Jimmy Kimmel, American Hero: The O Interview
Oprah: Hi, Jimmy! Thanks for doing this.
Jimmy Kimmel: Of course. Are you kidding me? I've been sitting and staring at my phone for like 22 minutes.
Oprah: Our big question for this issue of O is "What are you willing to stand up for?" I told my team the best person to talk to about that is Jimmy Kimmel, because it seems like you've uncovered a different layer of yourself. 2017 was a watershed year for you: First you hosted one of the most fraught Oscar ceremonies we've seen in a while—where the wrong Best Picture winner was announced—and did a fantastic job. You made headlines speaking out on gun control. You turned 50! And in a very emotional speech on your show, you shared that your son Billy has a rare congenital heart defect and was born fighting for his life—he had surgery at 3 days old. That experience was a catalyst that brought you very publicly into the raging healthcare debate that's been going on in this country.
Jimmy Kimmel: Absolutely. I was at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, and I saw how the nurses and doctors treat the patients and their parents, the compassion they have, and that low-income families get just as good treatment as everyone else. It just so happened that at that very time, healthcare for children was being threatened by our government. I don't know if I believe in signs, but in this case, it was hard to see it any other way. I knew when I went back on the air after my son's surgery, there would be a lot of attention because I'd been away for a week. I wanted to remind America that whatever we are—Republican, Democrat, or otherwise—everyone cares about their friends' and coworkers' children and their well-being. That crosses party lines.
Oprah: We could all tell it was coming from the soul and heart of you; it was vulnerable and authentic. Had you planned what you were going to say? Or did you just start talking and let it flow?
Jimmy Kimmel: I had some of it planned. I wanted to make sure I mentioned all the doctors and had the information correct, so I did some research beforehand. I wasn't intending to cry, though I knew I probably would. You know, some things are so painful and so difficult to write that you wait until the last minute—I didn't really know what I was going to say until right before the show.
Oprah: Had you already done a lot of crying in the hospital?
Jimmy Kimmel: There wasn't a lot of crying, partly because I felt like it would upset other members of my family if I got upset.
Oprah: They're looking to you for signals.
Jimmy Kimmel: Well, my wife and I look to each other. There were secrets we kept from each other that we revealed only after the second surgery. The biggest one was that, I think subconsciously, we didn't want to get too close to the baby, because we didn't know what was going to happen.
Jimmy Kimmel: I don't know if that's right or wrong or common or uncommon. But when I told her I was feeling that way, she said, "Oh, I'm so happy you said that because I was feeling that way too, and I didn't want to express it."
Oprah: Yeah, it feels very natural to cover your heart. When I experience a lot of disruption in my own life, I always ask, what is this here to teach me? What did this year teach you?
Jimmy Kimmel: It taught me what's really important. It taught me that I have a much more powerful platform than I realized. And it taught me that in times like these, we're supposed to care for each other. The basic teachings of Jesus say that you must take care of your neighbor. I hope that people who call themselves Christians remember that every day.
Oprah: Was it scary at first to get so personal when talking about your son?
Jimmy Kimmel: I don't know if it was scary, but it was uncomfortable, and it's not something I looked forward to. I definitely felt a sense of relief when it was over. And according to polls I've seen, it has cost me commercially. That's not ideal, but I wouldn't change anything I said.
Oprah: Has this past year made you a more spiritually connected person?
Jimmy Kimmel: I've always been religious—I was raised Catholic, and religion has always been part of my life. I've been praying a lot more, that's for sure. So I guess my answer is yes.
Oprah: You've performed a monologue almost every night for 15 years, but it feels like you've stepped into a more meaningful space. Have you had a reckoning between humor and substance?
Jimmy Kimmel: I think so. I know my job is, for the most part, to entertain people and make them laugh. That said, if I can be selfish every once in a while and talk about something serious that's important to me, then I do want to take that opportunity. But I don't want to abuse my position. I pick my battles. Ninety percent of the time, I'll joke around, but some of the jokes, I hope, make people think.
Oprah: I remember your monologue the night after the massacre in Las Vegas, your hometown. You were very emotional there, too.
Jimmy Kimmel: It's always horrible when something like that happens, no matter where. But human nature dictates that the closer it is to you, the more you feel it, and I definitely felt it. I have to say, it's very frustrating to me that all this time later we still haven't done anything significant about gun control. People really dig in—they think you're going to come into their homes and take their guns away. I'm not suggesting that. I just think we have enough pain in the world, enough things we can't manage—accidents and diseases and natural disasters. But for guns—we have the cure, and we just choose not to use it. The idea that you can be on the no-fly list and still own a gun...that just defies common sense.
Oprah: Do you worry about the people who don't agree with your political views? National Review said you were "misleading Americans...and clouding the debate" over gun violence. What do you say to critics?
Jimmy Kimmel: I hope they never wind up in the situation the people in Las Vegas were in or that I was in. But I do think that if they ever found themselves there, their opinion would change.
Oprah: You know, I believe that so many people are craving meaning, and the reason why what you said resonated so deeply is that people felt the realness. What do you think the world is craving right now?
Jimmy Kimmel: I think we need a leader who has our best interests in mind. Gun control and healthcare are important issues, and there are so many others, like climate change, which is probably the biggest of them all.
Oprah: Until New York and Florida are under water, people will still be denying climate change. What does it mean to you to have conviction?
Jimmy Kimmel: It's something I've had since I was a kid, and not necessarily about important things. Like, if I see someone put ketchup on a hot dog—I'm sorry, Oprah, I know in Chicago that's very common, but I have great conviction that that is unacceptable.
Oprah: It shouldn't happen!
Jimmy Kimmel: It is wrong. I have conviction about a lot of stupid things, but occasionally something that matters pops in there, too.
Oprah: Were you born that way, or did someone model that for you?
Jimmy Kimmel: My parents, for sure. The best way I can illustrate who my parents are is to say they're the people who will fold up all the chairs at the end of the event, then be at the sink washing dishes. That's something you see, and whether you realize it consciously or not, it becomes a part of you.
Oprah: On which truths would you stake your own life?
Jimmy Kimmel: You mean besides the ketchup-on-hot-dogs thing? Maybe it's trite, but I think the Golden Rule is the one. Do unto others. I think if we all did our best to follow that one, we'd have no problems at all.
Oprah: I know a daily talk show takes every bit of your focus and energy. How do you find peace?
Jimmy Kimmel: I have a couple hours in the morning with the kids, then maybe an hour and a half with them at night before bedtime. And if I can't go fishing, I go online and look at pictures of rivers and of people fishing. It just makes me feel better.
Oprah: Do you think there's a purpose to celebrity, and if so, what is it?
Jimmy Kimmel: This might be overly simple, but maybe it's to bring a little bit of happiness into people's daily lives, and then to use your power—if you want to call it that—to support individuals and organizations who need and deserve it. I've been very, very lucky financially and otherwise, and it's important to spread that around. My uncle Frank never really had any money, but he always tipped well. He'd say, "Spread it around. Spread it around."
Oprah: How is your baby Billy doing?
Jimmy Kimmel: He's great. He went to the cardiologist today, and he'll have another surgery when he's around 6 or 7 years old, but in the meantime, he's doing great.
Oprah: That's fantastic. What is your prayer for him and your other three children?
Jimmy Kimmel: I pray that above anything else—successful, smart, all of those things we want our children to be—that they're good people. I'm probably overly focused right now on what's happening politically. I'm a little bit obsessed—I can't help it. And I hope my kids are some of the citizens who, in whatever way they can, help make good things happen.
Jimmy Kimmel Live! celebrated its 15th anniversary this year. To hear Oprah and Jimmy's full chat, download Oprah's Super Soul Conversations podcast.