“That’s what this show will be: a joyous celebration of chauvinism!”
That was Jimmy Kimmel, in 1999, announcing the guiding ethic of the new Comedy Central series he and Adam Carolla debuted that year. The Man Show, they declared, would be a show by men, for men, about men. It would be an exploration of Manliness itself, as an aspiration and an archetype: beer-chugging, boob-ogling, a little bit schlubby, a little bit sleepy, a little bit Bundyan. Such a cartoonishly narrow definition of what it means to be Manly would ultimately be unified, in the show’s conception, by an overarching resentment of feminism and its encroachments: “NO MA’AM,” basically, for the basic-cable audience. “After all, what do guys want to see on TV?” Kimmel asked The Man Show’s studio audience, during its premiere.
Carolla answered for them. “We want girls!” he said. “Girls jumping on trampolines! And monkeys! And midgets!”
The Man Show propelled Kimmel, formerly a radio host of shock-jocky strain, to national fame: an everyman for The End of Men. And since he left the series in 2003—to become the host of ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live!, a role he has occupied ever since—Kimmel has been engaged in a particularly slow-moving project of redemption. The show named for him, though now a traditionally formatted late-night program, began as a loosely sanitized version of its basic-cable forebear: Jimmy Kimmel Live! initially included an open bar, whose offerings Kimmel and his guests eagerly imbibed on-air (Kimmel conducted one early episode visibly drunk). Kimmel had trouble booking women for the show (a joyous celebration of chauvinism). Over time, though, the show’s physical bar was removed, and the figurative one was raised; the guest list was expanded; and Kimmel himself, year by year, transformed from an impish man-child into, finally, a man—a televised bildungsroman fit for an age of anxious masculinity.