Jimmy Kimmel’s walking tour on this sunny Saturday morning is Linq Promenade on the Strip. But the veteran late-night host is also taking the proverbial trip down memory lane.
As he meanders through a maze of well-wishers and curious visitors, Kimmel peers across Las Vegas Boulevard to a piece of his past: Caesars Palace. This is where it all started for the 51-year-old Kimmel, a casino kid who grew up to be famous.
“That’s where my Uncle Frank (Potenza) worked … as a security guard. My bandleader, Cleto (Escobedo III) and his dad worked there, my cousin Ann (Potenza) worked there — everyone in my family worked there,” Kimmel says as he takes to a bench near the base of the Linq’s High Roller. “It feels like home to me.”
Kimmel, the Clark High School grad and UNLV alum whose first concert was Sammy Davis Jr. at Circus Maximus, is bringing “Jimmy Kimmel Live” home for the first time. His late-night ABC talk show show airs from Monday through Friday from Zappos Theater at Planet Hollywood (tickets are free at kimmelinvegas.com, though the first show is sold out).
His eagerly anticipated Jimmy Kimmel’s Comedy Club opens in a couple of months on Linq Promenade, its scripted crimson-and-white sign readily recognizable across from Brooklyn Bowl.
Kimmel says he initially wanted the talk show’s week of broadcasts to originate from his new club.
“That was the plan,” Kimmel says. “We just didn’t quite get it ready in time.”
The purpose of this visit to the Strip is to record a trip on Fly Linq’s zip line, stretched high above the retail and entertainment corridor. It’s no easy task. Predictably, Kimmel is repeatedly recognized, for his familiar face and his new Jimmy Kimmel’s Comedy Club hat pulled tight to his forehead.
“I watch you every night,” one fan says as she cuts his path. “It’s more than a TV show. You’re an inspiration to me.”
“An inspiration?” Kimmel says, grinning. “I appreciate knowing that. Thank you so much.”
Kimmel’s riding team is a fearsome foursome that includes on-air personalities “Cousin Sal” Iacono, sidekick Guillermo Rodriguez and the embattled Aunt Chippy (legal name Concetta Potenza). They all have GoPro cameras attached to their crash helmets and are turned loose to film this adventure, which will air during the show’s run in Vegas.
After jerking to a halt, a wide-eyed Aunt Chippy calls out, to no one and everyone, “I can’t believe I did that! I spent 12 hours at Disneyland and didn’t ride a single ride! I spent the whole whole time in the theater!”
“That poor woman,” Kimmel says. “We have a lot planned for her while we’re here. As you probably know, she is the target of a lot of our pranks.”
I want people to see the real Las Vegas.
Kimmel, too, is excited about the zip segment. It was good TV, but it’s not the most frightening thrill ride he’s taken.
“We did that over Hollywood Boulevard with Tom Cruise years ago, and that was scary because it was a temporary setup,” Kimmel says. “This one, they do it all day long.”
Zip-lining with Tom Cruise. It’s a far trek from Kimmel’s days as a student at UNLV, when he worked part time at Miller’s Outpost while hosting a talk show at KUNV radio station. In those days, Kimmel invited local celebrities to the show (the types who owned businesses and aired zany TV commerials), and invariably made fun of them. After six or seven shows, the station had enough of him.
But Kimmel wound up receiving an honorary degree from UNLV in 2013. His visit to Las Vegas is steeped in nostalgia, and that fondness for his hometown is being folded into the talk show.
“I want people to see the real Las Vegas,” he says. “I actually taped a piece in which I drove a Lyft car the other night, and I picked up a couple of tourists and took them on a tour of my childhood in the middle of the night.”
“Yes,” Kimmel says. “Strangers. We went to my childhood home, and woke up the unsuspecting people living in it, and they were nice enough to give us a tour of the house.”
During pre-taping, Kimmel also trekked to “Chippendales” at the Rio. “We commandeered a bachelorette party,” Kimmel says, chuckling. “Guillermo danced onstage. It was great.”
We want to put comedians on the show from Las Vegas. Rather than performing in front of a studio audience on television, they will be performing in front of a real comedy club audience.
Kimmel has many superstar guests lined up for his time in Vegas. The Killers perform Monday night and Celine Dion, James Taylor and Pitbull are among the show’s live performers. He’s shooting for a massive TV audience with such guests as Mike Tyson and reality show sensations Kim Kardashian West, Kourtney Kardashian and Khloe Kardashian; comic actress Tiffany Haddish; comic actors Kevin Hart and Seth Rogen; and Kaos Nightclub at the Palms headliner Marshmello with Chvrches.
But Kimmel’s plan for Las Vegas stretches beyond the talk show, which he has hosted since 2003. He is in the last year of his contract and has hinted at retirement, though network brass wants to keep him on the air. He does plan to forge a link between TV in L.A. and live comedy on the Strip.
“There will be a connection,” Kimmel says. “We are going to have fun with it. Some of the things we will figure out along the way. We tape the show from 5 to 6 in L.A., so I can get on a plane at 7 o’clock and be here for the show on a weeknight if I feel like it.”
His show will bring the comics’ live sets to national TV.
“We want to put comedians on the show from Las Vegas,” he says, “rather than performing in front of a studio audience on television. They will be performing in front of a real comedy club audience.”
Kimmel has consulted with such comic friends and club vets as Jeffrey Ross, Kevin Nealon, Sarah Silverman and Todd Glass to map a design plan for his club. The club will be cozy and comfortable. Food will be served; metal utensils will not.
The Vegas comedy-club scene is already jammed with such well-known venues as Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club at MGM Grand, the Laugh Factory at Tropicana and Comedy Cellar at Rio. Is the Kimmel club putting too much of stress on an already-robust Vegas market?
I think the more spaces there are for comedians to perform, the better it is for comedy.
“I think the more spaces there are for comedians to perform, the better it is for comedy,” Kimmel says. “In the ’80s, everyone was worried that putting comedians on TV would kill the comedy clubs. They’d say if we put them on TV, people won’t come to the comedy clubs, but that’s the opposite. We’re hoping this club and our ability to put comics on television from Las Vegas will be a great thing for all the clubs here.”
Kimmel’s unabashed goal at JKCC is to be a presence on the Strip. He remembers the days of his youth when Sinatra, Sammy, Dean, Elvis, Liberace were splashed across Vegas marquees.
“You know, I’m pretty jaded, and I’ve done a lot of things, but I do take great pleasure in seeing my name on a building in Las Vegas,” he says, peering toward the Strip from under his hat. “I mean, I grew up 3 1/2 miles from this comedy club. I spent a lot of time wandering around the Strip doing stupid things with a video camera. It’s nice to do that, and be paid for it.”
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts.Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.