WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Late-night TV comedian Jimmy Kimmel admits he is anxious about headlining his first White House Correspondents Dinner this coming Saturday, and his self-confessed lack of insight into Washington doesn’t help calm his nerves.
The star of ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” told Reuters his interest in politics is roughly equal to his interest in sports -- and in reality TV star Kim Kardashian.
But Kimmel is playing to comic effect. When prodded, he unleashes his wit on Washington’s most powerful lawmakers who provide no shortage of good material for him and his writers.
“I will feast on stupid comments,” Kimmel said with glee about his upcoming gig, noting that out on the campaign trail “there seems to be a glut of dumb things being said.”
His take on Newt Gingrich is that the lagging Republican presidential hopeful is “really on a pie-tasting tour of the United States.” Former candidate Herman Cain should be the vice president nominee because his pizza-making days provide the grist for great comedy.
The Brooklyn-born, Las Vegas-raised Kimmel may make as much fun of himself as he will of those in the elite audience of media stars, political powerbrokers and Hollywood celebrities. After all, he was fired from four radio stations and got into show business simply to become a friend of David Letterman.
To calm his nerves, he writes jokes, and his hope is to have a “nice mixture of prepared and off-the-cuff comedy” for the black tie gala. Here are a few hints of the ammunition is in his joke holster:
* On presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney: “Mitt Romney looks like a Sears catalog model.”
* On former candidate Rick Santorum: “I am fascinated by Rick Santorum ... and the array of things he’s fighting for. Why bring pornography into it? What does that have to do with running for the White House? You are losing the male vote basically by going against pornography.”
* On former candidate for vice president Sarah Palin: “Now she is stationed up in Alaska all the time, she doesn’t have a professional hair or makeup artist any more, she is starting to look like a mom on ‘Toddlers and Tiaras’. Her hair looks like bees are doing it for her.”
* On his picks for Republican VP: “Herman Cain is a lot of fun and the pizza angle is an endless fountain of comedy. (Rapper) Flavor Flav would be great ... Chris Christie, who seems to gain 10 pounds every time I see him, would be a great vice president.”
* On Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia: “Under that robe, Justice Scalia is an Italian guy. He’s had his balls busted for probably his whole life by his family.”
* On President Barack Obama: “If I was filling out a bracket, my bet would be that he would win.”
JAY CARNEY ‘14-YEARS-OLD’
Obama, who precedes Kimmel in the night’s comedy line-up, might not get skewered so much, but not because Kimmel will pull punches. He gets a thrill from making fun of people to their faces.
“It’s hard to make fun of Obama in general because he’s a cool character,” Kimmel said. “Outside of his ears, there’s not a whole lot.”
But Obama’s recent open mic goof with Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev might lend itself to roasting. And Washington always dishes up its share of scandals that provide rich material. Last year, it was demands that Obama produce his birth certificate. This year, it could be sex and the Secret Service or the lavish Las Vegas bash held by the General Services Administration.
Kimmel finds humor in Washington rituals, including press briefings with White House spokesman Jay Carney. “He is only 14-years-old, so you have to take that into account,” Kimmel said.
On the White House press briefing itself, Kimmel said: “I have a feeling it will be entirely different 20 years from now and people will be flour bombing the president.”
Kimmel has the material, but there are other worries on his mind, like whether people will be eating while he performs (“people do not laugh or clap while they are eating”) or trying to match the success of last year’s headliner Seth Meyers (“I wish I was on the year after Rich Little”).
And then there is the problem of finding chemistry with an audience more interested in schmoozing with each other than, perhaps, listening to a Hollywood comedian.
The challenge is more daunting to Kimmel than his other big gig of the year, the television industry’s Emmy Awards.
“I go into these situations with a lot of optimism, thinking that people have a great sense of humor, and then I am almost always surprised that they didn’t afterwards,” said Kimmel.
“But it’s better to go in blindly with a big smile on your face and come out trembling.”
Reporting By Mary Milliken; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte