Saint Kimmel and the Fuzzy Line Between Culture and Politics

in Fowl Specimen

JIMMEL KIMMY, PRAISE BE UNTO HIM, has played host to ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live! since January of 2003, outrunning Bill Maher’s Politically Incorrect (1997-02) and Dick Cavett’s The Dick Davett Show (1969-75) for the longest running late-night talk show in ABC history, an ongoing ABC success story ascribed to Jimmy Kimmel’s just-one-of-the-guys personality, playful celebrity discourse, and frequently tear-filled political monologues.


There’s also a metaphysical dimension to Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night success, one that is shared by all late-night comedy shows: the canned laughter, applause, and emotional outbursts. The “laugh track” — an emotion-heavy audience sound-bite delivered to inspire a seemingly shared emotional reaction from the at-home television audience. To create the illusion of universal agreement.

And following Kimmel’s latest cry for left-wing policy, the ABC host has earned himself another title: moral arbiter — as evidenced by this headline:

“Kimmel was sucked into the political maelstrom by the commitment that Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican, made: That for him to support it, any new health-care bill would have to pass the ‘Jimmy Kimmel test.'” – CNN

And this headline:

“The authorities need to know what happened, but what will that gain the rest of us? Nothing. Perhaps that’s why so many of us admired Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night monologue on these matters.” – Chicago Tribune

And, well, maybe Jimmy Kimmel is somewhat in on it, too:

“Maybe this is crazy, but I feel like I could turn [Trump] around on a couple of things… I think he needs to be surrounded by better people.” – Jimmy Kimmel

To be fair, Jimmy Kimmel rejected the title “moral arbiter” in a CBS Sunday Morning interview. In response to conservative Ben Shapiro’s question on how Kimmel became “the great moral arbiter of our time,” Kimmel acknowledged:

“I’m not, I agree with him. I’m nobody’s moral arbiter. You don’t have to watch the show. You don’t have to listen to what I say.”

I agree with Kimmel’s agreement with Shapiro. This is a free market society: if you’re worried over Kimmel’s cultural impact, then contribute to culture from the opposite direction. If Jimmy Kimmel Live! doesn’t float your boat, then find one of the more conservative late-night shows.And good luck with that. And to be perfectly clear: Kimmel’s left-wing politics are not an issue, insomuch that Kimmel’s willing to hold them to criticism. Ditto for Shapiro’s conservative leaning.

But today’s Jimmy Kimmel doesn’t just have a political bias. He carries a political prescription, and a very one-sided prescription that, like any good scripture, guarantees healing to the sick and weary and downtrodden. And, like any self-appointed holy man, he doesn’t hold his viewpoints to criticism. Thus, as this logic plays out, to criticize Jimmy’s political scripture isn’t to question Jimmy’s logic and credibility but to hurt those he implicitly represents: the vulnerable in America’s poor health care system, the victims of mass shootings, the lions of Africa.Arguably, Jimmy Kimmel’s tears for Cecil, the lion, in 2015, conceived his image as America’s moral arbiter — not so much for his stance on hunting lions but because he cried. This is unfortunate, given that Kimmel used his platform to help raise $150,000 towards Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit. What’s doubly unfortunate, aside from the Crying Kimmel meme burying this uplifting factoid, is how Crying Kimmel later surfaced for less innocuous positions (e.g., gun control), creating an iffy undertone to the entire spectacle.

Regardless of whether or not his policies even help those he claims to represent.

You don’t have to watch the show. You don’t have to listen to what he has to say. But if you don’t, then, according to Jimmy Kimmel, you’re ignorant. You’re the enemy. You’re the cause for poverty, sickness, and death. If your ideas don’t pass the “Jimmy Kimmel test,” then they shouldn’t be accepted.

And you’re probably going to hell.


Instead of the pre-recorded sound-bite, most late-night shows opt for a more organic, live, in-studio audience — one that’s prepped and primed a half hour before the real thing. Synthesized or organic, the effect remains the same on our end: We hear laughter, we laugh; we hear gasps, we gasp; we hear boos, we face-palm, shake our heads, and maybe sneak a fart. This is inclusion. This is community. This feels good, which definitely beats feeling bad.

Adam Carolla: “Behold the Hoover Dam. 6.6 million tons of concrete, harnessing nearly a trillion gallons of water.”
Jimmy Kimmel: “16,000 men spent half a decade building it. They lived in shacks and tents along its base, without drinking water, toilets, or shelter from the desert heat.”
Carolla: “More than a hundred of these men gave their lives to this dam. Their bodies are paved over in its walls. Its two million kilowatt capacity powers the greatest city in the world: Las Vegas.”
Kimmel: “And just as these heroic men did more than sixty years ago, we are building a dam.”
Carolla: “A dam to hold back the tidal wave of feminization that is flooding this country.”
Kimmel: “A dam to stop the river of estrogen that’s drowning us in political correctness.”
Carolla: “A dam to urinate off of when we’re really drunk.”
Kimmel: “We call this dam…”
Carolla & Kimmel: “The Man Show.”

— Transcribed from The Man Show, Season 1, Episode 1

The Late-Night Comedian Acolytes

Jimmy Kimmel and his late-night comedian acolytes

It’s no coincidence that Jimmy Kimmel’s surfaced politics neatly align with the politics of every other late-night comedian, whose politics neatly align with most mainstream media outlets. Throughout the Obama years, allegations that late-night comedians shared a particular political slant occasionally met either derision or evasion — usually both — presumably to net a wide viewership.

But then Donald Trump ran for president, and Donald Trump won the presidency, and the politicized media realized its loss of influence on the American people.

 Since November 8, 2016, late-night comedians have been locked in a sad process of You’re not breaking up with us, we’re breaking up with you.

This highlights the cynical extreme of late-night comedy: the wholesale of an establishment political agenda advertised as impartial or strictly for the LOLs. The ironic extreme lies in the host’s attempt at purporting a #Resistance against political corruption. (This irony takes a sardonic twist in Comedy Central’s The Opposition w/ Jordan Klepper, “a half hour of hot takes under the guise of a somewhat unhinged conservative talk show host,” in which Klepper mocks anti-establishment sentiments via exaggerated straw manning, e.g.: “Our minds are open, but the establishment is just now asking the questions that we already answered way before we even knew what the questions were.” [Insert LAUGH TRACK])

While lending credence to the all comedy is subjective dictum, it’s reasonable to lament this conversion of comedic satire to political shilling, to question comedy that shirks its duty to be funny for the dopamine thrill of being anti-Trump.

A PERHAPS OBTUSELY OPINIONATED INTERJECTION ON THIS SASSY “YAAAS!” APPROACH TO CULTURE AND POLITICS: Very few people talk like this in middle America, viz., the Trump-voting red states. Vox can’t be in such a bubble not to know this, or not to at least have some stereotypical sense of flyover state behavior. By employing Carlos Maza, an effeminate sass-ball, to educate his generally American viewers with this nasally, Buzzfeed-like snark, Vox gives the impression that it has no interest in speaking to middle America on Trump — i.e., in an analogous format that’s relatable and useful to middle America — implicating their deeper disinterest in the American heartland altogether. My point isn’t to insult Carlos Maza but to illustrate the irony in how Vox (a Latin term for “voice”) makes Trump’s hypermasculine way of speaking increasingly attractive to these Americans who feel increasingly alienated by a culture that speaks with such pretentious, pedagogical sass. Yet, criticizing this sassy Vox ‘tude for being too preachy and arrogant sets Vox up to defensively dismiss the critic for being too square and bigoted and toxically masculine to “accept it.” It’s the PC Left equivalent to the anti-PC Right’s use of offensive, insensitive language to disregard their dissenters for being too sensitive and shrill and authoritarian to “handle it.” As a result, Vox‘s video’s snarky style only panders to a snarky community that likely already agrees with its message. In a creepy attempt to dichotomize comprehensive fact-checking against journalistic truth-seeking, the video’s political satire expert ended on this note: “We think that the journalist’s job is to show all sides of the story, but the journalist’s job is to show the truth.” To Vox, there’s only one truth: their truth. Ultimately, this video’s function is less educational than it is masturbatory.On the flipside, the brand of heresy applies to the late-night hosts who accidentally humanize, in any way, the current administration:

  • Jimmy Fallon ruffled up Trump’s “hair” on The Tonight Show in September, 2016, and apologized for it in May, way past the point of relevance.
  • The Late Late Show host James Corden gave Sean Spicer a peck on the cheek at the Emmys, then claimed “disappointment” with himself after hearing accusations of his “normalising fascism.”

Jimmy Fallon apologizes about Trump

“‘If there’s one bad thing on Twitter about me, it will make me upset. So, after this happened, I was devastated. I didn’t mean anything by it. I was just trying to have fun,’ Fallon admitted.” – Refinery29

With such a wide political divide, it’s somewhat understandable that late-night TV chose a side. But with the Emmys, the Grammys, the Oscars, the Golden Globes, the MTV, the NFL, the NBA, the CNN, the PSAs, the universitays, the Eminem, etc., on their side, these late-night comedians can no longer speak boldly but safely. Their social commentary follows and sets the cultural mainstream. Their prescribed popularity undercuts their rebellion. They fail to see how lame it’s all become.

Jimmy Kimmel used to be funny. Politics used to focus on policy. But the line between culture and politics no longer exists, forcing everything that used to be entertaining and enlightening into its respective pigeonhole.

Blame Clinton. Blame Bush. Blame 9/11 or Obama. Blame all or none of the above — either way, somewhere along the line, we lost trust in our moral leadership. But, instead of self-reflection, we simply turned to shinier, alternative sources.

The Right found its savior in a reality TV star.

The Left chose the late-night comedian.

Pick one.


Agreement is inclusivity. Inclusivity is comfort. Everyone can agree on that. You accept the show’s stance in fear of exclusion. Disagreement is heresy. And when everyone’s applauding, you’ll find the heretic in the individual who chooses not to clap on command, not to laugh by compulsion. And the heretic is dangerous to our happy in-group. The heretic disrupts the illusion.

Elmer (voiced by Jimmy Kimmel): I was at the park today. There was a black fella, in there, with his thing out. This thing was enormous. It was like he was making a BM but from the front.”
Lena (Park District Worker): “Oh, my God.”
Elmer: “Have you ever seen –”
Lena: “Oh God, please, stop.”
Elmer: “– a black fella –”
Lena: “Please, stop. Please, stop.”
Elmer: “– with his pants down? It was like a tsunami or something. Like, (Lena: ‘Okay, sir.’) I used to draw pictures (Lena: ‘Sir, we can stop being so graphic.’) for the cartoon, for the Daily Forward (Lena: ‘Okay, we can stop being graphic.’) back 40 years ago, I was a cartoonist. I drew beautiful pictures, all political cartoons. I could draw you a cartoon of this black fellow with his thing out (Lena: ‘Please, stop. No I don’t –‘) to show you what he was doing there.”

— Excerpt from a Crank Yankers skit c/o The Adam Carolla Show (6.27.2007)

How Can Jimmy Be God and Man?

Kimmel’s willingness to dialogue with Trump is somewhat commendable. It’s also incredibly arrogant and annoying — he failed to entertain the possibility of President Trump turning him around on “a couple of things” — but it’s a significant step in the right direction, away from the current standard of public discourse.

Even so, I find the celebrity phenomena surrounding Jimmy Kimmel’s moral preening strange and hypocritical, almost beyond comprehension. If Trump’s “pussy grabbing” video disqualified him from a legitimate presidency, then what qualifies Kimmel’s moral kingship? Has his run on The Man Show been forgiven or just forgotten? (Or worse: swept under?) I ask not in defense of Trump but on offense against our inconsistent ethical judgments.

Kimmel hasn’t earned his high praise. He only drank the Kool-Aid and deemed himself above everyone who holds an opposing opinion — a growing tradition among the Left. And until ABC and Jimmy Kimmel stoop to allow two-sided discussion and debate on his politics, we’ll never know whence Jimmy earned this:

Moral High Ground


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