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Friday, November 19, 2004
Updated: May 31, 2:26 PM ET
Behind the jokes of the AMAs

By Bill Simmons
Page 2

I didn't watch a lick of football on Sunday. Not a single play.

Here's where you sneak in the requisite "Did you get into a car accident at a Starbucks parking lot?" joke. Good one. I wish it was that complicated. Here's what happened: Jimmy Kimmel was hosting the American Music Awards that night and asked me to be one of his writers. I planned on turning him down until he told me that Josh Groban was performing. Then all bets were off.

Jimmy Kimmel
"Just when I think I'm out ... they pull me back in!"
Seriously, I was torn. On the one hand, I wanted to work with my old boss again. On the other hand, those 20 Sundays of NFL football are sacred to me, and it just so happened that the AMA's were happening on Week 10 -- the same night that the Pats were playing the ESPN game against Buffalo. The decision came down to one thing: Was there any way the Pats were losing to Bledsoe and the Bills at home? I mean, ANY?

Of course not. That's when I e-mailed Jimmy back and told him yes. And everything turned out fine. Anyway, before we get to this week's picks, I thought I'd describe what it's like to write for an awards show. If you don't find this stuff interesting, feel free to scroll down to the picks. No hard feelings. Without further ado ...

Wednesday night
Time to get to work. I spend the night sifting through the AMA's list of presenters and performers, then sitting down and writing a batch of one-liners and ideas before sending Jimmy something like 60 jokes and ideas in all. Here were my four favorites:

1. Welcome to the AMA's, or as Jessica Simpson calls them, the Ammas.

2. I'm excited for the after-show party tonight -- we're holding it in Serena Williams's cleavage.

3. We're giving an Award of Merit to Bon Jovi tonight ... we figured if we gave them a lifetime achievement award, maybe this would be the thing that finally convinces Jon Bon Jovi to stop acting.

4. We have Janet Jackson appearing tonight ... I still can't get over the fact that Penny from "Good Times" inadvertently started the biggest censorship crisis in the history of modern television. I always thought it would have been Bookman.

(Note: Only one of those made it on the actual show. Twenty-five percent success rate of your four favorite jokes out of 60 ... not good. I was more than a little rusty.)

Thursday night
At 10 p.m., I arrive at Jimmy's house with comedian Jeffrey Ross (the other writer for the show, as well as an old buddy of Jimmy's). The three of us stay up until 3:00 in the morning, trying to come up with as many jokes and intros as possible. What always ends up happening in these situations is that you make each other laugh for about 45 minutes ... then you get burned out ... and then the only way you can make each other laugh is by either farting or crossing every line possible. I wish I could provide some examples without getting fired. Maybe the best printable one was when Jeff pitched an intro for Lance Armstrong that included the sentence, "He's best-known for his set of cojone."

(Note: This is a great time to get jokes that could never actually get on the show out of your system. For example, since Dick Clark Productions was doing the show, Jeff had two excellent Dick Clark jokes: "This show is on an 8-second delay, which means like Dick Clark, we're almost live" and "Dick was on the radio so long ago, he used to count down the top 40 in Roman numerals." Not happening.)

Friday night
A repeat of Thursday night, with a wrinkle: They changed the rundown of the show so just about every celebrity pairing changed, rendering Thursday's work useless and leading to another 3:00 a.m. night. We spend most of the time working on intros, which have to be clever but not intrusive. Some of the better examples:

Eva Longoria and Nicolette Sheridan: "Thanks to our next two presenters, more teenage boys are washing cars and mowing lawns than ever before ..."

Teena Marie and Switchfoot: "Our next presenters may not know much about alternative music, but they are perfectly capable of reading cue cards and opening envelopes ..."

Gene Simmons and Jenny McCarthy: "If our next two guests ever French-kissed, their tongues would pummel each other like Ali and Frazier in Manila" and "If our next two presenters had a baby together, that baby would have a long, crazy tongue that we'd probably have to shoot with a spear."

Eva Longoria
Eva never looked so good. We say this after she stepped away from date J.C. Chasez.
Michael McDonald: "Long before the Hilton Sisters, there was the Doobie Brothers. Although their sex tapes weren't nearly as popular, their music lives on in the voice, and the beard, of Mr. Michael McDonald."

(You get the idea.)

Saturday morning/afternoon
We show up at the Shrine (home of the AMA's) to write more jokes, watch rehearsals and deal with any last-minute changes with presenters. This is when it fully dawns on me how many people are putting together the show -- between the stage people, the behind-the-scenes production people, the set people, the technical crew and everyone else, it has to be like 300 people. There are a staggering number of ways that a show like this could get screwed up.

On the bright side, two ideas sort themselves out: For the monologue, Jimmy decides that Snoop should sell special brownies backstage, leading to a live piece featuring Snoop, Josh Groban and Bobby Brown. And for our 9:06 spot, I push for something related to "Desperate Housewives" -- since that was right when we were pre-empting them. Jimmy doesn't think it's a big deal. I keep bringing it up and bugging him about it.

(Important note: With Jimmy, just like anyone else who's in charge of their own material on a daily basis -- and this goes for me as well -- once they have an idea in their head, it's nearly impossible to steer them in another direction. But from working with him on his show, I learned how to take advantage of a loophole here -- you keep nudging them in another direction, then hope they come up with the new idea themselves. That's the only way they're changing their mind.)

So what happens? Jimmy gets an idea. At 9:06, he'll mention how "Desperate Housewives" wasn't on, then say something like, "So to fill that void tonight, I thought I'd bring out my gardener, Osnaraldo," followed by his overweight, shirtless Mexican gardener coming out on stage holding a rake. Suddenly we have a can't-miss idea for 9:06.

One other note: Since it's Jimmy's birthday, Dick Clark comes out during rehearsal with a giant cake for him. But that's not the best part. Jimmy makes a joke and Dick does the "take a step back, lean forward and slap the knee" laugh, like the one he used to break out on "Bloopers and Practical Jokes." And he's like five feet away from me. I've never been so excited over something so dumb.

Sunday morning/afternoon
We show up around 10:00 in the morning, with a live rehearsal (including all the musical acts) starting at 11:00. Here's where it starts to get fun -- musicians like Jessica Simpson and Gwen Stefani wearing sweatpants and lip-synching their performances to save their voices, stand-ins pretending to be the real presenters, last-minute joke-writing sessions and so on. It's like preparing to play in a big sporting event. You can feel it in the air. We even get a boost from some of the writers on Jimmy's show, including a quality joke about Eminem's new video: "Michael (Jackson) was so upset, he threw his nose at the TV screen."

After rehearsal, Jimmy bangs out his final script and the final batch of intros ... we print it out and talk about possible tweaks ... the process keeps going until around 3:00 ... and at the same time, I'm checking ESPN.com for NFL scores every 10 seconds. Jimmy heads into makeup and has to spend the next two hours wearing a three-piece suit with napkins under his neck. Executives, agents, producers, talent people and everyone else start trickling in around 4:15 to wish him luck -- the schmalzy, phony Hollywood side of the whole thing. Yuk. Meanwhile, Jeff and I organize one last batch of emergency jokes -- maybe 50 jokes for various scenarios that might pop up during the show, whether it's an ad-lib, an especially crazy celeb or whatever (more on this later).

Sunday late-afternoon
Now it's 20 minutes from showtime. We're racing back to the dressing room when we turn the corner ... and suddenly there's a tall, well-dressed black man rising from his chair in ... and wouldn't you know, it's Kobe Bryant? He just happens to be sitting in the hallway with his wife. Little does poor Kobe know that, in about 100 minutes, Jimmy will read a fake card from Shaq to Kobe on the air that ends with the sentence, "I hate your guts" right before Kobe comes out to present an award. On the Awkward Scale, this is about a 9.9 out of 10.

"He seemed like he liked you," I tell Jimmy as we walked away. "You still plan on doing the card thing?"

"What are you kidding me?" Jimmy replies, making a face. "Of course I am!"

Kobe & Vanessa Bryant
You'd look great too if you never signed a prenup.
This seems like a good place to mention that Kobe's wife was the most beautiful woman in the entire building. I'm not kidding. Since I spent the night backstage helping Jimmy out, just about every female on the show walked by me at some point. Mrs. Kobe was prettier than any of them. I'd rate Pam Anderson second -- surprisingly un-plastic looking in person. Ditto for Carmen Electra. Coming in fourth was Eva Longoria, who's a tiny knockout. And Jessica Simpson was fifth -- she's much smaller than you would think, but she's pretty much all breasts.

(Should I keep going with this? All right, twist my arm.)

I was disappointed in Gwen Stefani, who was all skin and bones. Alicia Keys was sexier than I thought she would be. Diana Ross scared me. Sheryl Crow was one of those attainable hot older ladies -- like when you're a sophomore in college and there's that one cute senior you think you could get under the right circumstances. Jenny McCarthy was tall and gawky. And old Anna Nicole Smith was actually pretty striking in person ... until you saw her wobbling backstage as two bodyguards held her up.)

Five minutes before the show, we huddle in front of the dressing room TV for Jimmy's favorite part of the night -- when Dick Clark gets on the loudspeaker and urges the audience to take their seats. "This happens every year," Jimmy giggles. "Dick gets madder and madder as it gets closer to 5 o'clock." Sure enough, you can hear Dick's voice getting more and more frustrated before he finally screams, "Everybody, please, YOU NEED TO TAKE YOUR SEATS!"

Jimmy cackles in delight. Good sign. He's nice and loose.

Showtime
Gwen Stefani starts the show without No Doubt, followed by Lenny Kravitz singing a song from his new album, "I Probably Should Have Quit While I Was Ahead." Then Jimmy bangs out his monologue and everything goes from there. Jeff and I spend the next three hours following Jimmy around in case anything happens, with Jeff feverishly belting out possible one-liners at a Twista-level pace (nobody's better in these situations). We catch a break when Anna Nicole comes out to present an award and ... I mean, I can't even describe what happens next. It's the train wreck of train wrecks -- like Joe Namath trying to kiss Suzy Kolber, only for a solid minute. Immediately, we spring into action -- we had already written a few Anna Nicole jokes just for this occasion. On his next trip out, Jimmy ends up choosing one of mine ...

"Terrible news from backstage --- a famished Anna Nicole Smith just ate Uncle Cracker."

And adds an extra joke ...

"He was sitting next to a can of Cheez Wiz -- and the next thing we knew, he was gone."

On the following trip, he goes with one of his own ...

"More terrible news from backstage: Anna Nicole Smith just took Clay Aiken's virginity ... by force."

Basically, Anna Nicole saved the night for us. We had Jimmy's gardener at 9:06 and Shaq's card to Kobe at 9:25 ... everything was smooth sailing from there. The only wild-card moment: We're in the dressing room killing time between performances when Macy Gray comes storming in, doesn't acknowledge anyone and heads into the makeup room with her assistant. Either she didn't realize that she invaded someone else's dressing room, or she didn't give a crap. Hey, at least she's completely insane. Just a weird 45 seconds. Here's a quote I never thought I would say: "Should we tell Macy Gray to get the (bleep) out of here?"

One other wild-card moment: When we were moving to another part of the theater during the middle of the show, we walked into a stairwell and saw Suge Knight standing there. Since Suge has been on Jimmy's show, they said hello and shook hands. Of course, standing next to Suge, a menacing posse member was sizing Jimmy up with one of those "you seem OK, but I still might shoot you" looks. Not exactly a happy vibe in the room when you exchanging unexpected pleasantries with Suge Knight.

One other moment stood out: When Jimmy was talking to Michael McDonald right before the show. He's one of my all-time favorites, and not just because of his Emmy-Award winning performance in "What's Happening?" or the fact that he broke the "spitting on a microphone during a song" record back in 1979. I have a Doobie Brothers concert tape that's worn down like Andy Dufresne's rock hammer, from one of their reunion shows in Los Angeles back in 1982, when everyone still had their fastball.

(Note: The weird thing about the tape is that I bought it in a drug store when I was in high school for like $3.99, then never saw it for sale ever again. I'm telling you, I must have the only copy. And it has all the classics songs on there, even McDonald introducing my illegitimate father Patrick Simmons between songs like this: "On guitar, on lead vocals, and probably on drugs, Mr. Patrick Simmons!" About eight years ago, I loaned it to my buddy Geoff for Christmas one year. It was that good -- I wanted someone else to enjoy it for a few months.)

Jimmy Kimmel
Hairy, shirtless men always spells comedy gold.
So Jimmy is talking to him, and I'm just standing next to Jimmy with the Jarrod Washburn Face going, thinking about all the times I listened to that tape over the past 17 years. And all I want to do is ask him, "Who was the girl who prompted you to write 'What A Fool Believes' and 'Minute by Minute'? Did she sleep with everyone else in the band? Did you find a sex tape with her and the 1978 Lakers? What happened there?" But I never said anything. That's the one thing I didn't like about working on an awards show -- you have to remain somewhat professional.

Other than that? The show finished on time, everyone was happy and that was that. Maybe I was a little rusty, and maybe Jeff was roughly 20 times funnier than me when everything was said and done ... but Jimmy seemed pleased with the results, and that's really all that matters. More importantly, I didn't jinx the Pats. They ended up winning 29-6.

And it was just as sweet on TiVo at 3:00 in the morning.


A reader asked me the following question: "Do you feel bad that your NFL picks have been so mediocre this season?"

Hey, it's not like I'm the only one struggling for a grip here. Heading into Week 11, the favorites have gone 63-77-4 against the spread ... but 60 of those 77 underdogs won their games outright. Think about that for a second. For just about every favorite that covered a spread in this first 10 weeks, an underdog pulled off an upset. How does that make sense? What in God's name is going on??????

Follow this train: San Diego beat Tennessee 38-17 in Week 4. Tennessee beat Green Bay 48-27 in Week 5. Green Bay beat Detroit 38-10 in Week 6. Detroit beat the Giants 28-13 in Week 7. And the Giants beat Minnesota 34-13 in Week 8. That's a game of Telephone Blowout -- five straight wins by a total of 106 points.

Here's another one that San Diego started: They beat the Jags 34-21 in Week 5. The Jags beat Kansas City 22-16 in Week 6. Kansas City beat Atlanta 56-10 in Week 7. Atlanta beat Denver 41-28 in Week 8. And Denver beat Houston 31-13 in Week 9. Another game of Telephone Blowout -- five straight wins by 98 points.

Nobody can be trusted. Nobody. Not even the Steelers and Patriots. Just keep that in mind. Onto the picks ...

Home team in caps

BILLS (+1) over Rams
I'm calling it right now: This will be Drew's last victory in Buffalo. They lose in Seattle next week, J.P. Losman takes over in December and that's that. We're about four years away from a "Surreal Life" house with Drew, Nomar, Vince Carter, Rick Ankiel, Maurice Clarett, Oksana Baiul and the Hamm brothers.

BROWNS (+1) over Jets
On the bright side, Herm Edwards set his alarm clock all week without any major complications.

RAVENS (-8) over Cowboys
Few things are sadder in sports than Bill Parcells stuck with a crummy team. Unlike every other coach in that situation, he's too cynical to pretend that he has hope, too realistic to think that things would ever turn around, and too honest to pretend that he's happy. So he just stands there on the sidelines looking like he just bit into a piece of five-week old General Tso chicken. I hate seeing him like this.

(By the way, I'm with Doctor Z, even if he's never heard of me -- Ray Lewis is a little overrated. Take away the dancing, the miked jersey, the Emmy for "Hard Knocks" and the acquittal for the conspiracy to commit murder and he's just another solid linebacker. Would you rather have Lewis or James Farrior this season? No contest.)

Cardinals (+3) over PANTHERS
Shhhhhhhhhh ...

BENGALS (+4) over Steelers
Steelers fans need to settle down. Just last week, my buddy Shek argued in a crowded room that Pittsburgh had the best offense in the league. And maybe he was right ... after all, their QB is probably going to break Marino's TD record, and they have a RB on pace for 1700 yards, as well as three potential 1,000-yard WRs, and they're probably cracking 500 points for the season. Oh, wait, that's the Colts.

Chargers (-3.5) over RAIDERS
Strange line of the week, Part One.

JAGS (-3) over Tennessee
Strange line of the week, Part Two.

David Carr
Someone should send David Carr one of Schilling's "Why Not Us?" shirts. It is the NFL.
TEXANS (+3) over Packers
Let's see ... the Packers have won four in a row ... the Texans have lost their last two games by a combined score of 80-27 ... and this is the strangest gambling season of all time. Your honor, I think we've reached a verdict.

BEARS (+7.5) over Colts
"Let's go to Greg Gumbel, who has an update on the Colts and the Bears."

"Thanks Jim ... you're not gonna believe what's happening in Chicago. Following another Edgerrin James fumble, here's Anthony Thomas rumbling through the Colts line and down the sideline for a 35-yard touchdown. We have a shocker brewing in Chicago -- 14-0, Bears. Back to you guys."

"Thanks Greg! Wow, who would have expected that one ... "

(Um ... me? I expected it! I'm the one!)

SEAHAWKS (-10) over Dolphins
R.I.P. for the Dave Wannstedt Era. I mean, the man made me a TON of money. And gave me a TON of mustache jokes. I miss him already.

VIKINGS (-7.5) over Lions
Strange Vikings season. They've had three of the best losses of the season -- Week 2 in Philly, Week 9 in Indy and Week 10 in Green Bay -- where they could have given up and kept fighting back. They've been playing without Moss for half the season now -- he's the official favorite for the Fred Taylor Award (given to the player who's held the most roto teams hostage from week to week). And they've given up 30 or more points in four of the last five games.

(I could see them rolling through these last seven weeks. I could see them losing against the Lions by 20 points on Sunday. Welcome to the NFL in 2004.)

Falcons (-2.5) over GIANTS
An unexpected holiday bonus. Who would have thought that we would get treated to the Eli Manning Face this early in the season? Should we send Tom Coughlin a fruit basket or something?

BUCS (-7.5) over Niners
Brian Griese's roto season, as described throughout the year by the weekly news wire on CBS' fantasy football site:

"With Brad Johnson on the roster, Griese has little value at this point" ... "He is not worth starting in 12-team leagues outside of being an emergency injury-replacement" ... "He is only worth using if your primary starter has a difficult matchup or bye week" ... "He is worth owning as a No. 2 Fantasy QB" ... "Griese is a very good Fantasy option against the Chiefs this week" ... "Griese has established himself as a solid No. 2 Fantasy QB" ... "Only a handful of quarterbacks have scored more Fantasy points than Griese over the past two weeks. Start him against a questionable 49ers defense."

(All right, so it wasn't quite "Rocky." But it still wasn't bad.)

SAINTS (+4.5) over Broncos
Jake Plummer against Aaron Brooks.

(In other words, stay away. By all means. If this game was an awards show, it would be the Vibe Awards.)

Redskins (+10.5) over EAGLES
Personally, I think the whole "Terrell Owens as Mandingo" debacle from Monday night ends up being a distraction for the Eagles. But that's just me.

As for the sketch, it's worth discussing only because it was such a dreadful idea. It played like a porn scene, not a comedy scene. That's why it didn't work. And to make matters worse, we haven't seen sexual chemistry bomb that badly since Bob Reed and Flo Henderson were making out back in the '70s. Just an unbelievably awkward, uncomfortable 60 seconds. Of course, I loved it. In some ways, it was even funnier than the Namath kiss, only because so many people actually worked on this and thought it was a good idea.

And it speaks to a larger problem: Instead of just giving us football, everyone seems to be obsessed with appealing to a hipper audience, so we end up with things like that T.O. skit, or that excruciating "You've Been Sacked!" sketch, or Jim Florentine pulling pranks at a Giants tailgate on "Inside the NFL". It's like they're sitting around going, "What do the kids like these days? I know ... they like those prank shows ... yeah, that's what we should do." And that's how we end up with some over-the-hill bimbo jumping into Terrell Owens' arms on Monday Night Football. This was a symptom of a much bigger problem, folks.

(We'll be back on the Sports Reporters after this.)

Patriots (+3) over CHIEFS
Here's a thought: We could end up with two 15-1 teams in the same conference. Seriously. Look at the schedules.

(And you thought this wasn't a wacky football season.)

Last Week: 6-8
Season: 72-68-4

Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His Sports Guy's World site is updated every day Monday through Friday.