Did you stay up late to watch the mayor on Jimmy Kimmel? Our writer was there to bring you this exclusive report on what happened when the cameras weren’t rolling.
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA—In a convenience store on Hollywood Boulevard yesterday afternoon, Sean Armstrong was feeling discouraged. What had felt like a stroke of genius was suddenly feeling like a waste of time and he wasn’t sure what to do next.
The Alberta oil-sands security guard had already been visiting L.A. for a little while when, like a sign from heaven, he’d turned on the TV to learn the mayor of Toronto was coming to town. “It’s meant to be,” he thought. The portly Armstrong put on a suit and dyed his hair platinum blond. He got a few drinks at Hooters “to get this red face.” Then he hit the strip, a Rob Ford impersonator joining the Batmans, Spidermans and Johnny Depps that prowl Hollywood looking for tourists who will give them a buck for a photo.
The reception, unfortunately, had been chillier than he’d hoped. The competition had been steep. “I was standing next to Chewbacca, the Wookiee” he explained. “I mean, Rob is not a family-friendly type. He’s more a Vegas vibe than a Hollywood vibe.” Armstrong needed to figure out his next move.
Down the block, inside the El Capitan Theater, the real Ford sat in his dressing room, waiting for his big moment, while Jimmy Kimmel gloated his way through his opening monologue. “I feel like I’ve been waiting for this my whole life,” Kimmel told the audience. “I don’t think I’ve had this many questions since the series finale of Lost. ”
For Kimmel—the late-night comic whose most successful recent attempt to shoulder his way into the news cycle was with a viral video hoax called “Worst Twerk Fail EVER”—Ford was a gift. Here was a walking bundle of YouTube clips that didn’t need to be manufactured—a living, breathing Worst Mayoral Fail EVER.
Ford’s motivation for coming on the show was more puzzling. Although the Mayor’s most extensive public appearances in recent months have been to autograph custom-made bobbleheads, he has long denied his celebrity status. The question, then, was why does a man who has more than enough humiliation to endure at home fly all the way across the continent to be mocked on network television?
When Ford made his entrance, Kimmel got straight to the point. “Why are you here?” he asked. “What good could come of this?”
There was no good answer, so instead the mayor trotted out his familiar Fordisms. He talked about customer service and respecting the taxpayer. He attacked the police chief, the media, the council foes who have “more angles than a dog’s hind legs.” Offstage, brothers Doug and Randy stood with the rest of the Ford entourage looking on. When Kimmel made a fat joke, Doug laughed heartily.
In the show’s second segment, Kimmel invited Ford to stand next to the monitor to explain some footage. Kimmel played the video of the Mayor bombed out of his mind and threatening to kill someone. He played the Steak Queen video, where Ford rambles incoherently in a Jamaican accent. He played the video of Ford falling over playing football, the video of the mayor dancing to reggae, the one where he’s hurling candy canes at schoolchildren, miming drunk driving, and barreling over a tiny female city councillor.
It was a nightmare montage, as if the Academy Awards had created a special “Tribute to Humiliation.” The entire Kimmel publicity stunt had always felt uncomfortably like an exercise in middle-school cruelty—the spazzy kid invited to hang with the cool clique for the day, either oblivious to the fact that he’s being made fun of or else just too flattered by the attention to care. Now, as he smiled and tried to laugh off the various videos, it seemed possible Ford might finally be cluing in.
During the commercial break, the mayor sat in his chair quietly, his mouth squeezed into a tight line. A woman on-set made a quick gesture, waving her palm in front of her face, and someone from makeup trotted on with a large black cloth to mop off the Mayor’s sweat. While producers urged the crowd to cheer louder and the house band played frantic, driving rock music, Ford sat there silently. Kimmel sat in the chair across the desk, a benign expression on his face. They exchanged perhaps three words over the course of the break.
Then the applause light flickered on again, the audience roared, and we were back for another segment featuring his worship Rob Ford, Mayor of Toronto—a man standing on a sound stage while a studio audience laughed in his face.
When it was all over—after Kimmel had encouraged Ford to get help for alcoholism, after Gonzo the Muppet had gotten in a Ford crack of his own, after Doug and Randy had rushed the stage to whip FORD NATION T-shirts into the crowd—the audience filed out into the Los Angeles evening.
Out on the strip, Sean Armstrong was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps he’d gone back to Hooters. Or maybe he’d just gone home, giving up on his dream of making a little splash in Hollywood, even for the weekend. Los Angeles can be tough that way. You don’t always get the reception you think you deserve.