Look, I’m as surprised as you are. I’ve never been a big fan of late night television in general or of Jimmy Kimmel specifically. I don’t dislike him as much as I dislike Fallon or Corden, but that classic talk show insincerity is still there. I also don’t think he’s that funny, and I agree that some of the jokes he made at this year’s Oscars were kinda racist.
So it was kind of a shock when a Jimmy Kimmel video begin circulating that was… moving?
In April, Kimmel’s son, Billy, was born with a congenital heart disease which threatened his life. In the opening monologue of his show, Kimmel describes in detail the various procedures that were undergone to save his son, all while on the verge of tears. He makes it clear how grateful he is to the various doctors and nurses involved, even thanking them by name.
This alone would be enough to make the clip go viral. It shows something so often missing from late night television: sincerity. While many talk shows — Kimmel’s included — feel like vehicles for stars to promote their new movies and their hosts to try out unfunny skits, this monologue cut through with something honest and real. And if how candid Kimmel was about his experience was surprising, even more surprising was what he said next:
“If your baby is going to die — and it shouldn’t have to — it shouldn’t matter how much money you make. I think that’s something that, whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat or something else, we all agree on that, right? No parent should ever have to decide if they can afford to save their child’s life.”
Kimmel’s emotional monologue garnered 11 million views on Youtube and briefly became the subject of national conversation. It got me thinking.
I watch a lot of political comedy shows. I love John Oliver, Samantha Bee and Stephen Colbert. Sometimes though, I wonder how much impact they actually have. On every episode of his show, John Oliver will take a few really harsh shots at Trump, and I think “Is this changing anyone’s mind?” I can’t imagine a conservative even making it through an episode of “Last Week Tonight” or “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” or Colbert’s “Late Show.” I still love these shows, but I can’t help feeling that I’m being placated; comforted by liberals who think the exact same way.
So when Jimmy Kimmel with his “I’m just a frat guy who grew up” schtick gets mad enough about the Charlottesville riots to say this in the monologue of his comedy show, people take notice. It matters:
And when Kimmel cries on national TV and pleads for healthcare reform, that matters too. When Kimmel’s monologue on his son garnered millions of views on Youtube, Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy took notice. He pledged that any health care bill he supported would need to pass a “Jimmy Kimmel test” to ensure that any sick child is protected, regardless of a family’s income. He even came on Kimmel’s show:
Kimmel grilled Cassidy directly after an angry monologue where he made it clear he would fire back on any criticism he got from the right. In response to Newt Gingrich: “There’s a reason he’s named after a lizard.”
By the end of the segment, Kimmel had made Cassidy promise to endorse a bi-partisan healthcare bill that would protect low income families. It was a good moment, and in TV terms, a good conclusion to the healthcare “storyline.” Kimmel had brought up a problem, boosted his ratings and introduced a simple solution before the commercial break. His viewers didn’t have to worry anymore. Now, even if Cassidy didn’t fully deliver on his promises, Jimmy could go back to reading mean tweets or pulling street pranks or whatever else, knowing he did something for the greater good. It was all wrapped up.
At least that’s what Bill Cassidy was counting on. Four months after his appearance on Kimmel, Cassidy (with South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham) introduced the Graham-Cassidy healthcare bill, which would potentially allow companies to hike premiums on pre-existing conditions, impose spending caps on how much coverage they would pay out to their clients and also potentially kick millions of Americans off of their coverage. In short, It does pretty much everything Cassidy promised it wouldn’t do.
In interviews, Cassidy kept up appearances and brought up Kimmel’s name, so if you didn’t know enough about the bill itself, you would think that he had upheld his promise. As a late night comedy talk show host, Kimmel could easily have ignored this bill and changed his focus to something else. Instead, he was pissed.
Kimmel called Cassidy a liar and took him to task for his awful bill. He also hit on an important point, one mentioned by “The Big Short” a couple of years ago — the fact that language around shady deals is often intentionally confusing. Republicans are trying to push through a garbage bill quickly, because they know most people won’t have time to fully understand it.
There’s something so compelling in watching this message come from Kimmel. He seems like a regular guy who cared enough to do his research. When he says something like this, you believe him: “I never imagined I would get involved in something like this. It’s not my area of expertise. My area of expertise is eating pizza.”
I think that sentiment holds actual power. And that it might make more of a difference than a thousand witty Colbert quips.
At the end of the monologue, Kimmel even speaks a truth that many Americans don’t like to hear: “Somehow Japan and England and Canada and Germany [and] France… they all figured health care out.”
It’s all delivered with an electricity that comes from Kimmel being truly, genuinely upset. Which brings us to the final monologue, which I think is my favourite:
Whoa! I haven’t seen venomous anger on a talk show like that since I found those Harvey Pekar clips on Youtube.
I never thought I’d even see this from him, but righteous anger is a good look on Kimmel. In a sincere attempt to keep his viewers informed, he has created some truly great television, and I for one, will be watching tonight.