Page 2 columnist
Just last month, I was standing outside a West Hollywood hotel when Jimmy Kimmel arrived to pick me up. Because he's a celebrity, I assumed he would be driving something like a Benz convertible or souped-up Lexus. Nope. He was driving a puke-brown, semi-refurbished, 1982 Jeep Wagoneer. Since there was a convention at the hotel, a group of businessmen in their late 20s were standing outside the entrance, breaking from the hotel bar for a smoke. These guys noticed the jeep, recognized Jimmy and immediately started sticking it to him, good-natured stuff like, "Hey, Jimmy, nice car!" and "Making the big bucks at 'The Man Show,' huh?"
Meanwhile, Jimmy was tipping the valet and opening car doors, absorbing the barrage of wisecracks, trying not to crack up, just nodding and mumbling, "Yup ... that's a good one ... yup ... OK ... thanks, guys ..." The whole thing was hysterical. I can't possibly do it justice. I didn't know what I enjoyed more, the fact that Jimmy picked me up in a 1982 Wagoneer, or the fact that he took an uncomfortable situation, twisted it around and made it funny. Just like a good talk show host would.
Anyway, that was the precise moment when I decided to hitch my wagon to him. Eventually, I told him, and now I'm telling you: Later this month, I'm moving to Los Angeles to work for Jimmy Kimmel and ABC. For most of the summer, Jimmy had been trying to hire me as a writer for his new late night show (which launches at midnight on Super Bowl Sunday). And for most of the summer, I kept saying no. I didn't want to move to the West Coast, scale back my ESPN.com columns, leave my family and ditch my beloved Boston teams. I don't even have to explain why. You know me by now. But Jimmy kept badgering me, and he kept badgering me, and hell, I think he even coerced the Celtics into trading for Vin Baker so I would want to move.
By mid-September, he had me on the ropes. As we became friends though phone calls and e-mails, I found myself becoming convinced he could pull this gig off. There hasn't been a truly meaningful late night show launched in 20 years, not since David Letterman's NBC show kicked off in 1982. Nobody knows this better than Jimmy, who was weaned on those early Letterman shows, just like me (I grew up praying that I could write for Letterman's show some day; Jimmy grew up praying he could be Letterman some day). The more I got to know him, the more I became convinced that his show was going to succeed.
(Forget about his sense of humor. He has an innate knack for making people comfortable, regardless of the situation, which is the best possible quality for a talk show host. He has the good sense to surround himself with quality people. His energy is amazing -- there isn't a second of the day when he isn't trying to make somebody laugh, only there isn't the same desperation like there is with someone like Conan O'Brien. And it's humanly impossible to dislike Jimmy -- he's the proverbial Guy's Guy, only he's funny enough and creative enough to get paid for it. I love that fact that some were surprised when ABC hired him, thinking that he couldn't do anything beyond a formulaic vehicle like "The Man Show" or those football segments on Fox. Fine. Think that. You will be pleasantly surprised in a few months.)
Anyway, near the end of the month, everything started falling into place. Because of the Disney connection with ESPN and ABC, I could write for Jimmy's show and maintain a presence on ESPN.com and in ESPN The Magazine, which was crucial to me. So now I was stuck. If I turned down Jimmy and his show evolved into everything I thought it could be ... I mean, how could I live with myself? I'd feel like Drew Bledsoe watching Super Bowl XXXVI from the sidelines. Also, I wanted to try the TV thing, I've always wanted to try the TV thing, and I knew this would eventually put me one step closer to running ESPN6 some day. And the chance to live in the Capital of Unintentional Comedy was just too enticing.
For instance, during my L.A. visit, I attended a charity function that featured Tony Danza performing on stage for a captivated audience. The band started up and Tony started singing -- rocking back and forth, snapping his fingers, taking himself a little too seriously -- only he didn't like the way the song started off, so he actually stopped the band and made them start over. I'm not making this up. Things like this happen in Hollywood every day. And I'm going to be there. It's my destiny.
Since there are some lingering questions here, I'm going to answer as many of them as possible to save you the time of e-mailing me:
Q: Wait a second ... you're leaving???? What happens to your ESPN column? How can you do this? You have the greatest job on the planet! Are you insane? Are you insane?????
A: Hey, I love writing this column -- more than you know -- so you're not getting rid of me. Instead of being a starter for Page 2, I'm coming off the bench -- writing less frequently for Page 2, plus the Magazine column every other week, plus a semi-regular mailbag ... and if there's time to write more, I'll write more. No, it won't be the same. And believe me, I've been there. I remember when one of my favorite columnists, Leigh Montville, left the Boston Globe to write for Sports Illustrated back in 1988. I couldn't believe it. Here was a guy who had become part of my daily routine, someone I considered a friend (even though we had never met), someone who inspired me to write columns in high school ... and he was ditching me for some cushy magazine gig. I was outraged. So if there's anyone out there feeling that way -- and maybe there isn't, but just in case -- please know that it's more difficult for me than anyone.
(And since I'm getting emotional, I'm going to respond by going overboard with jokes to hide the fact that I'm upset, because that's what children of divorce do.)
Q: How can the Boston Sports Guy move to LA? Aren't there federal laws that can stop this?
A: Hopefully, no.
Q: I have two words for you: David Caruso. Wait, I have two more: Shelley Long. Hey, I have three more: David Lee Roth. Getting the picture yet?
A: Yeah, yeah ... I know. Last month, I laid everything out on the table for my dad, told him my master plan, explained everything, and the first thing he said was, "Did David Caruso tell his dad these same things when he was leaving 'NYPD Blue'?" But here's the thing ... in a worst-case scenario, Jimmy's show gets cancelled, I return to ESPN with my tail between my legs, return to my old column schedule, then make jokes like, "The Celtics thought it would be a good idea to trade for Vin Baker... kinda like me working for Jimmy Kimmel's show." That kinda stuff. But Jimmy's show is going to succeed, so it's a moot point. Right guy, right place, right time.
Q: You have no experience writing for TV. Did ABC realize this before they hired you, or do you have nude photos of somebody?
A: Who am I, Robert Wuhl? You're right, I don't have any experience writing for TV, but Jimmy's show will be geared around the same principles on which I founded this column: sports, pop culture, male bonding, Vegas and my massive hatred for immigrants.
(Sorry, that was a joke ... a little homage to the "Neil Diamond: Storytellers" skit from SNL. Let's just move on.)
Q: Will you have to wear pants at work? How will you adjust to working while wearing pants?
A: I've actually been practicing over the past few weeks. For instance, right now, I'm wearing jeans. On Monday, I showered, shaved, put on a Tommy Bahama shirt and a pair of khakis, then sat down to write my NBA Preview. So I'm slowly acclimating myself to this whole "Having a real job" thing. Tomorrow, I'm even going to wake up at 8:45 in the morning, the earliest I've been up in five years.
Q: Is the Sports Gal going with you?
A: Of course. Initially, she wasn't too keen on moving cross-country, at least until we went out there and it was 80 degrees every day. Then she offered to pack for both of us. We actually had a few misconceptions about L.A. -- everyone drives Range Rovers, all the women have fake breasts, people are phony, that kind of stuff. It's actually this sprawling, quirky city, with all these distinct areas that complement each other -- Manhattan Beach, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Hollywood Hills -- and there are a million things going on. Plus, almost everyone has fake breasts. I really liked L.A. I almost felt ashamed that I liked it so much, considering this was the same city that housed Kareem, Pat Riley, O.J. and Magic. I feel like I've been brainwashed.
Q: What about your dad? Can't you take him with you? Who's going to watch the NBA draft with him next summer?
A: Dad's staying in Boston and he's heavily medicated -- I haven't seen him this depressed since the Celtics didn't get Tim Duncan. He'll be fine. Just last Wednesday night, he was snapping out of his funk at the Celtics-Bulls game, making jokes like, "They should put Vin Baker in," even though Baker had been on the court doing nothing for five minutes. High comedy. As for the NBA draft, he's already accepting applicants for 2003. Just be prepared to laugh at his "I think they're passing the same three-piece suit back and forth in the Green Room" joke like you've never heard it before.
Q: Hey, remember that mailbag you wrote a few weeks ago, where you vowed that you were moving to the West Coast if the Red Sox re-signed Clemens? In retrospect, wasn't that just a sleazy attempt to pin the fact that you were ditching your readers on Clemens? Are you that shameless?
A: Absolutely. I kept waiting for them to sign Roger so I could write, "That's it, (bleep) this, I'm out of here!" and then you all could have blamed him. A masterful plan. Unfortunately, the Red Sox didn't oblige.
Q: Is there Ewing Theory potential here with you leaving Boston?
A: Hopefully. Anything that helps the Red Sox or Celtics win a championship is a good thing. With my luck, it will be the Bruins.
I'm actually distraught about leaving Boston. It's one of those things where, for years, I've been saying, "The weather sucks, the people are miserable, the media makes it unpleasant to follow sports," and now I'm leaving and thinking about things like, "I'm going to miss hearing people bash Tom Brady eight months after he won us a Super Bowl," or "I'm going to miss being as pale as a ghost," or even, "I'm going to miss when another driver gives me the finger for no real reason." It's a weird phenomenon. I grew up here, I moved back 10 years ago, and I honestly never thought I would leave. Never even entered my mind. Especially with the Celtics ... there isn't a single thing I enjoy on the planet more than going to Celtics games. I wish I were kidding. Now I'm ditching them right after they finally became good again. It's like supporting a kid through high school and college, then not getting able to watch them graduate.
Q: Be honest, are you jumping on the Clippers bandwagon?
A: If you remember my "20 Rules for Being a Sports Fan" column, you know the answer to that question: Under no circumstances -- none, zero, zilch -- will I be practicing sports bigamy. I love the Celtics. I pledge allegiance to the Celtics. But yes, I will be offering my West Coast allegiances to the Clippers, in the sense that I'll be watching their games, following them and attending as many as possible (simply because of the proximity). But when the Celts come to town on February 15, I'll be wearing green from head to toe. And hopefully sitting near one of the Baldwin brothers or something.
(Note: I was considering undergoing the LA Sports Fan Lobotomy when I moved out there -- having doctors remove the section of my brain that makes me hate Thunder Stix, anyone who leaves games after seven innings, or people who root for nine teams at once -- but decided against it.)
Q: After a decade of fanatically supporting the West Coast rap scene, does it feel good to finally get out from the East Coast and join Snoop, Nate Dogg, Dre and everyone else?
A: Absolutely. I always felt like a traitor living on the East Coast in that sense. As soon as I get to Cali, I'm drivin' to the city in my rag six-four, hoppin' like a motha (bleep) tryin' to find 'dem hoes. (Or is it ho's? Hos? Did we ever find out what the AP Stylebook said about this?) And the Sports Gal is even more excited. We can't decide whether we want to live in Long Beach or Compton. Unless the Walsh House is available in Beverly Hills.
Q: Did you always want to write for TV?
A: You mean, the 75,000 hints dropped in my columns didn't tip you off? For years and years, my biggest regret was that I didn't just drive out to California after graduating college; instead, I tried to buck the odds and become a white male sports columnist in a world full of white male sports columnists who keep their jobs for 30-40 years. Things turned out okay, but in retrospect, I almost gave up about 100 different times and probably would have had an easier time running for state senate. Anyway, it's always gnawed at me that I didn't have the stones to try the TV thing. Now I get a second chance. How often does that happen?
Q: Are you going to be appearing on the show?
A: Hopefully not. We're doing the show live ... I would have the Bachelor Face going if I ever had to deliver anything on cue, in front of five million people, on live TV. You know the Bachelor Face, when they're doing the rose ceremony, and his mouth opens, and he mutters, "This is the most difficult decision I've ever had to make," and then his temples start pulsating, and he just stares forward like he's about to have a seizure? It's like Tom Cruise's face in "A Few Good Men" when he can't decide whether to really go after Colonel Jessup on the stand, only 10 times worse. Anyway, that's me on live TV. Nobody wants this.
Q: Your favorite show of all time is "The Larry Sanders Show," and now you're going to be living "The Larry Sanders Show." Um ... thoughts? Comments?
A: I'm giddy, excited, overwhelmed ... it's going to be unbelievable. I'm going from working in my little office five days a week, spending entire days where my only social interaction was with the Indian lady at Dunkin Donuts and Joe the Alcoholic Counter Guy from Store 24, and now I get to crack jokes with funny people every day, write the best ones down, fart on people, eat Chinese food every day and get paid for it. Plus, do you realize the staggering wealth of celebrity gossip at my disposal? I mean, seriously, can you even comprehend this? My whole life is about to become a brush with greatness ... well, unless the show tanks, and we have to start booking people like Richard Moll and Dave Coulier.
Q: Just one more question ... you realize you already have the greatest job on the planet, right? I mean, you know that, right?
A: Very true. Only now, I have the two greatest jobs on the planet. See, it's all in the wording.
One last thing ...
Buffalo (-2) over New England: The Bledsoe Redemption, Part Two.
St. Louis (-3) at Arizona: I hate my buddy Bish for talking me out of betting the Rams at 100-1 in Vegas last month.
Washington (+3) over Seattle: The Jeff George tumor finds new life!
Green Bay (-3.5) over Miami: Too bad Jim Ross isn't announcing Monday night, just so we could hear, "Good God! Th-that's still Ray Lucas' music! My God, he's throwing interceptions all over Lambeau Field! There's another one! No! No! Somebody stop this! My God, Ray Lucas is out of control"
(Last Week: 0-4 ... Season: 9-12)
Before cutting back on my Page 2 workload, I wanted to thank my editors (Kevin Jackson, Jay Lovinger and Jim Wilkie) for all their help and advice. Thanks to John Marvel and Neal Scarbrough for sending me on field trips to Vegas, Washington, New Orleans, Atlanta, Milwaukee and everywhere else, which was my favorite wrinkle of this gig. Thanks to John Skipper for his confidence, generosity and unyielding support, especially over the last couple of months. And thanks to John Walsh, who took a chance on me, helped me every step of the way, and became my oldest and wisest friend in the process.
And most of all, thanks to you guys. Watching my audience grow over the past 16 months, and watching Page 2's audience double over that same time, was absolutely the most satisfying experience of my life. I've never felt better about anything. I was also fortunate that this job provided the two highlights of my career -- writing a feature about Red Auerbach, and turning in a 5:30 a.m. column from New Orleans after the Patriots won the Super Bowl. When you hope to break into a business like this, you always have pipe dreams, and those have been two of mine since college: writing about Red, and writing a column on location after a Boston team won it all. Looking back, I can't imagine experiencing a greater rush, short of having kids or something. Sometimes dreams can come true. I'm living proof.
Now I'm dreaming about winning an Emmy. Maybe it happens, maybe it doesn't, but I'm going to L.A. to find out.
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine.