What Is It Like to Be a Late-Night Talk Show Guest?

Scandal actress Darby Stanchfield poses during a photocall at the Monte-Carlo Television Festival in Monaco in 2013.

Photo by Valery Hache/AFP/Getty Images

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Answer by Darby Stanchfield, actress in the ABC drama Scandal:

Jimmy Kimmel is such a nice guy. I have to preface this by saying that I’ve mainly interacted with him on Jimmy Kimmel Live—the two times I’ve been on his show, and once last year when I had a brief chat with him and his wife backstage at ABC’s NYC Television Upfronts.

But, here’s something that most people don’t realize about appearing on late-night shows. There is a something called a pre-interview in which one of the producers of Jimmy Kimmel Live calls you up a few days prior to going on the show and you go over stories, anecdotes, current events, etc. that you might think to share. The producer then reviews this pre-interview phoner with Jimmy Kimmel. Then Kimmel and his producer decide which stories are the best and create an order to how the conversation is going to go on air. (Most all of these live talk shows work this way, by the way.)

The whole thing is planned out, and once you arrive at Jimmy Kimmel Live, the producer then comes to your dressing room and fills you in on what Kimmel has decided will be talked about. Then when your name is announced, you go stand in that little closed box, the door lifts up and you run out onstage to have a chat with Kimmel … which again all seems very impromptu, but the whole thing has been planned out.

So when asked “What’s Jimmy Kimmel like in person?” I really only got to talk with him once the cameras were rolling and we were onstage.  I will say, with all of the planning and prepping that late-night live talk shows do, Kimmel is very patient and generous, and I get the sense he wants his guests to have fun and feel comfortable.

His show was the first late-night appearance I’d ever done, and I really didn’t know what I was doing or how it would go. He was very good at throwing obvious cues at me the first time around. The second time on Jimmy Kimmel Live, I knew what to expect and sort of dove in and just ran with it. Both times I had a blast and had such a great experience chatting with him.

At the end of the talk-show segment, you always see the host lean over and talk to his guest. I always wondered what he said, or whether he was ever really say anything, or if that chat was mimed to look like the conversation is still going on because it’s really interesting. But both times on Jimmy Kimmel Live, when my segment was over, he leaned over and really did continue the conversation. The first time we were in Austin, Texas, as he was covering the SXSW Festival. My last remark to the audience was how I was headed off to the Salt Lick (one of the infamous barbecue joints near Austin). Kimmel leaned in and said he had to leave Austin because he’d eaten so much wonderful barbecue and his suits were getting tight. The second time I was on his show and the segment ended, we had been talking about touring the White House, and he made a remark about the bowling alley. He had never seen the bowling alley, and I had, so he wanted more info on that.

I guess the last thing I’ll say is that he is very present onstage and really with you. I think that says a lot. He’s not just phoning it in.

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