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Jimmy Kimmel and Molly McNearney on preparing for Oscar's big night

Jimmy Kimmel on hosting the Oscars
Jimmy Kimmel on hosting the Oscars 10:14

When 21 comedy writers on Jimmy Kimmel's regular late-night show gathered to come up with jokes for the Academy Awards, one suggested, "Start with a prayer."

"Okay. We should start with a prayer," said Molly McNearney, co-head writer and executive producer on Jimmy Kimmel's nightly show. McNearney is also an executive producer of tonight's Academy Awards.

Kimmel added, "Should end with a prayer."

Writers gather to plan out the Academy Awards show.  CBS News

McNearney began with a rundown: "Our announcer, David Allen Grier, will announce Jimmy.  Jimmy will do a 10-minute monologue, and then we're gonna present best actress, with five former winners in the category. Don't say any of their names, because then we will have …"

"I'm gonna say their names," said Kimmel.

"No! We're giving them 30 to 45 seconds, directly present to the person they've been assigned. And they're mostly either personal relationships that these actors have with each other."


"Yes, mostly."

"We'll let the audience at home figure out who doesn't," Kimmel said.


If you're beginning to sense a familiar chemistry, yes, Molly and Jimmy are married and have two children.

McNearney confirmed that they don't drive together most of the time: "No. I like to keep it separate. I really do."

"Well, we go home at a different time," said Kimmel. "Molly goes home a little quickly."

"Since we started dating and working in the same place, I really like to keep it separate," she continued. "And it really is, like, my work life and my home life, even though they involve the same human, feel very, very different. I have a lot much more, like, respect for him here. And then at home, I'm like, 'All right, clean up your s***.'"

Kimmel said, "Sometimes you get home and you're like, 'Well, what's going on? I just walked in and no one's applauding?'"

Jimmy Kimmel and Molly McNearney.  CBS News

Koppel asked, "Do you guys ever disagree about the nature of comedy?"

Both said yes. "Molly tends to be a little more cautious than I am," said Kimmel.

"Yeah, definitely."

Because? "I'm very protective of him, and he's not that protective of himself," McNearney said.
"He is much more of a risktaker, and I don't like him ever getting attacked for anything."

From Kimmel's perspective, he said, "I just want to hear the laugh. That's all. It doesn't really matter how it comes. I sometimes wake Molly up in the middle of the night because I've thought of something funny. And I cannot wait. And I just can't wait. …"

"You can. You can wait!" McNearney interjected.

Koppel said, "You know, there is nothing less funny, Jimmy, than being awakened in the middle of the night to hear somebody's idea of humor."

"Yes, if you're the person being awakened in the middle of the night," Kimmel said. "However, if you're the awakener, it's different." 

There's a very old line beloved among comedians: "Dying is easy; comedy is hard."

Kimmel showed Koppel reams of pages of Academy Award show jokes written so far. "This is two trips to Staples' worth of paper, okay? And some staples," he said. "This is what we did, probably 5,000 [jokes]."
"Really? For a ten-minute standupper?"

"Well, you forget, I have to introduce best animated short, that's part of this."

Jokes? We've got jokes.  CBS News

Do the math: Twenty-one writers, each of whom does a few jokes every day, for four months.

Looking through the pages, Kimmel said, "Right now, the monologue is 40 minutes long. So, we're gonna have to whittle that that down. Mr. Koppel, would you like to ask any questions or anything?"

"I can't think of anything funny to say at this point," he replied.

"OK. That makes 38 of us."

"This is like the 6,000 'Nightline' meetings that we had over the years – and just about as funny," said Koppel.

"Ouch!" said McNearney. "We just got Koppel'd!"

Here's the problem: Some of the best comedy writers in the business are gathered here, and all of them are worrying about the same thing:

Kimmel said, "I could read a few jokes, if you want 'em. I mean, it's just that we're gonna have disappointed writers, 'cause the jokes I read'll not be the ones that are in the show."

"All writers are disappointed writers," offered co-head writer Danny Ricker. 

So, here goes:

"This was the year we found out there's a little Barbie inside all of us; and not just metaphorically. According to a recent study, over the course of a year, we all ingest approximately one Barbie-doll worth of plastic."

Koppel said, "You didn't lose anything with that one."

"Ho! Someone got Koppel'd again!" said McNearney.

"What a great year in film: 'Barbie,' 'Oppenheimer.' Finally, Matt Damon in a movie about a bomb."

"'Poor Things' is about a woman who's brought back to life but has the brain of a baby. It's like Frankenstein meets Marjorie Taylor Greene."

Koppel asked, "The Oscars belong to the left-of-center; I don't think folks out there who are Trump supporters have the same passion for the Oscars that they used to have. Would that be a fair statement?"

"I think it's probably accurate," Kimmel replied. "I think if they did watch the Oscars, they probably wouldn't tell their friends. They're not posting about it. I have a feeling there are some closet Oscar-watchers in that group! But I think, yeah, I think there's an expectation there are gonna be a lot of speeches that they don't agree with."

"I guess what I was driving at is, back in the day, when Bob Hope was doing it, you didn't know what Bob Hope's politics were. These days, there is an expectation with the host of the Oscars is gonna be in that respect, at least, a little more left-of-center. Fair?"

"Sure, yes, absolutely. But you can't really think about that," said Kimmel. "And if it makes any of those folks feel any better, I will guarantee you that 90% of the jokes that I deliver on Oscar Sunday will be targeting those very left-wing celebrities that they claim to despise, and yet go see all the movies."

"Yeah, but when you say target, gentle?"

"Some gentle, some less gentle. But you know, sometimes people are a little upset afterwards. You really can't consider the night to have been a success if nobody's mad at the end!"

There's an online promo for tonight's show borrowing from the movie "Barbie," to underscore what a thankless task hosting the Oscars can be:

Kate McKinnon, America Ferrera & Ryan Gosling Help Jimmy Kimmel Get to the Oscars by Jimmy Kimmel Live on YouTube

America Ferrara delivers the warning: 

"It's literally impossible to host the Oscars. You have to be extraordinary, but somehow you're always doing it wrong. You have to make fun of people, but you can't make too much fun of people. You have to give everybody enough time, but you can't go long. And you are the center of attention, but almost nobody cares you're there. You can never show off, never fall down, never fail, never show fear. Nobody says thank you, and everyone has something critical to say online. If it goes well, nobody says anything. But if it doesn't, it's your fault."

Koppel said, "And you get paid what, for the average working Joe, is a very nice hunk of change. But not really, not for the amount of work that you have to put into it."

"Yeah, you only get about $15,000 to host the Oscars," said Kimmel.

"Seems like a lotta money to most people."

"Well, I think even most people would go, like, 'Wait, how many months of work is this for $15,000?'"

So, what would constitute a home run for Kimmel? "Great monologue. Great speeches. You hate to have a pre-determined show. And a show that doesn't feel like it was prepared in a laboratory. It's always fun when something unexpected happens."

McNearney said, "I hope something unexpected happens."

"To a point!"

When the unexpected happened a few years back...  MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images  

"I really do! Because I think you are the absolute best at navigating those situations."

"We don't want anybody to get hit," Kimmel said.

"No, no, no. We don't want any hits," said McNearney. "But that's where Jimmy thrives, when something is off. That's where he really thrives, and he lives for it."

He admitted, "I am most comfortable in an uncomfortable situation."

Koppel said, "You're a terrific ad-libber. I don't think most people realize how great a skill that is. Did it ever occur to you to say, 'Eh, where's that pile [of jokes]? Screw it. We don't need that. I'm just gonna wing it!'"

"I will tell you, without question, if I were to go on stage for ten minutes on the Academy Awards and 'wing it,' you would never see me again," Kimmel said.

For more info:

Story produced by Deirdre Cohen. Editor: Remington Korper. 

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