The Anger of Jimmy Kimmel

On Tuesday, the late-night host once again devoted his show to the politics of American health care. This time, though, he offered indignation rather than tears.

Jimmy Kimmel interviews Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, about health care, in May
On Tuesday, Jimmy Kimmel re-aired his interview with Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana—and accused the politician of lying. (ABC / YouTube)

“By the way, before you post a nasty Facebook message saying I’m politicizing my son’s health problems, I want you to know: I am politicizing my son’s health problems.”

That was Jimmy Kimmel on Tuesday evening, in a monologue reacting to the introduction of Graham-Cassidy, the (latest) bill that seeks to replace the Affordable Care Act. Kimmel had talked about health care on his show before, in May—when, after his newborn son had undergone open-heart surgery to repair the damage of a congenital heart defect, he delivered a tearfully personal monologue sharing the experience of going through that—and acknowledging that he and his family were lucky: They could afford the surgery, whatever it might cost. Kimmel concluded his speech by, yes, politicizing his son’s health problems: He emphasized how important it is for lower- and middle-class families to have comprehensive insurance coverage, with protections for people with preexisting conditions. “No parent,” he said, speaking through tears, “should ever have to decide if they can afford to save their child’s life. It shouldn’t happen.”

The monologue went viral—it was a speech that “will surely be a big part of his late-night legacy,” my colleague David Sims noted at the time—and one of the people who saw it was Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. The politician, a physician by trade, soon began talking about the need for an Obamacare replacement that would pass the “Jimmy Kimmel test.” Cassidy appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, sound-biting the same message. Cassidy assured Kimmel—and, per the transitive property of late-night television, the American public—that he would work to create a new health-care bill that would pass that test.

The bill Cassidy ended up co-authoring with Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, which the two introduced earlier this month—a bill that, in the frenzied fashion becoming so common with such things, may be voted on next week—does not pass the test.

And so, on Tuesday, Jimmy Kimmel yet again politicized his son’s health problems. This time not with tears, but with anger.

“I don’t know what happened to Bill Cassidy,” Kimmel told his audience. “But when he was on this publicity tour, he listed his demands for a health-care bill very clearly. These were his words. He said he wants coverage for all, no discrimination based on preexisting conditions, lower premiums for middle-class families, and no lifetime caps.”

Kimmel paused. “Guess what? The new bill does none of those things.”

The bill does pass Cassidy’s “Jimmy Kimmel test,” the host allowed—but a different Kimmel test. “With this one, your child with a preexisting condition will get the care he needs—if, and only if, his father is Jimmy Kimmel. Otherwise, you might be screwed.”

It was a notable shift. The power of Kimmel’s earlier speech on health care was not just the pathos of its story, but also its ability to make the political personal: to drive home the idea that, while “health care” might seem academic and theoretical, it can, in an instant, become intensely personal, with stakes no less than life or death. Kimmel, this time around, took that same logic—the political, made personal—but applied it to a single person: Bill Cassidy.

“This is not my area of expertise,” Kimmel said. “My area of expertise is eating pizza, and that’s really about it. But we can’t let him do this to our children, and our senior citizens, and our veterans, or to any of us,” Kimmel told his audience.

We can’t let him. We can’t let him.

And then Kimmel zoomed out, extending his anger to Cassidy’s colleagues. “Health care is complicated,” Kimmel noted. “It’s boring. I don’t want to talk about it. The details are confusing. And that’s what these guys are relying on. They’re counting on you to be so overwhelmed with all the information, you just trust them to take care of you. But they’re not taking care of you. They’re taking care of the people who give them money. Like insurance companies.”

They. They. They.

Kimmel is a host who once boasted that an episode of his show would be “Trump-free”—and who once announced that “if anyone says the name of the orange-colored man with the Russian boyfriend, they will have to put $100 in that jar that Guillermo is holding right there.” Now, though, the politics have knocked on his own door, at his own home, for his own son. And he is rising to meet them—another late-night host who is embracing the idea that politics and entertainment are, at this moment in America, tightly tangled together. On Tuesday, at the end of his monologue, Kimmel listed the medical interest groups that have opposed Graham-Cassidy. He shared a number that viewers can call to tell their representatives that they oppose the bill. He took for granted that anger can be its own political force.

“There’s a new Jimmy Kimmel test for you,” Kimmel told Cassidy: “It’s called the lie detector test. You’re welcome to stop by the studio and take it anytime.”