During the big La La Land-Moonlight mixup of two months ago, I thought Jimmy Kimmel was impressively quick on his feet when he said, onstage, in the center of the chaos, “Well, I don’t know what happened. I blame myself for this. Let’s remember, it’s just an awards show.” Quite right. As much time as Kimmel or I devote to the Oscars, or even movies, we both understand that life is made up of more important things. Unbeknownst to Oscar-night Kimmel, two months later this truth would come along and smack him in the face.
This week, Jimmy Kimmel shared with us what life is really about (complete with an awards-show-ish thank-you list) in a rather personal and heart-searing manner. And of course, I related to it as a father of a child with a disability. If you haven’t seen the video, here’s the time to stop reading this and start watching him. I’ll be here when you get back.
I’m no devoted zealot of Jimmy Kimmel, unlike, say, Tim Goodman, the TV critic of The Hollywood Reporter. I have seen Kimmel in person; on the prompting of my good friend Dave Chabot (now an officer of the L.A.P.D.), we attended a taping of Kimmel’s old gig, “The Man Show,” in maybe 2002? But I like Kimmel well enough. I enjoy his devotion to David Letterman and Howard Stern and Matt Damon (the latter, he does ironically).
I thought of Letterman while watching Kimmel discuss his new baby’s heart condition. Would Letterman have ever been that candid with the audience? Maybe after his heart surgery, maybe not. Certainly, Letterman’s role model, Johnny Carson, would never have come close to Kimmel’s level of public sentiment. But it’s not like Kimmel pioneered Sensitive Manhood. On some level, this level of emotional candor is expected of every adult these days. He went from “The Man Show” to “Show Yourself,” and I personally loved it. Kimmel did in ten minutes what I’ve been trying to do on this blog every week for three years now. And he sprinkled in humor and comic timing in a manner that I can’t even come close to approaching.
The moment that really got me was the photo of Kimmel’s new baby attached to about 100 wires. I flashed back to the moment that we put 1-year-old Dar in an MRI machine to see what was wrong with his brain. This tiny, tiny child, not yet walking, conveyor-belt-rolled into this massive electronic cave that looked like Virgin Atlantic’s baggage claim. I was crying. I wanted to scream to the world how unfair it was. I didn’t want to start or write this blog (and didn’t, then).
Kimmel, like other famous people, worked out life on an accelerated schedule. And his text, and especially his subtext, expressed a lot of the feelings that I know well. That a certain subset of us parents know all too well.
Now, physical disabilities and intellectual disabilities aren’t the same thing. They even have separate Olympics. The two types of kids don’t necessarily hang out like the peg-legged veteran and the village idiot at the end of Ryan’s Daughter. And wifey and I have had many, many conversations about who we would trade places with. Let’s not share those conversations right this minute. Not ready for Kimmel-level confessions on that subject.
Nonetheless, as of this week, I feel a kinship with Kimmel that wasn’t there before. I’m grateful to him for being candid and not permitting any stigma to accrue to his situation. Maybe I’m a little bit like a gay person being grateful to an out celebrity; it’s not that every gay celebrity must come out, but every one that does de-stigmatizes the situation just a little bit. Or maybe Kimmel and I are a little bit like liberals in the age of Trump who need to stop fighting over Bernie and Hillary. What unites us is stronger than what divides us – right now it has to.
That brings me to my other favorite moment of Kimmel’s speech – the end of it. He said:
You know, before 2014, if you were born with congenital heart disease like my son was, there was a good chance you wouldn’t be able to get health insurance because you had a pre-existing condition…If your baby is going to die and it doesn’t have to, it shouldn’t matter how much money you make. I think that’s something that whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat or something else, we all agree on that, right?
Of course there are some on the right who accuse Kimmel of “politicizing” his son’s near-death experience, like this clown. I will absolutely defer to any such accuser – during the minute he (we know it’ll be a he) shows me the tweets/posts/columns where he also accused Governor Sarah Palin of politicizing her child’s Down’s Syndrome or Megan Kelly of politicizing her maternity leave. Ohhhhh, but you don’t have a problem when the “politicizer” is an ally of conservatives? In that case SHUT THE FLOCK UP.
Of course everything is political. Of course you can’t tell “entertainers” to “stay in their lane” when you just elected one to be President. Of course we are all citizens in the beautiful democracy that is the United States of America, of course our ancestors bled and died so that we could express our opinions about any matter at all. I would never denigrate Governor Palin’s right to speak. And the fact that Kimmel, in the midst of an extraordinarily emotional period of his life, found the courage to remind us of the broader national context doesn’t make him a “politicizer.” It makes him a mensch. When Jordan Horowitz, producer of La La Land, grabbed an envelope to show the world that Moonlight had beaten his film for Best Picture, that was another example of what a mensch does. During the current Presidency, where lying, bullying, hypocrisy, self-glorifying, and blame-deferring are habitually rewarded, we need less “Man Show” and more showing of mensches.
Let’s hope that my child and Kimmel’s new one can both grow up to be mensches. With love like ours, there is always hope.