Trump Proves It: Kimmel Has the Best Left Hook in Late Night

If you want to make Jimmy Kimmel really happy, just get into the verbal ring with him and fire away with blows high and low.

Kimmel is personally a big-hearted, generous guy with a mostly even temperament. But if invited between the ropes, boy does he like to mix it up.

Maybe it’s the Brooklyn in him (his birth place), because anybody from Brooklyn (in my experience) has a taste for what used to be called a “rank-out contest.”

You toss an insult; you get two back. In the face.

That pretty much defines what we have going on right now: a rank-out contest. Only this isn’t the playground, or even morning-zoo talk radio. It’s a significant development in perhaps the most consequential political campaign in American history.

And it’s a mismatch, as it is always going to be between one genuinely funny person, and another who is… not nearly as funny.

Jimmy Kimmel is bubbling over with joy that Donald Trump, for reasons perhaps only he can fathom, decided to revive his rage over the knockout shot Kimmel delivered to Trump’s jaw (aka ego) as host of the Academy Awards telecast five weeks ago, when Kimmel responded to Trump’s barrage of mid-show insults by expressing surprise that Trump was “up past [his] jail time.”

It was the biggest laugh-line of that night and as big as any individual joke on that show in years. Trump was surely seared by it, which is one reason he can’t let it go (and continues to label Kimmel “WORST HOST EVER OF THE ONCE VAUNTED ACADEMY AWARDS!”).

Kimmel is also surely thrilled that Trump festoons his insults with obvious lies (the show’s ratings were better not worse) and ludicrous misrepresentations of the facts (Al Pacino read the Best Picture winner clumsily, not Kimmel).

That last face-plant allowed Kimmel to score in his return fire by pointing out he’s a different person from Pacino, which Trump might be expected to know because “Say hello to my little friend is what he said to Stormy Daniels.”

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It might be foolish to expect that Trump would be aware enough of Kimmel’s skill at the thrust and parry of the rank-out art to consider what he said about Ted Cruz after that senator disparaged the nation’s military as “emasculated.” Kimmel called that charge “funny coming from a guy who let Donald Trump use his testicles on the driving range.” (Though maybe Trump reveled in that joke, who knows?)

Or that Trump has long enough memory to recall how Kimmel handled an effort by Jay Leno to have him as a guest but gloss over the conflict with Conan O’Brien that caused upheaval in NBC’s late night.

 “I think the greatest prank I ever pulled,” Kimmel told Jay, getting ready to allude to the NBC deal-making that collapsed, “was I told a guy once: ‘Five years from now I’m going to give you my show.’ And then when the five years came, I gave it to him and I took it back, almost instantly.”

That was on Jay’s own show.

Kimmel has proved over and over that if the pistols are drawn and the paces have been stepped off, he is going to fire away. He’s fearless. As any good comic has to be. Even if a guy in a red cap with “45” on the side is the challenger.

But let’s take a step back and think about what’s really happening here.

A former President of the United States, and serious contender to return to that job in 2025, has been so dysregulated by the jokes and barbs of a late-night television host that he is spewing out social media rants IN ALL CAPS attacking the talent and success of the host, even as he (the ex-president, not the host) is on trial for more than 30 felonies in the state of New York.

And somehow this is business as usual in contemporary America. The public feud between Trump and Kimmel, as bizarre as it is in the abstract, can barely nudge its nose onto the surreal-moments-in-American-public-discourse scale.

Yes history has been known to repeat itself “first as tragedy, then as farce” (according to Karl Marx, who wasn’t known for his sense of humor.) But Trump’s first term frequently ventured so far into farce (the bleach, the doctored hurricane map, the love letters with Kim Jung-Un, on and on) that it begs the question:

What’s the step down from farce? Belly-flop comedy?

There is no real historical comparison. Bill Clinton didn’t issue screeds decrying Leno for telling thousands (over 4000 by one count ) of monologue jokes about his hound-like reputation: Of a rumor that the Clintons might adopt a child: “You know what that means? If they adopt a child from Arkansas? Bill could be the real father.”

Clinton supposedly disliked Jay’s Monica Lewinsky jokes enough that he declined to be a guest on the show. He didn’t turn it into a shooting war with a late-night host.

Trump’s blast of invective directed at Kimmel this week not only exceeded his general penchant for conduct unbecoming an officer (never mind a Commander-In-Chief), it accomplished nothing except inspiring Jimmy Kimmel and elevating him to even higher comic status.

Kimmel even said he’s now seriously considering accepting the Oscars’ invitation to a return engagement.

And yes, Trump will be watching. After all, he might hear a joke about himself.

1 Comment

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  1. Jeff says:

    Jimmy Kimmel indeed has the best left hook in late night. He outColberts
    Colbert nightly, and I’m a fan of Stephen (as is Jimmy). Kimmel goes for the jugular and I enjoy every minute of it.