While the White House Correspondents’ Dinner is an annual highlight for most Washingtonians, there’s one group who views it with dread: comedians. Even though the gala has been able to reel in top names such as Jay Leno, Stephen Colbert and Conan O’Brien over the years, the gig is considered one of the most difficult around.
This year’s headliner, Jimmy Kimmel, is well aware of that.
“I’m nervous. I’m nervous right now talking about it,” Kimmel, 44, told POLITICO in an interview in his Hollywood office. “I’m anxious about it.”
“Something like this, there’s so many unknowns, so for me, there’s no good that comes out of this. It’s either a relief — OK, that went OK — or it’s terrible — that went badly.”
While Kimmel regularly covers politics during his late-night show — ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” — he’s not primarily known as a political comedian, a la Bill Maher, Jon Stewart or Colbert. Kimmel’s been hosting his show since 2003 and became a household name prior to that, thanks to his work on Comedy Central’s “The Man Show,” a testosterone-fueled show that Kimmel co-hosted alongside Adam Carolla.
For comedians of all stripes, there are all too many reasons why the Hilton’s main ballroom is not as comedy friendly as, say, the Laugh Factory, and Kimmel knows them all (he’s actually performed there before, when he headlined the National Italian American Foundation’s annual gala in 2009).
First, there’s the massive room, with its 2,000-plus capacity.
“It’s never easy when people are seated at a table — a round table — and they can talk to each other and they actually have utensils in front of them and there’s the possibility that dessert is coming while you’re talking,” Kimmel said. “It’s not ideal. Imagine going to the movies and it’s like wedding seating. Nobody is going to be paying full attention to the movie. You want people at the very least to be paying attention to what you say.”
Second, there are the attendees, with their finicky, sensitive sense of humor — and heightened sense of themselves.
“It’s a very different crowd. When I do my show, I just say my name and everybody laughs hysterically. So I have to be very choosy about what I say. There’s no bull——ing your way through. … You really have to be prepared. This is a big event so everything has to be, if not a home run, a triple or a double at least. Whereas on my show, we do it every night and the expectation is you go in there with solid material, but it doesn’t have to be fantastic. With something like this, you’re evaluated so intensely, so it has to be very, very solid going in.”
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