'Jimmy Kimmel Live' hits SXSW to help 'Keep Austin Weird'

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Jimmy Kimmel is taking his show on the road again.

After past weeks in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Detroit, ABC's late-night talk host brings "Jimmy Kimmel Live" to Austin, Texas, for five programs starting Monday, March 10. The timing isn't random: It coincides with the city's popular annual South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival that showcases new entertainment and technology.

"It's a big part of the reason I'm going there," the friendly Kimmel tells  Zap2it about the event ... adding that during a recent Austin visit, "we went to four different barbecue places, and I ate more than a full meal at each one of them. They rolled us to the airport, but I had some great stuff."

That wasn't Kimmel's first visit there, nor will it be his first time at SXSW. "It's a great town, and it's a great festival," he reflects. "I'm from Las Vegas, so I love the neon in the desert at night and the atmosphere in general. The people are very friendly. I can't think of a better place to spend a whole week.

"They have a phrase they use frequently there, which is 'Keep Austin Weird.' We're planning to inject a little more weirdness."

Part of the fun of SXSW, says Kimmel, is the element of surprise. So many people from so many different walks of show business - and of life in general - attend the event, it's hard to predict whose paths will cross. However, the week's scheduled "Jimmy Kimmel Live" guests include Lady Gaga, Seth Rogen, Snoop Dogg, Rachael Ray, Robert Duvall, Willie Nelson, Lil Wayne, Rosario Dawson, Darby Stanchfield ("Scandal") and Texas Governor Rick Perry.

"We could bring guests in if we wanted to, but we don't want to do that," Kimmel explains. "We want to get people who live in, or are associated with, Austin. Or who are there specifically for South by Southwest. We're trying to make the show special and unique to the city and what's going on there."

Recalling his past experiences taking his show to locations outside Los Angeles, the host says, "Brooklyn was the exact opposite of a controlled environment. We were there during the hurricane (Sandy), and we had no power for the first day ... and a huge generator was running the show for the next two days.

"I hope natural disaster does not follow us, because if so, this is going to be the least pleasant TV visit to a city ever. I don't know if it's just me, but odd things do seem to happen to me on almost a daily basis."

Kimmel hopes that won't get in the way of his receiving the good will of Austin's general population.

"I think the key to doing something like this," he says, "is to highlight the city and the people in the city. For us as writers, and for me as a host, it gives us something to focus on. It gives a little diversion and an energy boost from an audience that presumably will be excited."

An enthusiastic response normally greets "Jimmy Kimmel Live" tapings, but Kimmel reasons, "People get used to having you at home. It's like the difference between being at home with your family and going to visit relatives in a distant land."

The "distant land" known as Austin is, Kimmel reports, "a college town first and foremost, and I think a lot of those students decided to stay after they graduated. There's a real artistic flair to almost everything there. You don't see too many crappy-looking signs on buildings. People take extra time and make things fun or funny or stylish, and I love that kind of thing."

Kimmel also is a fan of the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Center for the Performing Arts, from which his Austin shows will originate.

"Our theater in Hollywood was not built as a theater but as a Masonic lodge," Kimmel says. "It's more than 100 years old, so we're not set up there the way we'd like to be set up to host a television show. It's sort of a rectangle with no curvature, but at this center, they have symphonic orchestras performing there almost every night."

During his recent Austin trek, Kimmel "went in the theater and said to the people who run it, 'I think I could do the show without a microphone here.' The audio is so clear and good, you really can hear what's going on from any seat - even though they have something like 1,800 seats there."

As with the fact it's happening during SXSW, it's likely no coincidence the week away for "Jimmy Kimmel Live" comes early in a change in the late-night landscape, Jimmy Fallon having recently assumed hosting NBC's "Tonight Show."

A battle between the two Jimmys for the same audience demographic has been foreseen, as David Letterman still gets his share of viewers for CBS. But Kimmel maintains he's simply doing what he's always done ... though he's lately scored guests including Meryl Streep and George Clooney, and such firsts as the reveal of the latest Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue cover and Kimmel's playing airport chauffeur for Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.

"You just kind of keep going," reflects Kimmel, whose wife Molly McNearney is expecting their first child together. "Everybody makes a big deal out of the show once every 12 to 18 months. There's some major event that gets a tremendous amount of publicity, but in June, we'll still be doing our show, and nobody will be paying attention to us again.

"It's a funny thing, the notion that there's any 'king of late night,' which is preposterous in this splintered television environment. People kind of cling to that because it's a phrase that's been used a lot, and I guess they don't want to let it go. Johnny Carson was the king of late night, and there will be no further kings."
Photo/Video credit: ABC