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A bigger share of the couch

The late shift is starting to pay off for talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel. If not, Costco is calling.

February 25, 2007|Maria Elena Fernandez | Times Staff Writer

AS a teenager, Jimmy Kimmel was so enthralled by late-night talk shows that he sported a "Letterman" jacket almost everywhere he went. His license plate said "L8 NITE," and so did the writing on his 18th birthday cake.

Back then, the host of ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live" never dreamed of following in the footsteps of his idol, David Letterman. But his radio career managed to set him on that path anyway and now, four years later, Kimmel and his network are starting to see the payoff.

"Jimmy Kimmel Live" is still the late-night underdog, but the show picked up steam last year after 4 million viewers tuned in to its first post-Oscar special and ABC hired executive producer Jill Leiderman ("Late Show With David Letterman") to run it in April. "Jimmy Kimmel Live" is the only late-night show that registered growth last year, both in its total audience (17%) and the younger viewers (13%) -- those 18-to-49-year-olds coveted by advertisers. Although the show hasn't proven profitable for ABC, the network is close to finalizing a deal with Kimmel that would extend the franchise for several years beyond the 2009 season.

This month, as Kimmel, 39, prepared for two big events in his life -- his annual Super Bowl party and his second post-Oscar special -- the comic allowed The Times to join him in the two places he is most likely to be found: El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, where his weeknight show is taped, and Costco, where he feels free to be who he really is -- "a little old lady."

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IT'S the day before the Super Bowl and Kimmel is at his Lake Hollywood home (the one he prefers is in Hermosa Beach), preparing for his party. This house was designed for nothing but entertaining. His 17 television sets are ready (there's even one in the guest bathroom), and so is his glassed-in rotating pie refrigerator, which he uses for appetizers. Kimmel is a football party pro. Every Sunday his friends invade, Kimmel spends the day cooking and only one buddy helps him clean up. "That's the level of respect that I command," he says. "Almost every one of those guys works for me."

Costco is where this man, who puts in 15-hour days five days a week, goes to reflect on the important things.

"I like to just go and walk around. I think because I spend so much time working, I never really spend the money that I make. I love walking around and thinking, 'I could buy anything I want in this store.' It makes me realize why other countries hate America."

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BEFORE Kimmel makes it to his version of the Happiest Place on Earth in Burbank, he stops for lunch at Porto's, the Cuban bakery with really long lines, fantastic cakes and Kimmel's favorite "potato balls" (papa rellena).

Over lunch -- those potato balls and a grilled chicken sandwich -- Kimmel ruminates on something that happened on his live show the previous night: Kimmel and his infamous security force (his Uncle Frank and company) had to kick out comic Andy Dick.

"I have a great tolerance for crazy people. I can put up with almost anything," he says. "But when a third party is involved, like Ivanka Trump, who was very nice and surprisingly with it, I thought, that's a different thing. So now I have to be a bit of a gentleman here and protect her. And when he started touching her leg and stuff, I was like, all right, that's that."

Booking guests used to be the toughest challenge. Some nights Kimmel called on his friends or girlfriend, Sarah Silverman, to join him on the couch at the last minute because there was nobody else. Little by little, that changed. But then, when the stars came, so did their wacky conditions and behavior. According to Kimmel, Jennifer Beals wept for apparently no reason; he says Beck needed a special entrance because he has an aversion to ramps, which becomes even more bizarre when you consider the building doesn't have one; and he says "The Apprentice's" Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth refused to come out of her dressing room because she heard there was a lie detector on the premises for an unrelated bit and she didn't trust that Kimmel would not subject her to a test.

"If my friends were around those guys, they would have no such affectations," he says. "If I wear something ridiculous, I get razzed all my way out to stage. I can get away with nothing."

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KIMMEL arrives at "the gates of heaven" and immediately starts spouting his hard-earned wisdom.

"So this is one of my Costco tips: First of all, I like to help out by bringing the [stray] carts in from outside. And secondly, if you can, get the boxes -- it's hard to get good boxes and you need the boxes to carry all the stuff out to your house."

Inside, Kimmel marches past the jewelry toward a section that holds his interest: the thank-you card collections, Easter-colors Post-its and the $50 iTunes gift certificates that go for $44.99. Kimmel goes for the sticky-note pads even though they are not on his list and throws in a box of pens too

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