The host of “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” says he’s not planning to make politics a regular part of his show.
On a new bonus episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka, Peter talked to Jimmy Kimmel, the host of ABC’s late-night comedy show “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” They discussed Kimmel’s recent commentaries on healthcare and gun violence, why politics won’t become a regular part of his show and the future of late-night TV.
If you like Recode Media and you’ll be in New York City on October 24, then you’re in luck: Peter is interviewing “Full Frontal” host Samantha Bee and TBS President Kevin Reilly that night. Details and tickets here.
You listen to the full Kimmel interview in the audio player above. Below, we’ve provided a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.
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Peter Kafka: This is “Recode Media with Peter Kafka”. That’s me. I’m part of the Vox Media Podcast Network. I am speaking to you today at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and I am talking to Jimmy Kimmel, America’s foremost healthcare expert. Welcome Jimmy.
Jimmy Kimmel: Thank you.
If we hear rumbling, it doesn’t mean we’re being attacked. There’s trains running underneath us.
Is that what’s happening?
Yeah. We’re above a transit hub.
As far as I can tell based on my conversations with people here in Brooklyn, the trains aren’t running that frequently. I think we should be happy that the trains are running.
It’s better to be above the train than in the train.
People seem very frustrated by the subway.
Yeah. It’s our version of traffic complaints.
It seems to be much more prevalent than it was the last couple of times we were here doing the show. Is that the case?
It got way worse.
I guess there’s more people?
You think that’s it?
There’s not a good excuse for it. Part of the problem, if you want to get deep into it —
I do. I’m curious.
— is that the subway is funded by the state. The state is not very excited about helping New York City improve their subway.
Why? Because the mayor and the governor —
Mayor and governor don’t get along. Also, if you’re in Rochester or Buffalo, you’re not really interested in helping Peter Kafka get to work.
Maybe I’ll make this my next emotional stand.
You could do five. You’ve got five shows in Brooklyn. Five or four?
Five. Welcome back to Brooklyn.
You were here two years ago, right?
The world is different now. Donald Trump was going to be a guest, not the president.
That’s right. That’s right. I forgot about that.
He bailed on you.
Yeah. He did bail on us.
You showed him.
Yeah. Well, he obviously made the right decision. Who knows? If he kept that booking, maybe we would have a different president right now.
Boy. That’d be a fun time travel. I’ve mentioned the healthcare stuff. That’s two, three weeks ago now?
Yes. No. Healthcare? Longer than that, I think.
Some period. Around a month. How has your life changed since you became a healthcare expert?
Well, a lot more people say mean things to me on the internet. Other than that, it’s pretty much the same.
Not to your face?
No. Never to my face. It’s never happened to my face.
Do people have a different expectation of the show now?
I don’t know if they do. I don’t think it necessarily matters if they do. I think that I still have to do what I do always do, which is talk about what’s happening in the news and talk about what’s happening in my life and just go from that standpoint. If things happen, like what happened with my son and what happened in Las Vegas, and I feel compelled to speak about them, I will. I don’t feel like I need to weigh in on every issue.
Bob Iger was quoted in the Times last week, saying it was okay that you talked about healthcare, it was okay that you talked about the shooting, but think the word was you should be careful.
Yeah. Maybe I’m translating this conveniently, but I think he’s right in that if you go too far, if you talk about it too much, then it’s not interesting. Then it doesn’t have an impact.
Did he reach out to you one way or the other during the healthcare stuff or before or after the shooting monologue?
Yes. He did, but only to tell me that I should know that I have the full support of the company when it comes to raising money for Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles, and that they were going to make a big donation and help me.
Nothing about the content? No “be careful?” He figures you know what you’re doing?
None. No attempts to dissuade me from talking about any of the stuff ever.
There’s this narrative that post-Trump that Jimmy Fallon has struggled because he doesn’t do a political show, that it’s been great for Colbert. And up until recently, no one described you as having a political edge. Then, since then, there’s been a bunch of great articles about how this is your moment. Do you think like, “Oh, maybe I should really take advantage of this and lean into this a little bit more and do more political stuff. I got this reaction?”
No. I think my place is always going to be in the middle. I think that my place is going … I can’t go too far with this stuff. If I do, it just won’t have any effect. What I want more than anything is I want to advance this issue. I want people to have coverage. I think I opened some people’s eyes when I spoke about healthcare and how it works, and I think maybe some people acted on it. I think they contacted their senators in this particular case. I think that whether it had an effect or not, I don’t know. I never want to take it away from Susan Collins or Lisa Murkowski or John McCain. I think they ultimately made their own decisions, but it didn’t hurt.
This weekend I was looking at those clips again. I was looking on YouTube. Maybe I’m looking at the wrong audience counter, but it seems like those videos, as big a deal as they were, as big a deal as those monologues were, weren’t giant internet hits for you. You’ve gotten more out of a viral video from Sochi or any other random thing you’ve done.
No. They were.
They were? Okay.
They were. There’s Facebook and also many news outlets took that monologue, and they replayed it. I think that I don’t know what the numbers are but —
It felt big.
They were pretty … I feel like I can just tell based on reaction I get from people on the street that everyone seems to know about it.
When you’re thinking about, “Do I want to do something political on the show?”, are you concerned that if you lean one way you’re going to turn off half the audience, or is it more of your audience doesn’t want to do politics when they turn on the show? That’s not what they come to you for?
I don’t really think about it that much. I know that it does turn some people off, but it’s just too important to ignore.
I assume you’ve had a day full of these politics questions. People asking about ESPN as well?
Not as much about ESPN.
Do you have any advice for Jemele Hill?
I think Jemele Hill seems to be … I think she’s doing what feels right for her, and I think that I admire that. I think she knows that … I’m sure she’s well aware that this is potentially troublesome for her for a career standpoint, and she’s standing up for what she believes.
I think you could argue it’s good for her, right? It’s giving her more notoriety. Whether or not this works for her at ESPN, it seems like she’s someone now who could go somewhere else.
We’ll see. I think that you could maybe make a similar argument for Colin Kaepernick. You see what happens. Some of these big companies, they don’t want to touch you. It would be ironic if Fox is the company that swoops in, wouldn’t it?
Yeah. Maybe not Fox.
Maybe. Who knows?
Weinstein? Immediately when that story first broke, the first couple days, there was a lot of questioning why various entertainment outlets weren’t spending a lot of time on it. SNL didn’t touch it for a week. Have you guys talked internally about how you want to handle that story?
There were a few reasons. First of all, that story came out late Thursday afternoon. At least, I didn’t see it until late Thursday afternoon.
The first New York Times story?
Yeah. We do our show on Thursday at 5 p.m., and then we don’t have a show on Friday. Secondly, I wasn’t convinced — now that the story’s out, of course everybody knows who Harvey Weinstein is — that more than 10 percent of America knew who Harvey Weinstein is. Thirdly, this is not necessarily a funny thing. You’re talking about something that’s pretty serious. Even with Bill Cosby, you have to be really careful about how you make jokes about it. It’s not a light subject to be turned immediately into fodder.
People have gone back and said, “Oh, here’s Seth MacFarlane making a Weinstein joke. Here’s ’30 Rock.'” Have you guys gone back and said, “Did we make those kind of jokes?”
We definitely … We never made … I don’t know. Harvey Weinstein isn’t somebody that I would think our audience knew well enough to use as a reference.
There was a quote from Lorne Michaels last week saying this is a New York thing. I think people were confused about what that meant.
I think, at that time, he was probably right. I think, at that time, most of the people who knew who Harvey Weinstein was were in New York and L.A.
Someone sent me a clip that was on … I don’t know what the site was. It said, “Jimmy Kimmel has done something inappropriate with women, and here’s tape.” It was from “The Man Show”. I thought, “Well, that’s the entirety of ‘The Man Show’ was doing inappropriate things with women.”
Yeah. It’s so ridiculous. Not only that, there’s nothing inappropriate about a comedy bit with women who signed a release then eagerly participated.
Felt you up on camera.
Have you gotten more of that grief, or is that the only one?
Listen, if they go through “The Man Show”, I’m sure they’ll find plenty of stuff. I don’t see how one relates to the other.
That one’s on your radar. You’ve seen that clip going around?
Yes. Of course. Of course.
I was baffled by it.
Yes. Donald Trump Jr. … That’s how it goes. It’s like reason doesn’t matter. Context doesn’t matter. Facts don’t matter. What matters is attacking your enemy. You’re trying to put a pin in somebody’s balloon.
Last time I talked to you I think was a couple years ago in Austin? Something I always ask you is, how much longer is the late night television show going to be relevant? It seems like it’s incredibly relevant right now because of Trump. Do you think that sustains, or is this sort of a blip?
No, I think that late-night television’s been around for a long time, and whether more people are watching it on television or not, which they aren’t, more people are watching it than ever before. That includes the heyday of Johnny Carson. I think we just reached our 10 millionth subscriber on YouTube, so we have many, many, many millions of people, not just in the United States but around the world, watching clips from these shows every day.
I’ve asked you before how much you think about the internet when you’re creating a show. Your standard answer, and I think most of the hosts at least a few years ago said the same thing, which is, “We’re trying to make a great TV show. If something comes out of it that’s interesting on the web, great.” It seems like many more of them are being much more practical about saying, “All right. This is something we’re making for the internet.” I think Seth Meyers will put up part of his monologue before it even airs at this point. Are you thinking more tactically like, “This is going to go on the internet. This is a Facebook video. This is a YouTube video”?
No. In fact, when the financial compensation for putting things on the internet compares to putting things on television … It’s very lopsided. We have 10 times as many people watching on the internet as we do on television, and we make 10 times as much money on television than we do from the internet.
As long as that math is in place, you’re not going to change it.
If the focus is really we’re in the business of making money, that’s why we’re doing these television shows —
I think if you’re focused on making your YouTube video popular, your focus is in the wrong place.
I was going through our old interview, and you’re talking about, ‘I think people are going to move away from Twitter and Facebook, or at least from Twitter, because people are against anonymity anymore and saying vile things on the internet. It’s harder to say something rude to someone when they’re in the same room with them.’ Seems like, I think mostly because of Trump, there’s been a renewed interest in Twitter and saying vile things on the internet.
Peter Kafka: Do think we’re going come back from that?
I feel like something more horrible is going to have to happen to this country to unite us. I feel like that’s the only thing that’s going to unite us. I think that, until that happens, it’s just going to be rock throwing from one side to the other. People not even evaluating their positions on an issue, just agreeing with their side. Whatever their side decides is their side, then that’s the side they’ll be on.
Remember after 9/11 when we weren’t going to have jokes anymore? Comedy was dead. Irony was dead.
Yeah. Well, I think Letterman brought us back to joking, and then we had the Hugh Hefner roast a week later, which I was a part of, which was an amazing event to be a part of right after 9/11.
That’s the famous Gilbert Gottfried?
That’s right. That’s what people remember about it, but what was much more significant when we were there was the fact that there was a group of people in a room laughing in New York.
Everything that happened after 9/11 that was remotely normal, stuff you took for granted, became a really big deal. Going to see a concert, going to see a comedy show …
It was cathartic.
Who were you … You were roasting Hefner.
Hefner. Yeah. I was the roastmaster. Adam Carolla and I were on the first American Airlines flight from L.A. to New York — I think that was their first flight when they started flying again. I was very nervous about getting on the plane, and I said to Adam, “Listen. If we see any sign of any kind of trouble, we can’t hesitate for even a moment. We have to pounce on whoever. Even if we have to apologize later, we just have to act. We just have to do this, okay?” ‘Cause we’re sitting up in first class. He’s like, “All right.” He wasn’t so nervous going in. Moments later, we were in our seats, and Adam was all keyed up. He looked over at me, and I was asleep against the window the plane before the fight even took off.
I don’t know if your heart was in the right place. Your mouth was in the right place.
My mouth was in the right place. Drooling on the wall.
Remember the Oscars?
I do remember them. Yes.
You were the host of the Oscars.
I was the host, yes.
That was the biggest event of the year, and now it’s a footnote. Do people still ask you about that?
Oh yeah. Sure.
It still comes up?
Yeah, because it’s one of the biggest screw ups in history.
Yeah, it does, but it also seems, maybe it’s the way I’ve consumed news, it just seems like that’s so many news cycles ago.
It does. Yeah. Looking back on it and knowing that I would be a part of one of the biggest screw ups in history, it’s still shocking to me that I wasn’t responsible for it.
You did not get blamed.
Of course I didn’t get blamed.
There was the Pricewaterhouse guy who got blamed.
Well he should have.
And Warren Beatty.
Warren Beatty should not have gotten blamed, but yes.
Faye Dunaway got some blame.
A little bit, yeah. The only person that deserved blame was the Pricewaterhouse guy.
You going to do this again next year if asked?
You’re already committed to it?
You’re locked in. You did the Emmys as well?
I did the Emmys before the Oscars. Emmys were on CBS this year.
So, no? They tend not to have an ABC guy on stage?
Yeah, ABC gets it once every four years.
How much prep do you do for an Oscar show?
A lot. All of it.
They pay you nothing, right?
Very little. Yeah.
Actually very little right?
Comparatively. Yeah. It’s like $ 15,000.
Even for a regular person —
It costs me money to host the Oscars, between getting my kids tuxedos and my daughter a dress and the limo for my parents. It definitely costs me money.
It’s basically a full-time job for some number of weeks leading up to it, right?
It’s a full-time, part-time job.
Have you thought about how you’ll do it differently next time around?
I’ve started thinking about a little, but I’m not —
It seems like it was a giant success.
It’s hard to really figure out what you’re going to do until the nominees start to make themselves known.
What will have been the biggest … I’m trying to get you to tell me what you’re going to do on the show Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.
Letterman is coming on the show, which for me, personally, is very big.
That’s a big deal.
Howard Stern as well.
You had Stern last time I was here.
Stern was here last time.
He was great. Have you had Letterman on the show?
Letterman was on the show the first time we came to Brooklyn.
Is he going to come with beard?
I imagine that he will have a beard.
You already have the beard.
Normally what happens is you quit your show, and then you grow the beard out.
You’re going to do what? You’re going to shave your head?
No. I’m going to keep the beard.
What is that move? What is the, “I’m no longer on TV, I’m growing a beard?” Letterman did it. Stewart did it.
Shaving is terrible. I mean, shaving every day, and then putting makeup on. It’s just so great to be able to grow your facial hair and only shave your neck.
I get that for like a week or two. Letterman’s gone full —
It’s hard to explain. When you’re on television all the time, there’s so much done to your face that you just don’t want anyone to touch it. You just don’t want to touch it yourself. You want nobody touching your face.
Letterman’s doing Netflix? He’s doing a documentary series, I guess? I’m not quite sure what it is.
I don’t think anybody knows what it is.
Do you think he’ll have the itch to do a daily show, or do you think once you’ve gotten off that treadmill you’re done?
I’m surprised he’s even doing this, but, no, I can’t imagine that he would ever want to do a daily show again.
What do you do when you’re done with this daily show? This will run for X more number of years. Do you want to do this for 10 years? Do you want to do it for 20 years? Is there a thing you want to do after?
Well, I don’t know how long I’ll do it. I’ve done it for 15 years in September. We started September of 2003 or, no, 2002 rather. We premiered in January of 2003. I’ve been doing it for 15 years. Then afterward, when I’m done with this, I’ll probably produce a handful of shows that interest me. Maybe do a little something here or there, but I definitely wouldn’t consider doing a daily show.
Would you want to continue to be on TV, or are you okay doing something that’s only on digital?
I’m okay. I don’t need to be on television. I don’t need to be on anything ever again. I really don’t. I don’t crave being the center of attention.
That’s a weird thing for the guy who hosts a late night television show to say.
I know it is, but it’s true. I’d be just as happy writing jokes for Jon Stewart and handing them to him.
You finish your show. You ride off in the sunset, and then you just stop doing public appearances. You just produce stuff. You’re cool with that?
Yeah. I’ll do stuff here or there if it seems like it’s fun or interesting I think. I mean, I don’t really know. I also know myself is if I have an idea that I think is a great idea, I’ll jump right into it without thinking about the consequences.
Before you retire, can we talk again?
Deal. Thanks Jimmy. Appreciate your time.
Thanks. Appreciate it.
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