Jonah Weiner moved in with Jimmy Kimmel to cover him for the latest issue of Rolling Stone. I guess the mobile link to the story is the only way to get full text at this point? Rolling Stone has such a funny way of using the internet.
When Kimmel first got Live!, he said he intended to do “the comedy version of The Tonight Show,” his first major swipe at Leno, who called him for an explanation. Leno and Kimmel hashed it out, and for a few years they enjoyed a friendly relationship. In 2008, as Leno was plotting a jump from NBC to ABC, he started calling Kimmel “three times a week,” Kimmel says. Leno intended to do an hourlong ABC show at 11:30, which meant persuading Kimmel to move back a half-hour, to 12:30. “He needed me to be OK with it, because my time slot is written into my contract,” Kimmel says. “If they move me out of my slot, I become a free agent – and I had tons of interest from other networks at the time.” When Leno’s ABC deal evaporated, however, Kimmel says, Leno’s calls abruptly ceased, giving the lie to what had seemed like a burgeoning friendship. Kimmel’s feelings were hurt. “That made me feel stupid,” he says.
Kimmel got his revenge in 2010, after NBC announced it was restoring Leno, who’d failed at 10 p.m., to 11:35, effectively taking back the keys to The Tonight Show from O’Brien. That January, Kimmel hosted an episode of Live! imitating Leno, wearing a fake gray bouffant and prosthetic chin and issuing high-pitched, rimshot-punctuated groaner after groaner. “As a comedian, you can’t not have disdain for what he’s done: He totally sold out,” Kimmel says today. “He was a master chef who opened a Burger King.” Leno called Kimmel the day after, saying, sportingly, that he’d enjoyed the impression, and inviting Kimmel onto his show for a satellite interview. When he learned that Leno planned a milquetoast Q&A rather than a discussion of the Conan fracas, Kimmel decided to turn the segment into a blitz. After Leno asked, “What’s the best prank you ever pulled?” Kimmel replied, “I told a guy that five years from now I’m gonna give you my show, and then when the five years came, I gave it to him and then I took it back almost instantly.” It was one of several digs at Leno’s character; Leno, stung, later described Kimmel’s appearance as a “sucker punch.”