Jimmy Kimmel doesn't hide his dislike of Jay Leno, but in a new Playboy interview he credits the "Tonight Show" host wth being "not just a smart politician but also a smart guy."
The problem with Leno, Kimmel believes, is that he doesn't have "actual feelings, and he doesn’t seem to be that worried about other people’s feelings."
Also read: Kimmel on Leno: 'F— Him'
In the interview, the host of "Jimmy Kimmel Live" says he doesn't think about Leno very much, but was a fan when he used to watch him on "Late Night With David Letterman," his favorite show when he was growing up.
"I had loved him from his early appearances on the Letterman show. Some friends once bumped into him at the airport and, for my 21st birthday, had him sign a pizza box for me. He drew his little face on it. Strangely I don’t even like talking about him anymore. The only time I think about him is when I’m asked," Kimmel said.
He added: "I believe he’s not just a smart politician but also a smart guy. I haven’t met anyone who knows more than he does about how ratings and the business of late-night television work. Last fall, when Dave finally came on my show — which was clearly the greatest thrill of my career — somebody suggested, 'Well, maybe you guys should talk about Leno.' But for me that night was about my fondness for David Letterman, and Jay Leno had nothing to do with it. I didn’t want him soiling our time together. When I’ve gone on Dave’s show, I think it’s been more relevant to make fun of Leno."
Kimmel said he didn't feel bad about imitating Leno on "Live" in 2010, when Leno was in the midst of reclaiming "The Tonight Show" from Conan O'Brien.
"I always feel bad if I hurt anybody’s feelings, but I don’t believe Jay Leno has actual feelings, and he doesn’t seem to be that worried about other people’s feelings," Kimmel said.
Kimmel offered Playboy a more nuanced take on Leno than he has sometimes given in the past. Asked about Leno during a panel in August, Kimmel replied, "F— him."
Leno, Letterman and Kimmel have all faced off at 11:35 each night since Kimmel's move to the time slot last month.