That is some top-notch nurturing, Kimmel fans. What's next? Waking the kids on Christmas morning to tell them Santa died in a sleigh crash?
Two days later, while introducing the montage of traumatized kids, Kimmel seemed a little sheepish, cringing at how mean the prank had turned out.
"We didn't know there would be so much crying," he said. They aired the clip nevertheless, though, which immediately went viral, had 10 million hits by
Friday, and spread around the globe over
the weekend. Compelling, but not rewarding, both hilarious and unsettling, the video is a strange mix of charming, old school,
kids-say-the-darnedest-things comedy, and a genuinely loutish display of cruelty in the service of cheap laughs. The clip—in the innovative use of
new media, for its weird mix of humor and the guilty-pleasure appeal—is emblematic of Kimmel's show. Jimmy Kimmel Live!—which is broadcast, not for nothing, on tape-delay—can simultaneously feel smart and stupid, sweet and boorish, viral and corporate, innovative yet retrograde.
JKL! is produced by Jackhole Productions, formed by Daniel Kellison, Kimmel, and his longtime companion Adam Carolla. Their company undeniably has been
forward-thinking in their approach to new media, whether it's that branded YouTube partnership, or their own smartphone apps. Just try to imagine David
Letterman issuing a "YouTube Challenge" to his fans. Since Letterman doesn't even have a personal Twitter account, imagine him Tweeting to his 800,000
followers like Jimmy does. For that matter, try to imagine Letterman even saying the word "tweet" and keeping a straight face.
Kimmel's on-air content is media-savvy, too. Generally, his show follows the sacred talk show template, as created by Steve Allen, Jack Paar, and
Johnny Carson, of an opening monologue, followed by desk chat, three guests and a band.
In his monologue, though, Kimmel sometimes strays from the path. While he tells plenty of standard, setup-and-punchline style jokes, he's more
comfortable using mixed-media, web-influenced humor—all the cartoons, found video clips, and edited photographs that younger viewers are used to
seeing online all day. He'll throw up an animated mash-up, for instance, then wisecrack about it, and so comes off less like a traditional show host
than a dude hanging out on the couch and riffing about whatever happens to be on TV.
The problem with JKL!, though, is what material all that cross-platform, How We Live Today, new media savvy gets used for.
First off, the show's humor is fairly dumb. Jackhole, after all, was also responsible for The Man Show. After Jimmy got his first TV gig in 1997, as
a sidekick on Comedy Central's game show Win Ben Stein's Money, he and Carolla created and hosted that lewd, besotted, paleo-sexist, but hysterical
bachelor party masquerading as a talk show.