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Let’s hear it for Jimmy Kimmel, eh?

Jimmy Kimmel? Say what?

Has there been a weirder figure recently to emerge from the woodwork to become a local hero – however momentarily – in our fair city?

For those of you who might have been rummaging through your closet at the time in search of your foam finger, here is how a thoroughly extemporaneous wisecrack by ABC’s late-night contender endeared him to a city paying rapt attention to the fate of its football team.

Daniel Radcliffe was on Kimmel’s show chatting away and selling whatever wares needed selling. It seems the last time he was in Toronto, some computer problems with his visa delayed his entry into the states and so he did what so many of us do, entered the U.S. at Buffalo.

To be pleasant to the Buffalo woman helping him, he mentioned the Bills whose ownership status is of interest all over the NFL-watching world but especially, for obvious reasons, in Buffalo and in Toronto where Radcliffe had just been.

To which the woman expressed heartfelt sorrow at any possibility of losing the Bills to Toronto. Which was Kimmel’s cue to butt in with his feisty take on the subject: If the Bills go to Toronto, he said, we’re going to war on Canada.

At which point, at least half of Buffalo TV watchers might suddenly have considered becoming Jimmy Kimmel fans.

OK, maybe not fans but people far more disposed to think kind thoughts about the boy whose late-night act has, in most eyes, made him the Other Jimmy thus far. (Jimmy Fallon having ascended to the role of Jimmy Numero Uno by virtue of his ability to do things like getting Heidi Klum to roll around on the floor with him on camera.)

A lazy, drawling and cheery slacker inadequacy is Kimmel’s act. His talent is to be irresistibly and amusingly untalented.

Let me be frank. So help me, I’ve been meaning for many months now to write a column about the notable oddity of Kimmel’s having become a likable and solid late-night option for those looking around for a watchable wiseacre to smile at before Morpheus arrives.

And then, suddenly, Kimmel tosses off a little wisecrack indicating that, by God, America at large seems to be on the side of its Rust Belt against any Big Name Bozos and Billionaire Buffoons who might think their cash entitled them to move the Bills across the Canadian border.

As long as I’m being frank here, let me say that I love Toronto. I’ve loved it for all the years I’ve been going to the Toronto Film Festival, arguably the world’s most important after Cannes. And I’ve been going to the festival since its second year.

It’s the high level of thoroughly gratuitous kindness and civility I’ve always loved about the city at festival time along with its cultural sophistication. To me, the emblematic Toronto moment was the one where I saw a filthy and booze-soaked homeless man passed out and sound asleep on a well-traveled sidewalk late in the morning as ordinary citizens, tourists and festivalgoers in a hurry somewhere or other, passed him on the way to wherever it was they were going.

The man himself wasn’t distinguishable from the tragic homeless in any populous major North American city. But someone had gone into the deli a few feet away and bought him a large sandwich, complete with pickle, and left it in front of him to see immediately when he woke up, along with a can of soda, a napkin, a plastic fork and a little side order of cole slaw.

It was the pickle and the side order of slaw that really got me. Now there, I said to myself, is a truly great city – where people not only buy food for the homeless sprawled out on sidewalks but insist on including the amenities that go with it.

But that was about a decade ago. In the world of late-night comics now, Toronto is the city whose coke-addled fat slob mayor goes in and out of rehab and then goes on cutesy TV sequences accompanying a local TV functionary who orders a rather ordinary coffee at the drive-thru and then orders for himself five shots of espresso in one cup.

Joked Kimmel after showing the sequence starring mayor Rob “Five Shot” Ford, maybe it would be healthier if Ford just stayed with crack.

Add to Ford Toronto’s billionaire buccaneers wanting, along with their hair-metal pal from New Jersey to plunder the Bills, and you’ve suddenly discovered this most civilized of world cities may now be the Northern Hemisphere’s living embodiment of what happens when a city gets way too rich way too quickly.

No one thinks of it anymore as an oasis of decency that supplies its homeless with sandwiches, complete with pickles and slaw. Whether our current urban mythology is accurate or not, that’s just how Toronto looks is in the Rob Ford era.

To me, the emblematic Buffalo moment in urban mythology was that thank-you rally for the Bills at City Hall, after that first Super Bowl, when the words “wide right” came to symbolize the crushed hopes of Rust Belt cities everywhere. (A new preseason repeat of that game – Bills vs. Giants – is this evening’s Hall of Fame game on NBC.)

Team members at the City Hall rally were introduced to the cheering crowd that was happy to know its team had been in a Super Bowl at all. No one knew at the time that there would three more Super Bowls in a row for them, with results both historic and eternally mythological (“losers” was the way a cruel world might think of them, but it was a completely inaccurate word to describe an amazing team that made it to four straight Super Bowls in the first place).

When kicker Scott Norwood was introduced to that crowd, they cheered for him as if his kick had sailed through the uprights and made the Bills Super Bowl champs. That, I submit, is a generous city with unique and incomparable soul.

What other city anywhere could boast such fans?

It’s been delightful to watch the suddenly P.O.’d populism of those like Kimmel and New York magazine who are, by implication, fed up to here with an America where the billionaires think that all their money entitles them to do any bloody thing they want to any bloody city they want for the sake of making still more money.

New York magazine’s quoting new Hall of Fame laureate Andre Reed’s R-rated outspokenness about it all is still more evidence that the world since the Occupy Wall Street movement is beginning to think very differently about Billionaire Buffoonery than it used to – not to mention their idiot, pretty-boy rock friends from New Jersey who think that hair metal balladry entitles them to determine the fate of fandom of all kinds.

With the utter soullessness of Bon Jovi now putting him, for many, in a senior class with diaper-star Justin Bieber, today’s repeat of the first Super Bowl matchup – with Reed entering the Hall of Fame – has become the moment when a lot of people seem to be rethinking wealth and its prerogatives and what they mean for the rest of us citizens.

The Rust Belt needs a lot more than sandwiches, pickles, slaw and a can of soda.

A good place to start would be the public banishment of billionaire buzzards circling overhead in the hope of snatching up sports franchises and making rich cities even richer.


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