Hosting the Oscars is a bit like dating Taylor Swift. Pretty much everybody in show business wants to give it a try, but it almost never ends well.
If the show’s a success, it’s labeled a team effort; if it drags, it’s the host who shoulders the blame.
So what made Jimmy Kimmel want to host Sunday’s Academy Awards?
“I don’t know, because I’m not a person who necessarily likes a challenge. I try to avoid challenges in my daily goings-on,” jokes Kimmel, who moved to Las Vegas when he was 9. “It’s something that, as a comedian, there are certain things that are kind of Mount Kilimanjaro-esque. And this is one of them. And for some reason, I’ve decided to grab my pickax and climb Oscar Mountain.”
Even before this year’s ceremony, which begins airing at 5:30 p.m. on ABC, the late-night host has been a fixture on Oscar night. With his “Jimmy Kimmel Live” studio directly across Hollywood Boulevard from the Dolby Theatre where the little gold guys are handed out, he’s spent the past 11 years presiding over a star-studded post-Oscars special, complete with elaborate viral videos. Last year’s effort, a six-minute “deleted scene” from “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” enlisted the help of Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill and Jesse Eisenberg as Kimmel portrayed a party guest who outed both superheroes’ secret identities. The result was better than anything in the actual movie.
“You know, it’s interesting. It is more work, but it’s not a ton more work,” Kimmel says of this year’s Academy Awards gig. “That Oscars show was pretty time-consuming, so I’m giving myself some comfort in that at least I’m not doing that also. We put a lot of work into those post-Oscars shows, so subtracting that from the equation has definitely helped.”
Still, he had to prepare his Oscars monologue and other scripted bits using his regular writing staff while cranking out his nightly show. They devoted about 75 percent of their time each Friday, as well as an hour or so after each night’s episode, to Academy Awards prep. And this was all on the heels of Kimmel’s well-received hosting of the Emmys in September.
“The problem for me is, it’s like running two marathons in a row,” Kimmel explains. “Just when you think you’ve exhausted every avenue and come up with every awards show idea and joke you possibly can, you have to do another one.”
While he was under consideration, Kimmel says he tried to give himself plenty of pre-production time. “I had a deadline in my mind, and in fact, I specifically gave it to my agent. I said, ‘Listen, if they don’t ask me by this date, I’m not gonna do this. Because I need time to prepare, and I wanna stop thinking about it.’ So I gave him that date to give the Oscar people, and he never did. And then two months after the date, they asked me, and I really had no choice but to say yes.”
KEEPING AN EYE ON THE CLOCK
This year’s “Oscar people” include first-time producers Michael De Luca (“Fifty Shades Darker”) and Jennifer Todd, who runs Pearl Street Films for Affleck and Matt Damon, Kimmel’s made-for-TV archnemesis. “I know, he’s haunting me,” the Clark High grad deadpans. “He’s like a chain around my ankle. And not one of those good, romantic chains around your ankle. The one with the ball around it.”
Of his relationship with the producers, Kimmel says, “It’s a collaboration, really. I don’t anticipate anyone telling me what I can’t say or what I should say in my monologue or my jokes. But as far as planning things out, primarily the consideration is time. That’s really the biggest issue that we deal with, trying to keep the show at a reasonable length.”
That last part is easier said than done. Unlike the Grammys, which hands out the vast majority of its awards off-camera, or the Emmys, which awards its technical trophies during two creative arts ceremonies the prior weekend, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences insists that each of its 24 awards be presented live on TV.
“You know, the Academy is made up of a lot of different bodies, including, like, sound mixers,” Kimmel delicately explains. “And we’re very focused on the actors and the directors and the movies themselves. We forget, as Americans, we’ve decided that it’s our thing, and it’s really not. It’s their thing. It’s their industry awards show that we get to look in on. And the idea that you’d cut certain groups out of it, let’s just say it’s not how they see it. They don’t see that as reasonable.”
In preparing for the biggest night of his professional life, Kimmel saw every potential nominee long before they were announced Jan. 24. “I made a point to seek them out and see all of them,” he says. “Anyone I thought might possibly get nominated, I watched.” The toughest part of that research, though, was making sure to keep his jokes accessible. “That one is a little tough, because I’m sure the people in the room at the Oscars will get more of the jokes than the general populace,” he admits. “But you’d also be surprised sometimes at what people in the industry haven’t seen.”
Johnny Carson hosted the Oscars five times, placing him behind only Bob Hope and Billy Crystal for the most appearances. So there’s precedent for the longest-tenured late-night host to get the job. It’s just difficult to think of Kimmel, who just celebrated his 14th anniversary on-air, as that longest-tenured host. But he is — assuming, like most of America, you forget about NBC’s “Last Call with Carson Daly,” which Daly doesn’t so much host as introduce.
In fact, Kimmel has been in his current job longer than Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers and James Corden — combined.
“Listen, nobody thought this show would be on 14 years later. Especially me,” he admits. “It’s a little bit shocking.”
So is he planning to stick around late night as long as ABC will have him? Or is he thinking about setting an end date, a la one of his favorite shows, “Lost”?
“I play it by ear,” Kimmel says. “I think when it really feels like work is when I’ll have to evaluate if I want to do this every day anymore. It is a lot of work, but we have a good time, and I like the people I work with. And I know that if I wasn’t doing it, I’d miss it.”
Contact Christopher Lawrence at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @life_onthecouch.