Kimmel's wit trumps snags

Times Staff Writer

Since launching his talk show Sunday night with George Clooney, Super Bowl star Warren Sapp and the ascendant rockers Coldplay as guests, Jimmy Kimmel has had a tough time filling the green room.

By the third episode, on Tuesday night, the lineup for "Jimmy Kimmel Live" featured former televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker; "paranormal negotiator" Robin Alexis (don't ask); and Uncle Frank -- not a band or an actor, but Jimmy's uncle, Frank.

In other words, this is the kind of show that might prompt David Letterman to ask: Is that anything?

When the host is the quirky, quick-witted Kimmel, the answer is a resounding "probably."

"Jimmy Kimmel Live" has encountered more than its share of first-week snags, booking and otherwise, but its host has shown a flair for the kind of self-deprecating humor that has made Letterman such a late-night rock. After trying in vain to woo Letterman last year, ABC just might have a budding franchise on its hands in Kimmel, the 35-year-old Brooklyn native brought in as a magnet for young adult viewers.

Kimmel, whose man-of-the-people persona is familiar to viewers of Comedy Central's "The Man Show" and "Win Ben Stein's Money," has the most fun at his own expense. After introducing Tuesday night's lineup, he added, "We are winning the booking war, I'll tell you that." When this week's guest co-host, Snoop Dogg, tried pantomime to help salvage Alexis' lame ghost-busting routine, Kimmel remarked, "This is like the world's worst improv class."

Although the censors have toned him down from his cable days, Kimmel's humor still has a welcome bite. After network suits yanked the show's "liquor license" Monday because an audience member threw up, Kimmel was justifiably peeved. "I vomit almost every time I go to Disneyland -- they don't close down Space Mountain," he said.

Kimmel already seems more at ease than Conan O'Brien and Craig Kilborn were when they started out, and he comes across as downright edgy against the humdrum king of late night, Jay Leno.

The show's co-host format, with a weekly revolving door of Ed McMahons, looks promising. Snoop has been borderline hilarious, even for those of us who can't comprehend his lingo.

Staged and remote bits are shaping up as a huge problem, however. One episode featured a seemingly endless in-studio snowstorm. On another, watching Uncle Frank crash a Def Jam Records party and rap with Warren G was almost as painful.

If executive producer Daniel Kellison and the writing staff can find their comic stride, the team at "Jimmy Kimmel Live" should be able to affirmatively answer one of Letterman's other favorite questions: Will it float?



"Jimmy Kimmel Live" airs weeknights at 12:05 a.m. on ABC (tape-delayed on the West Coast).

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