The Rise of Jimmy Kimmel

From Radio and Man Show to Hosting Hollywood’s Biggest Night


Hosting the Oscars is considered by some to represent the pinnacle of a certain kind of comedy career. If that’s true, then after decades of climbing, Jimmy Kimmel has finally reached the top.

If you read TV Guide’s biography of Jimmy Kimmel, then you might get the impression he’s something of a fratboy:

Born in Brooklyn and raised in Las Vegas, this quick-witted funnyman honed his comic skills at radio stations across the country before becoming the cohost of the unconventional game show Win Ben Stein’s Money in 1997, scoring a Daytime Emmy for the program in the process. During his tenure, Kimmel and his former radio cohort Adam Carolla created and hosted their own signature series in 1997 titled The Man Show, a testosterone-charged affair that celebrated drinking beer, watching sports and ogling women bouncing on trampolines. In 2003, he made the leap from cable to network TV with his own eponymous late-night show, Jimmy Kimmel Live, a prank-packed chatfest boasting a hip atmosphere. His behind-the-camera pursuits blossomed as well, as this cofounder of the Jackhole Industries production company produced the shows Crank Yankers and The Andy Milonakis Show.

He is something of a fratboy, or at least he was. Now he’s going to be standing in front of one of the most politically correct audiences you can find. It’s been a long time since Kimmel was helping Ben Stein give away $5,000 a day on Comedy Central, and even longer since Jimmy was a DJ no one had ever heard of.

Jimmy began his career in radio, moving around and getting fired in places like Seattle, Tampa, Tucson and Phoenix, before he got the Ben Stein gig. Shortly thereafter, Kimmel would launch The Man Show on Comedy Central with co-host and friend Adam Corolla. If you don’t know what The Man Show is, here you go:

Probably not family-friendly material

If that’s not enough to give you an idea, then just know that at the end of every episode of The Man Show, they showed young, less-than-fully clothed ladies jumping on trampolines. They also had scantily-clad women called “juggies” who helped out around the show, so you can probably figure out the main thrust of the show.

It’s interesting that, given Kimmel’s brand of comedy through the early 2000s, in early 2017, Kimmel will find himself entertaining some of the most sensitive and socially (self) aware people on the planet in one of television’s biggest events.

It’s not as if past Oscar hosts have stayed away from controversial or potentially offensive humor; see Chris Rock or Seth MacFarlane’s bodies of work, for example. But the beer-drinking, boob-ogling, politically incorrect everyman tone of Kimmel’s early comedy would not have led many to predict he’d ascend the heights of Hollywood’s…hills.

In 2003, Kimmel launched his ABC late night show Jimmy Kimmel Live!, which has since become a major YouTube and social media presence with viral videos like this:

This is a classic:

A demonstration of Kimmel and his writers’ sense of popular culture and Hollywood humor:

What’s remarkable about many of Kimmel’s most famous bits is just how hooked in to Hollywood celebrity circles he has become. Whether it’s Mean Tweets, somebody having sex with Ben Affleck or Matt Damon or some combination of the two, or the many spoofs Kimmel’s team has concocted, he’s somehow found a way to be pretty edgy and part of the Hollywood establishment at the same time.

Somehow, Kimmel, a straight white man, gets away with bits featuring “Black Hitler,” mocking disabled characters, and making children cry. It seems that part of Jimmy’s charm is his ability to never take himself too seriously, which he no doubt picked up from his idol David Letterman, who made a career out of nonchalantly deconstructing the medium of late night talk show.

In other words, Kimmel always seems to be reminding everyone that this is all just a joke, and that his career is really just a joke, too. There’s nothing superior about Kimmel; his low public estimation of himself might be what makes it possible for him to avoid accusations of “punching down.” Perhaps this will give him a puncher’s chance of killing it on what could be the biggest night of his career.

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