Jimmy Kimmel knew his audience while visiting DePauw University, opening with, “I was invited to come to Wabash tonight, but I said I’d sooner die than go to that pack of deadbeats.”
Taking a night off from his perch behind his late night desk in Los Angeles, Jimmy Kimmel made a quick trip to Greencastle, delivering his characteristic comedy, laced with advice.
Kimmel started his media career in radio before transitioning to television, eventually becoming the host of ABC’s first late-night talk show. He stressed the value of hard work during his 90-minute Ubben Lecture. Kimmel responded to interview questions during his exchange with Tom Chiarella, Hampton and Esther Boswell Distinguished University Professor of Creative Writing.
Since he was young, he has been interested in entertainment and media. Kimmel described a picture of himself as a young child.
“I’d sit there drawing watching Johnny Carson and David Letterman,” he said Saturday evening to a student-filled Kresge Auditorium at DePauw University.
Five minutes before the show, the audience was shown a compilation video of moments from his popular late night talk show, “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” including bits starring some of his past interviewees like Oprah Winfrey, Tom Cruise and Will Ferrell. Kimmel then came on stage to music played by a band of DePauw University students.
Kimmel made his first impression on first-year Jasmin Ramos.
"I wasn’t really familiar with his talk show," said Ramos. "[but] I thought he was really funny and really great."
Kimmel began his career moving from radio station to radio station before arriving in Los Angeles on KROQ-FM.
“I read that David Letterman started in radio,” Kimmel said.
While doing sports for the famous station, he went on auditions for different television shows. After landing his first job in TV as a game show host, Kimmel spent time with Comedy Central, MTV and ESPN. Following an interview with ABC, Kimmel was told he had his own late night show.
“You think that people in business know what they’re doing,” he commented on the early days of the show. “No one plans ahead; it just happens suddenly.”
For the first year, the fledgling talk show had trouble getting high-profile guests. Kimmel interviewed “D-list” celebrities and reality TV non-stars. It was during this time that he started one of his most famous bits, ending the show with apologizing to Matt Damon for running out of time for an interview. The actor’s publicist eventually called, said Damon thought it was funny, and the joke continued.
“There’s no good reason for it, but it just goes on and on,” Kimmel said.
Chiarella asked about the host’s success and work ethic, mentioning a student who had missed his class recently after taking a shower that was “too hot.” Laughing, Kimmel commented that he had never missed a show, even working the day of his appendectomy, and through an extreme allergic reaction to Advil in which his face swelled throughout the show.
“Part of me got a perverse kick out of the fact that I was dying on television,” Kimmel said.
This kind of dedication is the type of effort Kimmel looks for from his employees, even interns. Kimmel offered advice to students on how to be noticed, regardless of how insignificant the position may seem.
“If you’re a hard worker, people you work with … will notice and reward you for that,” said Kimmel in a preshow interview. “You’re always making connections, and you’re always making an impression, and you should always make the best impression you can.”
However, when he was in college at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Kimmel did not always practice his own advice. In one acting class, he spent much of the time goofing off and ignoring the professor.
“There were these acting exercises where you had to act like you were an amoeba and kind of float around — things I deemed ridiculous,” he said.
Kimmel’s professor finally pulled him aside and informed him that she would have him kicked out of school if he did not stop disrupting the other students. Kimmel joked that he failed to realize that some people went to college to actually learn.
“I thought of it more like driving school than anything,” he said. “You go, you get through it, and then at the end of it, it’s over and your parents are happy. So when she [the professor] said that, I was really struck by it. It changed my outlook.”
Kimmel also recommended that students interested in a career in the entertainment industry practice writing as much as possible.
“When I was a kid … I used to record Bill Cosby on TV with an audio cassette player and then I’d write out everything he said on yellow legal pads,” he said. “I didn’t realize at the time, but it gave me an opportunity to see what comedy — what a script — looked like.”
These kinds of experiences would define Kimmel’s youth. Looking back, he recalled his admiration for Steve Martin.
“Back then, believe it or not, Steve Martin was kind of a dirty comic,” Kimmel said. “My dad gave me a Steve Martin comedy album, and I would listen to it secretly.” Kimmel and his father kept this secret from his mother.
On stage, Chiarella also asked about his family’s influence on his career. Similar to his advice to DePauw students, Kimmel’s parents instilled in him the value of hard work.
“When we went to church … my family would be the ones putting the chairs away,” he said.
Following his interview with Chiarella, Kimmel answered student questions ranging from comedic advice to fulfilling a request from first-year, Meghan McCann, to prank call her mother.
One student, sophomore Susie Schmank, even tweeted Kimmel’s wife, Molly McNearney, asking what she should ask her husband. McNearney responded, “Ask him why he leaves his dirty Q-tip on the bathroom sink every. Single. Morning.”
Students were enthusiastic and responded well to Kimmel’s presence.
“I thought he was great; he was real as hell and had a lot of good life advice,” said sophomore David Kobe. “He was very charismatic and personable.”
Kimmel was only in Greencastle briefly, flying in to give his talk and leaving for the airport shortly after. The audience was not allowed to use any recording devices during the interview, and the university was only allowed a single recording of the evening for DePauw’s archives.
Kimmel’s visit marked the second Ubben Lecture of year, following New York Times columnist David Brooks, and preceding author of “Orange is the New Black”, Piper Kerman, who will be on campus in February.