When people tune into Jimmy Kimmel Live!, they likely expect some fairly lighthearted fare. This wasn’t the case on the evening of May 1, 2017, though, as instead of telling jokes, Kimmel got on stage and told his audience a very personal story. And even if the host did preface his tale with a reassurance that it had a happy ending, what he revealed was still distressing enough to get the whole world talking.
And the seriousness of Kimmel’s monologue may have been surprising to some – not least because he’s primarily known as a funnyman. Kimmel even started off his TV career on Comedy Central, where he initially appeared on Win Ben Stein’s Money; and his work on the game show ultimately earned him a Daytime Emmy Award.
Then, while still working on Win Ben Stein’s Money, Kimmel began co-hosting The Man Show. And this series, it seems, was enough of a hit to open new doors for the comedian. Certainly, Kimmel went on to bigger and better things in 2003, as that’s when he earned his own chat show, Jimmy Kimmel Live!
It took Jimmy Kimmel Live! a bit of time to really find its feet, however. For starters, Kimmel initially misjudged what the tone of a talk show should be. He told Vulture in 2012, “I didn’t understand that you had to be nice to the guests. I’d mow through them, and then their publicists would never bring anyone back.”
However, the show slowly evolved – and Kimmel himself did, too. When he had started his comedy career, he had been a “frat boy” sort of character, allegedly prone to public drunkenness and immature behavior. The arguably boorish tone of The Man Show didn’t help in making over Kimmel’s image, either.
But as Kimmel grew up, he seemingly adopted a more sober and serious public persona. He joined forces with Ellen DeGeneres to express support for LGBT rights, for instance, and began conducting interviews with politicians as well as celebrities. In fact, both Barack Obama and Donald Trump appeared on his show in 2016.
Trump’s May 2016 slot on Jimmy Kimmel Live! wasn’t greeted warmly in some quarters, however. In fact, there was even a protest close to the show’s studio in response to the then presidential hopeful’s appearance. Regardless, the host seemingly made an effort to get some answers from the mogul; for instance, he attempted to impel Trump to give his opinion on the transgender bathroom debate.
Kimmel’s show with Barack Obama, meanwhile, took place in October 2016. And the president joined in with perhaps one of the most popular segments on Jimmy Kimmel Live! – the part where famous people read and respond to mean tweets about themselves.
There was a sting in the tail, though, as one of the tweets Obama was given to respond to was from none other than Donald Trump himself. In particular, Trump had tweeted, “President Obama will go down as perhaps the worst president in the history of the United States.” But Obama himself brushed off the slight with some wit. “Well, at least I’ll go down as a president,” he said.
Then, of course, Trump was sworn in as president on January 20, 2017. And his election and many of his subsequent actions as leader of the U.S. have proved controversial; American citizens, too, have often been divided on their opinions as to whether Trump is doing a good job.
Given the polarized nature of politics after President Trump’s election, then, Kimmel may have been well aware that talking about current affairs could potentially lose him some viewers. Even so, that didn’t stop the host from making his own tentative steps into the political arena during his show on May 1, 2017.
Prior to the May 1 episode, Kimmel’s show had actually been off air for a whole week. His fans hadn’t known the exact reason for the sudden absence, either, but Kimmel was happy to later tell them the specifics. And what had happened to the comedian would be enough to make anybody want to take a break from work.
Kimmel has hosted Jimmy Kimmel Live! since 2003. He’s also helmed several high-profile awards shows including the Oscars – it’s safe to say, then, that he knows how to hold an audience’s attention. Plus, the star has had his share of controversies for which he’s had to apologize; there were no apologies this time around, however.
It must be noted, though, that in addition to being a famous talk-show host, Kimmel is also a dad. He has two children – now adults – with his first wife Gina Maddy. Then, in 2014 he and his new wife, Jimmy Kimmel Live! head writer Molly McNearney, had a daughter named Jane. Another child named Billy followed in 2017 – and, as it turned out, Billy was the subject of Kimmel’s monologue.
As Kimmel began that monologue, though, he was visibly upset. With tears in his eyes, he went on to explain what he and his wife had been through. And it’s no surprise that the star was so emotional on that occasion. Losing a child before they even have a chance to live is practically every parent’s worst nightmare, and it seemed that little Billy had been lucky to survive what he had gone through.
The actual birth of Kimmel’s son had gone smoothly, and the child himself had seemed healthy. Nevertheless, while mother and baby had been recovering at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, a “very attentive” nurse named Nanush had come to check on the baby and realized that something wasn’t right. Specifically, the little one seemingly had a heart murmur; his skin was also developing a purplish tint.
So, the staff at the hospital quickly began attending to the baby. And in the process, the medical professionals ruled out Billy having a lung condition, which meant that it was potentially something even worse: a heart condition. “It’s a terrifying thing,” Kimmel told his audience. “I’m standing in the middle of a lot of very worried-looking people — kind of like right now — who are trying to figure out what the problem is.”
Baby Billy was subsequently given a specialized kind of ultrasound scan called an echocardiogram. And this revealed everyone’s worst fears: there really was something wrong with Billy’s heart. In particular, the baby’s pulmonary valve was blocked, and there was a hole in the heart wall. He was seemingly suffering, then, from a condition called tetralogy of Fallot (TOF) with pulmonary atresia.
Due to the severity of Billy’s condition, doctors therefore had to act fast. Just three days later, then, the newborn baby was taken in for heart surgery at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. “It was the longest three hours of my life,” Kimmel later said of the experience. But, fortunately, the procedure was a success. Although Billy would have to undergo more surgery in the future, he had pulled through.
The audience applauded at the story’s happy ending. They applauded yet again when Kimmel read out the names of the nurses, doctors, surgeons and friends who had helped them. However, Kimmel wasn’t done yet; indeed, he had more to say.
Kimmel would direct the rest of his speech towards the Republican Party. “President Trump last month proposed a $6 billion cut in funding to the National Institute[s] of Health,” he said. “And thank God our congressmen made a deal last night not to go along with that.”
Kimmel then spoke about Obamacare – or the Affordable Care Act (ACA), to give it its official name. “We were brought up to believe that we live in the greatest country in the world, but until a few years ago millions and millions of us had no access to health insurance at all,” he said. He went on to add that before the ACA, his son may never have been able to get health insurance due to his heart condition.
And Kimmel ended his speech with a plea for better healthcare in America. “If your baby is going to die and it doesn’t have to, it shouldn’t matter how much money you make,” he said. “I think that’s something that whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat or something else – we all agree on that, right?”
Many people would praise what Kimmel had said. On Twitter and Instagram, too, the video of Kimmel’s monologue received hundreds of thousands of likes – far more than most posts on the star’s social media channels. And the mainstream media also reported on the story, with speculation ultimately accumulating about what political impact the comedian’s speech may have.
Before long, Barack Obama got involved as well. “Well said, Jimmy,” the former president and one-time guest on the show wrote on Twitter. “That’s exactly why we fought so hard for the ACA and why we need to protect it for kids like Billy.” Obama also congratulated Kimmel on the birth of the little boy.
And while many prominent Republicans – who have been fighting to repeal the Affordable Care Act – may have disagreed with Kimmel’s stance, they were massively outnumbered by members of the public who voiced their fears for themselves and their own children should the act be repealed. When Republican politician Joe Walsh sent out what was seen as a particularly callous tweet on the matter, then, the backlash was huge.
“Sorry Jimmy Kimmel: your sad story doesn’t obligate me or anybody else to pay for somebody else’s health care,” Walsh tweeted on May 2. The comments in reply were almost universally angry. “Thank you for having the courage to fight against those conniving evil takers: sick children,” one person sarcastically wrote.
Kimmel also apparently inspired other people to share their own stories. “We went through the same wait as Kimmel, watching the echocardiogram, wondering what would happen next,” wrote a mother called Kate Ristau in The Washington Post. “What if we had to choose between paying our mortgage or paying his bills?”
Although many parents would ultimately choose to go bankrupt rather than risk their children’s lives, the idea that nobody should ever actually have to make that choice is at the core of the healthcare debate. Kimmel’s words therefore resonated with many who were angry with President Trump’s plans for healthcare – plans that include sexual assault potentially being reclassified as a pre-existing condition.
But although Kimmel made no further comments about Trump after his speech, he did however thank those who had sent messages of support to his family and donations to the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. He also mentioned that Billy was well. Hopefully, then, Billy will grow up in a world where he doesn’t have to worry about qualifying for health insurance.