Jimmy Kimmel makes a suit look good on a stifling summer day. “Thank you,” he replies, pulling on the lapels of his crisp two-piece. “This is my costume.”
The late-night television host, who was born in Brooklyn and moved to Las Vegas at age 9, takes in the sights of his Strip-side comedy club. We’re hours away from an intimate fundraiser Kimmel will host to benefit Project ALS, but he has carved out time to talk about comedy and its place in Las Vegas.
“I think comics love coming here now,” he says. “It used to be that the audiences here were weird. With Downtown blossoming the way it has, and with the locals really coming out to the comedy clubs, that really wasn’t the case when I grew up here. You’d have to drive to the Improv in LA if you wanted to go to a comedy club.
“It’s fun to see the various levels of comedy,” he continues, “and I love meeting a comedian who tells me they’re from Vegas. It’s getting less rare.”
A self-described class clown at Clark High School, Kimmel often used his humor to get out of tight spots—and it got him into others, he says— but the positive feedback encouraged him to take his jokes into radio, TV and to where he is now: “Back in Las Vegas, unemployed, on strike, working the comedy clubs,” he jestsJimmy Kimmel Live! will surpass 20 years, making Kimmel the longest-running late-night host. We chatted with him about that and much more.This year, ABC’s
Did living in Las Vegas shape how you approached being funny? Absolutely. This is a very weird town. It’s a big town and a small town simultaneously. And I didn’t realize how weird the city was until I moved and people were shocked to hear I grew up in Las Vegas. They don’t imagine that there are little league teams here. They think of a little league team, they imagine the kids being chased around by one of Siegfried and Roy’s tigers.
I did see a lot of interesting stuff growing up. I had access to real show business. My best friend, who’s now my bandleader, his dad was the room service butler for Bill Cosby and Sammy Davis Jr., and all these acts that would come through Vegas. It was an exciting place to be a kid and a teenager, and also a normal place to be a kid and a teenager.
How important is it for you to support local comedians? It’s very important. People sometimes ask me if I feel competitive with the other clubs, and I don’t. I think the more comedy clubs there are, the more funny people there are, the more stars will come out of Las Vegas. We didn’t have anything like this when I was a kid. I was pretty much limited to making prank calls and calling jokes in to a radio station. Now you see people on social media, they’re much more inclined to get up onstage. They have followings when they’re teenagers. I take a lot of interest and pride in performers who are coming up out of Las Vegas. I’m really rooting for as many comedy clubs as we can possibly handle.
Your Vegas club was the last to reopen after the pandemic. What was that like? We felt like the rug had been pulled out from under us, because we’d worked for so long and we’d really pored over the details. I talked to every comedian I know. I wanted to know what makes a great club. What features would you like to see, from the lighting to the ceiling height to the audio to the positioning of the chairs, even to the fact that we don’t have utensils for the food, because I don’t like the sound of knives and forks while I’m onstage. Then to have it suddenly shut down and empty … it was difficult. We weren’t absolutely sure we were going to even reopen, because Caesars [Entertainment] went through an ownership change.
You have to remain relevant to become the longest-standing late-night talk show host. Does that come with the responsibility of always having to be “on?” I work very hard. There are comics who work really hard, and there are comics who don’t. Some of the comics who don’t are just naturally funny enough to make it work. Then you have people like Jerry Seinfeld, who is naturally funny and works very hard. As a result, he’s Jerry Seinfeld.
It is interesting how many comics don’t sit down and write jokes. If you really want to be a comic, sit down for two hours and write down jokes. If you have any gifts whatsoever, you’re gonna come up with some good stuff. But you have to apply yourself. I had the benefit of being a disc jockey, so I had to fill five and a half hours every morning, oftentimes by myself. You wind up getting in the habit of working hard.
You’ve caught flak for some of your material. Do you need tough skin to survive this business? I think you always did. But it has become more personal. Now we have a new phenomenon, which is people cursing you and your family and threatening you and criticizing you. You do have to have some toughness, and you develop that as you experience it. But I do find that when people are new to it, it can be very hard for them. It’s not so hard for me anymore. I mostly just don’t look at any of it. But it’s hard not to look at the beginning.
After 20 years of Jimmy Kimmel Live!, what keeps you going? I’m not entirely sure. I do like doing the show. At the end of the day, writing the show all day is hard. It’s sometimes fun, but most of the time, it’s not. There’s a lot of nonsense I have to deal with that I’d rather not. But at the end of the day, at 4:30 p.m., when I walk onto the stage, I want to make sure that I’m funny. That is what drives me from 7 o’clock in the morning when I wake up until I drive home afterwards.
Click HERE to subscribe for free to the Weekly Fix, the digital edition of Las Vegas Weekly! Stay up to date with the latest on Las Vegas concerts, shows, restaurants, bars and more, sent directly to your inbox!