I know this is dangerously close to turning into the late-night-wars blog, but I can’t resist putting up yet another clip that proves that Jimmy Kimmel is the big winner of the late-night wars. Whether or not Leno really was taken by surprise with his “10 at 10” answers, his Oprah interview (“I got sucker-punched”) made it sound like he was taken by surprise, thereby sealing Kimmel’s newfound reputation as some kind of dangerous bad-boy prankster. And Kimmel seized the opportunity by responding to Leno on his show last night, telling the story behind that segment, and making some even nastier jokes about Big Jaw, including “at one time he was a comedian” and “I don’t know that going on a comedy show and making jokes qualifies as a sucker-punch.”
Leno and Kimmel are basically friends, so there’s probably a certain amount of Kabuki going on here. That’s why I say I’m not really sure that their stories are really the gospel behind-the-scenes truth about what went on. But Kimmel, whom I still mostly think of as Ben Stein’s sidekick because I used to watch that show all the time (I was in college, I didn’t have a class at that hour, give me a break; I had to do something and I sure wasn’t going to read), could have been in trouble in all this — given all the big talk show hosts wandering around without jobs, looking for a network to take over. Instead he seems to have made his job more secure and found himself a niche: he’s the host for people who like to make fun of Leno without hating him as much as Letterman does.