By ADAM BUCKMAN
NEW YORK, Nov. 9, 2011 — Jimmy Kimmel made the most of a guest who was a rarity for him and his ABC late-night show — an exclusive appearance by a prominent newsmaker and leading candidate for president who just that very morning had been accused for the fourth time of sexual harassment.
The appearance was no less of a triumph for the candidate himself — Herman Cain — who demonstrated strength and great humor in the face of adversity and, in the process, probably gained support — at least among the roughly 1.5 million who watch “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
Why we admired Jimmy’s performance: He handled the candidate with just the right combination of seriousness and humor. These kinds of guests are a challenge for late-night hosts, who feel much more comfortable kidding around with showpeople such as actors or fellow comedians.
But when a guest appears from outside the world of showbiz, some late-night hosts — such as David Letterman and Jay Leno, for example — tend to put a brake on the comedy and the segments have a way of falling flat.
Not so with Jimmy Monday night. Even with Cain waiting backstage, Jimmy spent about half his monologue talking about the latest sexual harassment allegations leveled by Sharon Bialek with help from publicity-hound attorney Gloria Allred — probably because Jimmy knew the audience had to be well-informed on the topic before he could talk about it with his guest.
And that’s exactly what he did. “So how was your day?” Jimmy asked Cain casually to start the segment. “All things considered, I’m still alive,” Cain said with a smile.
“Have you considered hiring Gloria Allred as your attorney?” Jimmy asked. “Let me put it to you this say,” Cain fired back, “I can’t think of anything that I would hire her for, OK?!”
Why Cain gets an A-plus from us: Sure, Jimmy Kimmel’s not a hard-nosed journalist, so some might say Cain got off easy with this opportunity to answer questions on national TV from a comedian who’s not a newsman. But Jimmy pitched him all the relevant questions and Cain knocked them out of the park. Plus, we give Cain props for showing up in the first place. Under the circumstances, we were betting he wouldn’t.
For those of us who hadn’t really paid attention to Cain, the performance was very impressive. He flatly and forcefully denied this latest sexual harassment charge, told Jimmy that his own wife instantly disbelieved it, and then found more than one opportunity to hammer home the goal of his campaign — to fix the economy.
He laughed at all the appropriate moments too. In other words, his appearance didn’t have the effect of deadening the whole show, as these things often have on the late-night shows.
“I know to you, it’s a distraction,” Jimmy said of the sexual harassment accusations. “But to me, it’s my life!”
And Herman Cain just laughed and laughed.
Contact Adam Buckman: firstname.lastname@example.org