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Fear of Self-Loathing in Los Angeles

The Late Late Show's Craig Kilborn, who comes to town this week for the Final Four, makes no bones about it: he likes himself.

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He introduces the show and announces his lineup, and then himself to the tune of "Play That Funky Music" (as in, white boy). He cannot keep from checking out his Teutonic looks in a nearby mirror. And what was with that oil painting of, well, guess who?

No, Craig Kilborn simply couldn't be that narcissistic, could he? The 40-year-old host of CBS's The Late Late Show, as a Chicago Tribune critic once (solely) defended, must be doing a parody of the swinging vanity of an L.A. bachelor, right?

Well ....

"I'm certainly kidding, I'm aware of what I'm doing, but we have enough self-deprecating hosts and it's old for me. I tried it once, but my body rejected it. I always grew up liking performers, actors, who were self confident. I was a big fan of (Johnny) Carson, I was a big fan of course of Bill Murray, I liked Jackie Gleason a lot.

"I'm aware of what I'm doing, but I also think you don't have to be apologetic for not being self-loathing, but liking yourself a little bit, liking your job. My comedy, I've said before, doesn't come from a dark place. I'm just a happy kid."

Kilborn -- who has referred to himself in the third person as "the Craiggers" and "Kilby" -- brings his brand of L.A. cool to New Orleans this week to gear up for the Final Four when he brings The Late Late Show out of town for the first time. The show will broadcast Monday through Friday from Generations Hall. On the surface, it would be appear the perfect road trip for the late-night host critics love to call a "fratboy" -- until you consider what he plans to do when he gets here. Sure, some of Kilborn's promo spots have originated from a balcony overlooking Bourbon Street, but he promises his own videotape called "Girls Don't Go Wild" and a plea to coeds: "Show us your self-esteem!"

"I'm kind of old-fashioned," he says.

If Kilborn looks like the kind of guy whose life has come easy to him, maybe it has. He came up through the sportscasting ranks, first doing radio work in the now-defunct Continental Basketball Association (he was a scrub at Montana State) before landing in California. He was discovered by ESPN, which in the early 1990s was starting to redefine the way sports news was broadcasted. Sportscenter all but turned into sound-byte comedy with co-anchors Dan Patrick and Keith Olberman trying to out-quip the other with catch-phrases and sometimes bizarre pop-cultural sub-referencing. Kilborn fit right in.

"I think Sportscenter influenced a lot of things," Kilborn says. "It was a very, very natural way to combine sports and entertainment. Sportscenter was a cult favorite. Sports fans watched it, and they had a sense of humor, and then Dan and Keith put in all these lines. Before, the expectation was, 'Give me the score and highlights,' but with this you could write a subtle reference or obscure reference that would go a long way. I was doing one piece on the (Seattle) SuperSonics -- this was years after Gus Williams retired -- and I said, 'I used to like to watch Gus Williams and his high dribble!' Fans called in and said, 'We loved the high dribble, how did you know about that?' But I loved the Wizard."

Kilborn followed Olberman out the door to capitalize on another trend: the late-night talk-show boom. Kilborn signed on with Comedy Central's The Daily Show, a satiric look at the news. It was there that Kilborn developed a rep for smugness and a slightly loose mouth; he was suspended for a week for insensitive remarks he made in an Esquire interview. Regarding head writer Lizz Winstead, Kilborn said, "To be honest, Lizz does find me very attractive. If I wanted her to blow me, she would." Kilborn apologized, saying he'd made the comments in jest and off the record. (Winstead quit.)

He had a couple other, less-controversial incidents after taking over for the retiring Tom Snyder as the host of the David Letterman-produced The Late Late Show in 1998, beating out Jon Stewart. (Stewart instead took over Kilborn's gig at The Daily Show.) He angered wrestling fans in 1999 when, upon the accidental death of a popular grappler, he remarked, "World Wrestling Federation wrestler Owen Hart, known as the Blue Blazer, died Sunday night ... Blue Blazer's partner, White Turtleneck, was unharmed." CBS was forced to apologize when, during the 2000 Republican National Convention, he had the phrase "snipers wanted" across the screen with a scene of George W. Bush accepting the presidential nomination.

For three years, though, Kilborn's been relatively controversy free. "I think I'm due. I'm overdue," he cracks, before getting relatively serious. "I don't know. I may be mellowing with age. I used to like to push the envelope, but I'm going in an area now where I like to ... I'm an old soul, I like to listen to Sinatra, I don't do a lot of raunchy jokes.

He pauses. "But yeah, I'm overdue. Maybe next week in New Orleans."

"My comedy ... doesn't come from a dark place," says The Late Late Show host Craig Kilborn. "I'm just a happy kid."
  • "My comedy ... doesn't come from a dark place," says The Late Late Show host Craig Kilborn. "I'm just a happy kid."

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