Those who managed to keep their eyes open through President Trump’s slog of a State of the Union speech, Rep. Joe Kennedy III’s impassioned, if lip-glossy response and the spin zone on CNN may’ve been treated to one of the most bizarre, stilted and surreal pieces of political theater in recent memory: late-night host Jimmy Kimmel’s live tête-a-tête with porn star Stormy Daniels, who either did or not have an affair with Trump in 2006, and who either did or did not sign a nondisclosure agreement before the election to keep quiet about it.
A few hours prior to the interview, a statement was released—evidently from Daniels’s camp—that insisted she was refusing to discuss the affair not because she was paid “hush money” (by Michael Cohen, Trump’s lawyer) but because the affair never happened. Naturally, this threw a wrench in Kimmel’s interview plans. But Kimmel, like others, noticed something strange about the statement; other than the fact that it glibly directed readers to her Instagram page, the signature on it bore little resemblance to that of Daniels’s original statement—not to mention, the autographs on her signed DVDs.
Kimmel read the statement aloud in full and pointed out these discrepancies. Then he asked her: “Did you sign this letter that was released today?”
“I don’t know, did I?” Daniels replied coyly.
“So you’re saying perhaps this letter was written and released without your approval?”
There was a pause.
“Do you know where it came from?” Kimmel asked. To which Daniels replied: “I do not know where it came from.”
This was as good an admission as Kimmel was going to get from Daniels, who, despite her obvious discomfort, handled herself with poise and proved adept at parrying Kimmel’s prodding questions. Several inquiries she responded to with rhetorical inquiries of her own, a suggestive glimmer in her eye, playing the part of a vixen who knew more than she was letting on. The interview exhibited aspects of a seduction, Daniels wielding the flirtatious, sexed-up version of the dodgy charm politicians are known to deploy, with Kimmel gamely playing along. Mostly, Daniels succeeding in teasing Kimmel, dangling her privileged knowledge out in front of him and pulling back at the last moment. During one particular exchange, though, Kimmel appeared to get the best of her.
“Do you have a nondisclosure agreement?” He asked.
“Do I?” Daniels replied, with a smile.
“If you didn’t have a nondisclosure agreement, you most certainly could say 'I don’t have a nondisclosure agreement,' yes?”
There was applause from the crowd.
“You’re so smart, Jimmy,” Daniels said.
This was probably the most revealing exchange of the night; taken as an admission, it would almost certainly mean the affair she signed the nondisclosure agreement to not discuss had transpired. But Kimmel was after more intimate details, and employed various gambits to get Daniels to discuss her sexual experience with the president without breaking her (supposed) agreement.
The most shocking of these came right after a commercial break, when Kimmel laid out three carrots of various sizes on his desk.
“I’m not asking you to say anything about anything but I’ve got three carrots here,” he began. “Without any commentary, would you like to pick a carrot?
Daniels cleverly demurred, saying she was used to the “sparkly kind of karats.”
Regardless of whether or not it was successful, you have to admire the audacity of Kimmel’s approach—he basically asked Daniels to reveal the president’s dick size on live television (and all but one of the carrots he chose, I should say, were not flattering). In many ways, his interview with the porn star, and this gambit in particular, felt like Kimmel coming from circle—it played more or less like a vintage Man Show bit dressed up as late-night political theater.
It’s easy to forget, given Kimmel’s sincere and pointed political commentary—on mass shootings, healthcare and, just last night, the human toll of ending DACA—that he was once the co-host of a show whose staple was large-breasted girls jumping on trampolines. The Man Show, with its beer-drinking hosts and man-cave-y set, was in some ways a precursor to Barstool Sports and its associated programs, before a large enough swath of the culture cared enough to make a fuss about casual sexism and the objectification of women. This isn’t to say The Man Show wasn’t funny—I admit, I routinely watched. But it’s impossible to imagine a show with skits like “Juggy Boot Camp” and “Can I Guess Your Weight?” would ever get greenlit today, much less run for six seasons. Or that Kimmel, in his current position, would approve of it.
And yet it’s Kimmel’s fratty past that made him the ideal person to interview Daniels last night. Stephen Colbert, his biggest late-night rival, is equally audacious, though he’s not nearly as comfortable being crass; you can’t really see him pulling out carrots to ask an ex-porn star about the size of Trump’s penis. (The idea of Jimmy Fallon doing anything of the sort is actually laughable.) Playing a kind of lovable manchild—a kindhearted bro who can innocently spar with beautiful women—is Kimmel’s bread and butter; that he had to whip out this Man Show-y persona on a network talk show to discuss our commander-in-chief's extramarital affairs is an unfortunate indicator of just how far our political discourse has fallen.