Jimmy Kimmel: 'It was a big deal' saluting David Letterman at the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors

david-letterman-jimmy-kimmel-abc.jpg Jimmy Kimmel had, in his view, as big a night at the Kennedy Center Honors as the person he was there to salute.

"Jimmy Kimmel Live!" will trade positions with "Nightline" in ABC's late-weeknight lineup starting Tuesday, Jan. 8 ... making its host an even more direct competitor of CBS' David Letterman, who was among the recipients of the 35th annual honors for enduring contributions to the arts. Taped at the start of the month in Washington, D.C., the ceremony has its traditional CBS broadcast Wednesday, Dec. 26.

"It was a big deal," Kimmel admits to Zap2it about being invited to speak about, and to, Letterman. "They'd asked me to participate in the Kennedy Center Honors last year, and I wanted to, but I couldn't. And I'm glad I didn't, because I doubt they would have asked me again, and there's nobody I'm not personally related to that I feel more strongly about than David Letterman."

Indeed, "Late Show with David Letterman" and its NBC forerunner -- "Late Night With David Letterman" -- have a highly significant place with Kimmel: "It was not just the most important show, but the most important pop-culture material, for me as a kid. It was something I watched religiously, and that all my friends watched. And we took it beyond just watching the show.

"If there was a sign that said 'Late Night,' like at a Carl's Jr. or something, we'd pull over and pose under it. It really was ridiculous. Every birthday card I have from my friends has something to do with 'Late Night With David Letterman,' things like, 'Larry "Bud" Melman wishes you a Happy Birthday!' It's crazy that I wound up there [at the Honors] talking about that. And it was crazy for my old friends."

Kimmel maintains it was easier to tell Letterman such things that night because "he was kind of far away. It wasn't that easy to see him; it was probably a hundred yards to where he was sitting in the balcony. You could mostly see just his head. I'm curious to watch it on television."

Ray Romano also spoke about Letterman at the Kennedy Center Honors -- as did Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin -- and Kimmel says he "had a lot of fun" hanging out with Romano and Stephen Colbert that weekend. He also enjoyed collaborating with the others on the Honors presentation ("Everybody was very respectful and helpful, and it was as much fun as work gets"), but one encounter surprised him.

"I had a little chat with Bill Clinton, which was weird," Kimmel recalls. "He's someone I'd never met before. And Hillary Clinton as well; I talked with her briefly. It's strange when they know you from television. Of course, it makes sense, but I just can't imagine a scenario where Bill or Hillary Clinton is settling down in front of the TV set and watching me screw around with (on-air sidekick) Guillermo."
Photo/Video credit: ABC