Jimmy Kimmel is down in the basement of his hillside Hollywood home and de facto studio, where his cousin Sal-- allegedly 29, but with the decorating instincts of a 14-year-old who's too scared to talk to girls--has been living for the past two years.
Everything in the room looks as if it came free with a magazine subscription--from the official NFL curtains to the "Dallas Cowboys Boulevard" sign above the door. There are sweat socks on the floor, underwear on the bed and a camera crew in the doorway. The lens is focused on Kimmel, plopped on the sofa, the spot from which he tapes his shot-in-the-dark predictions for the Fox NFL Sunday pregame show, a gig that has made him--at least for 90 televised seconds a week--the personification of every chip-eating, beer-swilling, relaxed-fit-pants-wearing, football-watching guy in America.
He's a proponent of untucked shirttails, hot wings, waitresses in hot pants and the idea that John Madden should be president of the United States. Just like you, Kimmel yells at the players from the safety of his own home, second-guesses the coaches and makes fun of the announcers (sometimes referring to Terry Bradshaw and Howie Long as "Beavis and Flathead"). Unlike you, he gets paid for it.
"It's weird how people take sports so seriously," says Kimmel, 33, whose first dose of national attention came from his Emmy-winning stint as the original sidekick on Win Ben Stein's Money. (He left the show when producers were unwilling to rearrange the shooting schedule to accommodate his workload for The Man Show.)
Kimmel has taken his share of critical shots from the sporting press since he started his NFL prognostications last year. "I mean, every local channel in America has a wacky weatherman, but there's no room for comedy in sports? Weather is something you should take seriously. Weather kills people. Of course, so do athletes," he says.
"He doesn't know diddly-squat about football," says Bradshaw, who once responded to Kimmel's pre-recorded taunting by saying, "I'd like to get my hands around his throat."
"But we wouldn't be so rough on him if we didn't like him," Bradshaw continues, admitting the on-air feuds are just for fun. "None of us are splitting any atoms around here. And he's been a huge plus for us."
Between his appearances on Fox and his role as cohost and cocreator (with former Loveline host Adam Carolla) of the unashamedly chauvinist The Man Show--a weekly salute to belching, scratching and girls on trampolines that just began its second season on Comedy Central (Sundays, 10 P.M./ET)--Kimmel may be the embodiment of the postfeminist American male: our Couch Potato King.
And don't think he hasn't earned it. Kimmel is no Hollywood pretty boy pretending to be a regular guy. Just ask his long-suffering wife, Gina, who has borne him two children (a 9-year-old daughter, Katie, and a 7-year-old son, Kevin) and cleaned more crumbs from behind sofa cushions than she cares to think about.
"He is a slob," she says with impressive equanimity. "I don't know if he could feed and clothe himself if he wasn't married to me. Basically, he's as immature as the day I met him."
Which was 15 years ago in Phoenix, when Kimmel was just beginning a trouble-filled radio career that, until he landed at KROQ in Los Angeles six years ago, largely consisted of getting fired everywhere he went.
Carolla and Kimmel have known each other since their days at KROQ, where Kimmel was hired as "Jimmy the Sports Guy" in 1994. Carolla, at the time a mostly unemployed construction worker and part-time boxing instructor, was hired to coach Kimmel for a ratings-stunt boxing match.
Kimmel recommended Carolla, who was also doing improv comedy around town, for an on-air position, which led to his hosting the radio--and eventually MTV--version of Loveline. Now, in addition to The Man Show, Carolla and Kimmel have signed a deal with producer Ivan Reitman to write and star in their own feature film.
"He got me into the business just because he thought I was funny," says Carolla. "He bent over backward to help me when there was nothing in it for him. When I got a TV show and he was still on the radio, there was not an ounce of jealousy," he says. "That takes a pretty secure guy."
Through the NFL playoffs, Kimmel will be securely and happily ensconced on the couch. Earlier this season, he summarized his lazy-faire attitude for viewers: "I know it's Sunday, and wisely you've skipped church to spend the next 11 hours on your couch watching football," he said.
"And I applaud that."