Jimmy Kimmel Doesn’t Buy That He’s Now the Oscars’ Permanent Host: ‘You Assume I’ve Been Asked’

The first time Jimmy Kimmel showed up at the Oscars, he didn’t have a ticket. It was the mid-1990s, back when he was on KROQ’s “Kevin & Bean” morning drive-time show, and he and host Kevin Ryder decided to sneak into the Academy Awards Governors Ball.

“I remember us getting there 9 o’clock in the morning in tuxedos,” Kimmel recalls. “We figured that if we hung around long enough, it would seem like we belonged there. But then moments before the guests began to arrive, they kicked us right out.”

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Their mistake was claiming they were guests of Gil Cates — just a name they saw in the Oscars credits, but actually the longtime Academy Awards executive producer. Still, Kimmel and Ryder slipped back in — and then had a glorious evening. “The only thing I really remember from that night is we told John Travolta that we snuck in — and he went and got us some food,” Kimmel recalls.

That memory still grounds Kimmel, who remains self-effacing even as he’s become the go-to host for Hollywood’s biggest night. The “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” host earned applause for his stints emceeing the Oscars in 2017 and 2018 — including how he handled the infamous envelope snafu, when “La La Land” was accidentally named the best picture winner before “Moonlight” was properly honored.

ABC and the Academy decided to go host-free for three years before tapping Regina Hall, Amy Schumer and Wanda Sykes to do the honors in 2022, which featured another infamous moment (Will Smith’s “slapgate”). Kimmel was back last year, boosting ratings and interest in the telecast: The 2023 Oscars were up 8% in viewers from 2022 and up 1% in adults 18-49. Now the job appears to be his for as long as he wants it. Could he be the permanent Oscars host?

“You assume I’ve been asked about next year,” he says. “Which is not a presumption I would ever make.”

Nonetheless, should Kimmel return in 2025, he would match Johnny Carson’s five times as Oscars host. (Only Billy Crystal and Bob Hope have done it more.)

“Maybe we should let Johnny have that number,” he quips. “I think it was also very different back then. I think it was more of a ‘show up and do a few jokes’ type of situation. I’m not necessarily focused on the numbers part of it.”

When Variety catches up with Kimmel a few weeks before the show, he is laser focused on locking in the telecast. “This is kind of the hardest part because this is when I have three times as much material as I need,” he says. “I have to figure out what to cut and what to keep. That’s difficult because you do fall in love with jokes and then you hate to cut them. You know you have a good show when you’re cutting good jokes.”

Pre-tapes don’t play as much of a role on the Oscars as they used to, Kimmel notes. Most of that production energy now goes into promos, including the one he recently did with Kate McKinnon, who revisited her role as “Weird Barbie” from the Oscar-nominated “Barbie.”

“I think that pre-tapes are under appreciated by the home and studio audience,” Kimmel notes. “I feel like what people appreciate the most are really strong jokes. And popping in when you need to be on stage and not being on stage when you don’t need to be. Just keeping the show moving in general.”

This year, with hit films like “Oppenheimer” and “Barbie” in contention, Kimmel says it’s been easier to come up with material. “It’s hard to make jokes about things people don’t know, so having movies where most of the room has seen them helps a lot. In a lot of ways, it’s why Trump jokes work so well. You don’t have to explain him at all before you can get right to the punch line.”

When it comes to this year’s show, besides the recognizable Oscar contenders, Kimmel is hoping for another batch of strong acceptance speeches. “If they’re even half as good as they were last year, we’ll have a great show,” he says. “Because that’s what really carries the show ultimately, if the speeches are emotional or funny or surprising or exciting. It makes the show feel lively. And if they’re not, it makes the show feel dull. There’s not much you can do about that. So we leave that to luck.”

Juggling Oscar duties with hosting “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” every night is a challenge, but the talk show is dark the week before the ceremony so Kimmel can focus on prep.

“The hardest day really, it’s not even the day after the Oscars,” he says. “It’s the Wednesday following the Oscars, when pretty much everyone has forgotten them. You’re running on fumes, but you still have to put a decent show on. I do sometimes imagine that it would be a lot easier if I didn’t have to host a nightly show while preparing for the Oscars.”

But hold on. Despite reports that Kimmel is ready to hang things up, the truth is, he has no idea what he’ll do when his ABC deal for “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” is up at the end of 2025.

“People seem very interested in when I’m going to leave. I get the same thing when I go to parties,” he jokes. “The true answer is I don’t know. It’s not like I’m playing some kind of game. It’s a long way off and I almost feel like I’m being asked what I want to have for lunch in a year.

“I suppose I could say, ‘I will continue doing this until I’m dead.’ And that would satisfy people — but it’s not true. Eventually it’s going to have to end, and I’m not sure when that will be.”

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