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Jimmy Kimmel talks Oscars game plan, including approach to politics

After hosting the Emmys on Sept. 18, 2016,

After hosting the Emmys on Sept. 18, 2016, Jimmy Kimmel snagged hosting duties for the Oscars on Sunday. Credit: Getty Images / Kevin Winter

Jimmy Kimmel hosts the 89th Oscars telecast Sunday, and — in something of a break with Oscar host tradition — he’s also spoken with the media beforehand about the single most daunting chore in all of show business. Of this chore, success is not a given, but controversy is. Many will love the host, and many will not. If memory serves, the latter tend to be most vocal.

But Kimmel, 49, has advantages, including a successful outing as Emmy host in September, plus that little nightly show for ABC. He also has a game plan. He discussed that in a phone interview Thursday.

I spoke recently with your esteemed director on the Emmys telecast, Don Mischer, who said “Jimmy needs to walk out there and feed good about being out there, and to have a good time.” Is it even possible to have a good time?

No. Don knows me well enough to know I’m not going to have a good time. My idea of having a good time would be sitting at home in underpants and watching on TV. You have to appear to be relaxed, but I’m not sure you can be. You have to be very focused for three and a half hours, which is a longer slog than I’m used to.

But can you relax just a little after the monologue?

I can start to loosen up when it’s done. That’s where you then see things happening and can react to them. That’s part of the fun. It’s like shooting skeet.

There have been 11 Oscar hosts over the past nine years. Did you learn from them about what to do or not to do?

Yeah, I think I learned a lot from watching them and from Oscar broadcasts in general. [But] I will basically do what I did at the Emmys, the same kind of structure. That works for me. One of the things that people who do this know is you have to have the opportunity to react. If someone’s on stage and something crazy happens, you don’t want 20 minutes to go by to the next time you’re on stage to react. That’s a big lesson — you are host of the whole show, not part of the show.

Yes, but over the years hosts have disappeared from the stage for long chunks of time.

I don’t want that to happen, and we didn’t let it happen at the Emmys. We have a great director, Glenn Weiss, who understands how to do this. The easiest thing to do would be to produce the show exactly according to plan. That sort of thing results in a boring show.

The first joke sets the tone for the whole night. Can you reveal your first joke, or at least its tone?

The first joke out of your mouth is very important. If you think about it this way, any comedy show you go to has a warmup act, an opening act. But there’s no warm-up act for this show. People are coming in from the red carpet and it starts very cold. Sometimes you don’t get the audience until halfway through the monologue and that’s not ideal.

So what in heaven’s name do you do?

This is a great mystery. I haven’t figured out yet how I’m going to start it. I’ll go to rehearsal [later] and figure out what feels right. Tonally, I’m just hoping to make everyone laugh, so how I go about doing that will be in a variety of ways. I also don’t think you can ignore what’s going on in the country.

Which brings me to the obligatory and obvious question — how much politics, or Donald Trump, becomes too much?

It’s a movie awards show, not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. You have to keep that in mind. I will try to approach it with variety, and with just enough to make a lot of people on one [political] side mad, and just enough to make the others on the other side mad. That’s my goal. Make everyone mad.

Is there some sort of science though, you know, like 5.3 political jokes per monologue?

You might be in the ballpark. I actually came up with six. We won’t know the answer until it’s over. It depends on how well the jokes go over. I don’t know. It’s comedy, not science.

The academy certainly has spun the dial on hosts over these past years, but do you personally see this as the beginning of a long, happy run if all goes well?

I’m definitely not looking at making this a full-time job. I’ll be happy if I do well this year, and check that box off my list.

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