born with a heart defect. In a moving monologue on the show, Kimmel described the family’s ordeal. He also pointed out that in America’s health-care system, less wealthy families couldn’t have afforded the kind of treatment his son required. “If your baby is going to die, and it doesn’t have to, it shouldn’t matter how much money you make,” he said, choking back tears. “I think that’s something that, whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, we all agree on that, right?” Wrong. Right-wing critics attacked Kimmel for his politics, and Kimmel suddenly found himself the spokesman for universal health care.

Then, in October, when a gunman killed and wounded concertgoers in Las Vegas, Kimmel again waded into controversy. “What I’m talking about tonight isn’t about gun control,” he explained. “It’s about common sense.” He was vilified this time by gun-rights advocates for imposing his views.

 

Sure enough, many fans stopped watching. “Three years ago I was equally liked by Republicans and Democrats,” he points out. “And then Republican numbers went way down. As a talk- show host, that’s not ideal. But I would do it again in a heartbeat. I’d love for everyone with a television to watch the show. But if they’re so turned off by my opinion on health care and gun violence, then I don’t know. I probably won’t want to have a conversation with them anyway. But I hate talking about stuff like this,” says Kimmel. “I just want to laugh about things every night.” Kimmel still gets those laughs, but he also can sound like the wide-eyed kid from Mill Basin who idolized Letterman. “I still feel like I snuck in,” he laughs. “I’ll drive by a neighbor’s house and see myself on television through the window. It’s like, ‘Wow, there’s people in their houses watching me.’ That’s crazy, you know? Television is kind of a magical thing.”