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Jimmy Kimmel on when he thinks he'll walk away, how Jimmy Fallon 'brings out the best in me'

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ART STREIBER for EW

This week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly is a prankster’s paradise, as Jimmy Kimmel graces the cover for the first time ever. To learn more about the late-night talk show host whose video gags are so viral, he should be quarantined, we reached out to the people who know him best — parents! wife! former co-workers! celebrity friends! childhood priest! — and asked them to spill an anecdote or two that summed up a side of Kimmel with which we may or may not be familiar. Then we sat with him and recorded his amused and revealing reactions to these stories. You can check it out on newsstands now, or right inside in your mailbox, because… YOU JUST WON A ONE-YEAR SUBSCRIPTION TO EW!* (*Disclaimer: You did not just win a one-year subscription.) Anyway, during our chat, 47-year-old Kimmel also riffed on a variety of other topics, including the success of JImmy Kimmel Live!, how long he sees himself playing host, and going up against that other Jimmy.

On how long he wants to host JKL:

“I think 20 years is more than enough. We’re in our 13th now, and 20 would be a good number. That seems like enough. I have many other interests. I have other things that I would like to do. None of them pay well. I really like to draw. I do so much writing for the show that it’s hard to carve out the energy to write something else…. Twenty years. Maybe less.”

On how he would assess his performance, 12 years into the job

“It’s funny because I think I always feel like it’s going pretty well. Then when I look back two or three years later I think it was terrible and I can’t imagine why I thought it was going pretty well… I’m hesitant to give myself a good grade. I do what I can. I think I squeeze every drop out of it.”

On what he attributes his success to:

“Probably more than anything it’s how much work I put into the show. I’m quick-witted. I think I can hold my own with just about anybody. When I’m put in the situation where I’m speaking one-on-one to another person, I feel pretty comfortable. I’m good on my feet.”

On competing with The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon:

“We’ve been in the shadow of The Tonight Show since I started, so it’s nothing new, really. I was never under any delusions that we would emerge victorious. The Tonight Show has been on for a long time and it’s a part of the kind of fabric of America watching The Tonight Show. I also think [Fallon] is doing a very good job. I have to say, he brings out the best in me. When you see what they’re doing, it motivates everyone to work hard here… It’s like a sports rivalry in a way. You want to play against people that are really good.”

On what analogy he would use to describe his place in the late night landscape:

“Nobody’s getting excited about having a Coke or a Pepsi, but they’re still selling very well. They’ve been around for a long time, they’re going to be around for a long time. But it’s easy to focus on what’s new and it’s human nature. Eventually, if you’re lucky, you become old. If you’re lucky you get taken for granted… I always think of myself as one of the young guys. I probably will when I’m pushing 60. I bet everybody does. It’s hard to think of yourself in those terms because Jay [Leno] and Dave [Letterman] were around for so long and then Johnny [Carson] before that. It’s weird to be one of the older guys. You never think of yourself as old—you just start looking funny in jeans.”

On how he is affected by all the shifts in late-night TV and if he’s been approached:

“The reality is nobody at any network is stupid enough to leave their talent unprotected. So, even if I wanted to go somewhere else, which I didn’t, I’m under contract. We’re not even allowed to have a conversation. It’s a situation where there’s just no point to it. There have definitely been overtures made in the past but never in a truly formal way. And things are going well here. I have my team here. It’s an ideal situation for me. When we started here at ABC not only did we not know anything, they didn’t know anything. It was like starting a baseball team without any kind of a minor league system. People weren’t trained to watch a late night television show at that time [on ABC]. All these things that seem like they don’t make sense but they do when you figure out how America goes to sleep. I think that when I go off the air, there’ll be another show after me and maybe another host of this show after that. I take pride in that because we created something here. We opened up a slot.”

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