Writer Jake Lentz helps craft Jimmy Kimmel’s words for his late-night show monologue every night; Lentz says he prefers the title “scribe-helmer.” His show has been putting out some of the best viral stuff on the web these days — Sarah Silverman’s “I’m F@%king Matt Damon” followed by Kimmel’s “I’m F@%king Ben Affleck” — with a one-uppable formula of celebrity + shocker + going for it full-throttle.
Jimmy Kimmel Live‘s staff is also pretty great at finding clips online and giving them a broader audience; in particular, we remember one about a beauty pageant contestant playing the Star Wars theme on her trumpet that got a ton of play after appearing on Kimmel.
But all this savviness is somewhat isolated from the rest of the web, since ABC rarely offers clips, much less embeddable clips, online. The show’s writers, 30-year-old Lentz admits, are finding other ways to get their bits out there. He doesn’t straight-out admit to seeding clips himself, but it’s pretty clear he knows his way around a YouTube account.
Here’s a taste of my recent phone interview with Lentz:
NewTeeVee: I would just start out by saying that my awareness of your show has been extremely heightened lately due to the viral videos by your boss and his girlfriend. I’m interested to learn what the Jimmy Kimmel web strategy is.
Lentz: You should know that I had literally nothing to do with either of those videos. I tried to help, but probably most of the credit should go to our executive producer Jill Liederman. Before YouTube, remember how when you had to get videos someone had to email you an attachment? I remember begging producers on the show to start digitizing so we could email our bits so we could get credit for them. I wanted to do that forever ago. I was the youngest writer for the first four years of the show and nobody listens to me.
NewTeeVee: It’s hard to even say how many views these clips have gotten because people go to all these different versions on YouTube, where ABC doesn’t offer an official version. Which seems like a bad thing for you guys, ’cause you don’t even have the opportunity to control your online distribution.
Lentz: Obviously, ABC puts stuff on the website. That’s run by ABC corporate sorts. A lot of fans put stuff up [on YouTube] and there’s nothing you could do about it. I guess you could sue. Even if we don’t post something like that, 20 other people are going to post it. You can’t fight stuff. Yeah, we have some control, we do post stuff on YouTube.
NewTeeVee: I haven’t seen an official Jimmy Kimmel account on YouTube.
Lentz: I probably shouldn’t tell you that; we do it on the fly. Those videos have been great for us. You kind of have to accept that a lot of it’s free.
NewTeeVee: How much does it matter whose version is the one that gets all the views?
Lentz: I don’t think it matters, as long as it’s clear it’s Jimmy Kimmel.
NewTeeVee: Do you guys have a problem with the fact that none of that makes you any money?
Lentz: You don’t make money for something that’s on YouTube, but did you read that Wired story about free?
NewTeeVee: The economics of free?
Lentz: It’s some kind of permutation of the economics of free, where you get a free teaser. It’s really cheap because it requires such a little amount of time, whereas watching a whole episode of a TV show is such a hassle.
NewTeeVee: Yeah, it seems like a great way for you to bring in new viewers.
Lentz: Our show’s an hour, and that’s kind of commitment for people. Something like this is a free teaser: 4 minutes of your time, but it comes recommended by a friend of yours. A bit is anywhere between 30 seconds and 4 to 5 minutes, so it works for us. We’re a comedy variety show; it kind of works out. What’s the time limit on YouTube, 9 minutes?
NewTeeVee: 10 minutes.
Lentz: We haven’t done anything 10 minutes ever.
NewTeeVee: Comedy seems to be something that works really well on both television and the Internet.
Lentz: I don’t think drama works on the Internet. I hated quarterlife. I feel like, in a weird way, the Internet makes the bar for comedy a little lower and the bar for drama a little higher. You don’t have to be streaming in HD to laugh at it, it can look terrible as long as it has a joke that’s funny. It’s charming when comedy looks bad.
NewTeeVee: Somewhat as a result of the writers’ strike, we’re seeing a lot of writers starting their own web ventures. Is that something that’s appealing to you or something that you see as a viable future as a young writer?
Lentz: I think so, as long as it works. I want stuff to work. Just ’cause it’s new and it’s on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s good. It’s a nice thought to think you could skip around the network, but on the other hand writers can be their own worst enemy. And you’d need a great deal of perspective and maturity for a writer to pull that off.