NEW YORK — Brash ABC late-night star Jimmy Kimmel had just two words to say when an interviewer asked him what he thinks of Jay Leno.
“F— him,” Kimmel said.
Kimmel evidently wasn’t joking when he used the four-letter F-word to refer to Leno Monday night (Aug. 27) on stage at the 92nd Street Y, a local community center on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
Kimmel then went on to denigrate Leno, describing a “friendship” he once had with Leno as “fake” and then recalling gleefully the time he impersonated Leno on his own show, complete with Leno wig and prosthetic chin.
Kimmel’s anti-Leno comments came during an interview before a live auditorium audience, conducted by New York Times TV correspondent Bill Carter, who has written two books about late-night television, “The Late Shift” (1995) and “The War for Late Night” (2011).
Carter asked Kimmel about Leno at a point in the interview after Kimmel, 44, had expressed his life-long admiration for David Letterman, who Kimmel idolized when he was a teen growing up in Las Vegas. Starting in January, Kimmel will be competing head-to-head against both Leno, 62, and Letterman, 65, when “Jimmy Kimmel Live” moves its start time to 11:35 p.m. eastern time — a move announced by ABC earlier this month.
“How about Jay Leno?” Carter asked Kimmel.
“F— him,” answered Kimmel, without pausing to consider his reply.
The two then discussed the time in January 2010 when Kimmel impersonated Leno on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and Leno responded by inviting Kimmel to appear on “The Jay Leno Show” the very next day. That was the show Leno was hosting weeknights at 10 p.m./9c on NBC that was then on the verge of cancellation, as Leno politicked to be reinstated as “Tonight Show” host, displacing Conan O’Brien.
“I impersonated [Leno] on my show,” Kimmel recalled, “and it was the most fun I’ve ever had on my show.” (The video is on YouTube here.)
The day after his impersonation, Kimmel said, Leno called him personally to ask him to participate in a segment on “The Jay Leno Show” called “10 at 10,” in which Jay asked a celebrity 10 questions (the other “10” was because the show aired at 10 p.m.).
So, in an appearance that was broadcast live and is now infamous, Kimmel seized every opportunity he could during Leno’s questioning to bring up the subject of Jay and Conan. For example, Jay asked Kimmel, “What was the best prank you ever pulled?”
And Kimmel answered, “I think the best prank I ever pulled was I told a guy that five years from now I’m going to give you my show, and then when the five years came, I gave it to him and then I took it back almost instantly!” (This clip is on YouTube too, here.)
“It was probably my proudest moment,” Kimmel told Carter Monday in New York. Kimmel then noted that comedians he knew were the first to congratulate him for how he’d taken Leno to task.
“People, it turns out, really don’t like Jay Leno,” Kimmel said. “We have not spoken since that time,” he said of Leno.
With his L.A.-based show taking the week off, Kimmel was in New York taping comedy bits in Brooklyn, his birthplace, for a week of “Jimmy Kimmel Live” shows to be broadcast from the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) in October.