"Hi, I'm late night's hottest hero."
That's how Jimmy Kimmel jokingly introduced himself at the most recent Television Critics Association press tour panel in Los Angeles. Maybe he wasn't kidding: this does seem like Kimmel's year.
First there was his prestigious gig in April hosting the Washington Correspondent's Dinner. That was a career moment so far removed from his bratty "Man Show" days he almost threw up before the performance.
What did he learn from that experience?
"I learned that the president's a little bit funnier than I am," he told critics. As a dad, he got a big kick out of the president's wife, Michelle Obama, telling his six-foot-five son Kevin to sit down.
Then there was the news ABC was finally bumping "Jimmy Kimmel Live" — entering its 10th season — ahead a half hour to 11:35 in January, pitting him head-to-head against his idol, David Letterman, and his personal punching bag, Jay Leno.
Asked in the press tour scrum if he felt he may have hurt Leno’s feelings when he sandbagged him in that infamous "Ten @ 10" primetime appearance, Kimmel instantly shot back, "Jay Leno has no feelings."
That's the kind of cheeky, unchecked zinger viewers will be looking for Sunday as Kimmel hosts "The 64th Primetime Emmy Awards" (8 p.m. ET/PT, ABC and CTV).
It's not his first time in a tux. He's hosted the American Music Awards five times, as well as the ESPN Awards, but last time it was ABC's turn to present the Emmys (the four major networks take turns every year), his own network passed him over in favour of a gaggle of reality show hosts. That didn't go so well, Kimmel reminded the press. "I would have been very angry if I hadn't been asked (this time)," he says, "so maybe that’s why they asked me."
Or maybe he just earned it. Besides lasting ten years (longer than any previous ABC late night talk show, including Dick Cavett’s 1969-75 effort), his show is finally nominated in the best late night category.
"As a staff, we were starting to feel like the Bad News Bears," says Kimmel, who had almost convinced himself an Emmy nomination didn't matter.
"It was exciting to see how excited the staff was. It reminds you it's their show, too."
The 44-year-old has a reputation for creating a family atmosphere on his set. Several actual family members, such as "Cousin Sal" Iacono, join on-camera regulars like security guard Guillermo Rodriguez and band leader Cleto Escobedo III on the payroll.
He singles out Jimmy Fallon, Ellen DeGeneres, Jon Stewart and Garry Shandling as past Emmy hosts he thought did a great job. He'll have his own writers working these awards and hopes to stay involved in the night beyond the opening monologue.
Kimmel says he even liked when Letterman hosted the Oscars and couldn't get enough of Dave's Stupid Pet Tricks and other shtick. He's a big Letterman fan, singling out NBC's earlier "Late Night with David Letterman" as his all time favourite TV show. Dave is still his dream guest, invited on Kimmel's show pretty much on an annual basis. "It will happen one day," he believes.
The Brooklyn native has no illusions about staying in late night as long as Letterman, who has been at it 30 years. Raised in Las Vegas, he feasted on television growing up and still watches as much as he can, "including a lot of horrible reality shows."
Unlike Leno, Letterman or Johnny Carson, Kimmel was never a stand-up comedian. He earned his comedy chops in radio, an experience he feels prepared him more than anything else could have for his late night role.
"It taught me how to do a show five days a week," he says. "It prepared me for the grind."
"I think the No. 1 reason talk shows fail is that the host doesn't know how much work they are getting into," he says. "A lot of people go in with a lot of arrogance thinking they're going to show up at 3 in afternoon and kid around a bit. You have to really pour yourself into it."
Just never let anyone see you sweat. His well publicized stunt showing up at the early morning Emmy nominations press conference in his jammies was pure Kimmel: aggressively laid back, deceptively irreverent.
He's so much of a late night TV expert now he even had a response when asked to weigh in on how to fix the Canadian television industry awards. The former Gemini Awards, which Kimmel — like the vast majority of Canadians — has never seen, are undergoing a complete overhaul.
Kimmel's advice? "They should just use ours," he says. "We've got plenty of Canadians nominated. They should just merge."
Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.