There's only one Jimmy Kimmel, but there are plenty of Jimmys in the world.
Long before he hosted his own late-night show on ABC, the comedian hosted radio shows in Las Vegas, Seattle and a number of other cities. "I worked in a station once where there were two other disc jockeys named Jimmy. So I became Chris Kimmel. I didn't hate it. Then I was Jimmy again. Chris Kimmel. I'd still answer to it," Esquire's April 2014 cover boy recalls. "But in the end, I'm a Jimmy."
As luck would have it, he's not the only Jimmy in late night, either. Kimmel didn't like The Tonight Show's previous host Jay Leno, but he gets along with Leno's successor. "My only complaint about Jimmy Fallon is the first name: Jimmy. People get us mixed up all the time. No one remembers which Jimmy is which," he says. "Or they think I'm him, which can only make you feel like you should be him."
According to Kimmel, Fallon "says the same thing happens to him." The key difference, he says, is that Fallon is "like an athlete" when the cameras roll. "He can jump high, act, sing. He's a true performer. I'm a broadcaster. That's how I come at this. Not a stand-up, not an actor, not a commentator. A broadcaster."
Kimmel has proved himself since his show debuted in January 2003, but he wasn't an overnight sensation. Fallon, who had made a name for himself on Saturday Night Live, was instantly beloved when he hosted Late Night from 2009 to 2014; Seth Meyers now hosts the late-night NBC talk show.
"Fallon always had a much better chance than Kimmel ever did," says Bill Simmons, former Jimmy Kimmel Live! writer. "Fallon was more like Peyton Manning, the No. 1 overall pick, a guy who threw to better receivers from the start. Think about all those SNL-affiliated guests that Fallon leaned on those first couple of years, the mentoring he received. Kimmel's more like Tom Brady—overlooked in the draft, forced to outwork everyone, consistently proving everyone wrong, remembering every slight."
Due in large part to his ongoing fake feud with Matt Damon and his viral video pranks, Kimmel has become a television fixture, much to his chagrin. "I never want to think of myself as a fixture," he says. "A faucet is a kind of fixture. Pipes. A fixture is something you count on because you can forget it."
Even so, the native New Yorker realizes how fortune he is to make a living by doing what he loves. "This is the job," Kimmel, 46, tells Esquire. "The only job for a person like me. I mean, I like to draw. I'm really good at it. I'm a good artist, and I think that's what I would have done had radio not worked out for me. But here I am. You won't see me doing anything else in the next 25 years."
Funny. Leno thought the same thing.
(E! and NBC are both part of the NBCUniversal family.)