These days, Craig Kilborn is content.
Since walking away from The Late Late Show in August 2004, the original Daily Show host and former SportsCenter anchor has largely kept off the radar. He left the spotlight to enjoy a quiet life downing mixed drinks and watching classic movies in the Los Angeles home he shares with his longtime girlfriend, Hollywood costume designer Cherry Alayra.
But Kilborn’s hiatus ended earlier this year, when former ESPN colleagues began buzzing over videos Kilborn was posting on Instagram.
SportsCenter anchor Steve Levy, one of Kilborn’s on-air partners in the mid-1990s, joined the social platform because of them.
“They’re just so funny the way he does it. Subtle, yet over the top at the same time," Levy said. "He is the sole reason I joined Instagram.”
Characteristics of Kilborn’s comedic sensibilities are present in the short videos, from the catch phrases that made him a star at ESPN to the arrogant sarcasm that took him to Comedy Central and CBS. In one video, he congratulates Kawhi Leonard for leading the Toronto Raptors to an NBA championship by asking, “Kawhi not?” In another, he breathlessly brags about wearing a pair of vintage Gucci chocolate brown loafers while sitting in his club chair.
"I think they’re so quintessential Craig,” said Gus Ramsey, Kilborn’s former producer at ESPN and now program director for the Dan Patrick School of Sportscasting. “They’re the kind of things that if he could’ve found a way, he would have used them to lead into Yankees-Red Sox highlights.”
So why Instagram? And why now?
“I joined Instagram for my nieces. I showed them pictures of me wearing a blazer and a vest, holding a martini and they said, ‘You have to be on Instagram.’ I do as I’m told,” Kilborn told the Inquirer.
From California, Kilborn talks about why he left late-night television and how he became a fan of the Sixers while growing up in Hastings, Minn. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Judging by your Instagram account, you seem to be enjoying early retirement. What have you been up to?
It’s a magical life. We have a 1920s home in Los Angeles and a place in the desert. We go back and forth. We watch old movies, hike, I cook for her, she’ll surprise me with a new charcoal vest — we’re sympatico.
A number of people in the industry have praised your videos. Have they caused any former colleagues or celebrities you once interviewed to reach out?
Oh, yeah. The great Rich Eisen has really gotten a kick out of it, texting me positive reviews. Fellow Minnesotan Nick Swardson digs it. The writers from my old CBS show, Julius Sharpe and Mike Gibbons ... are very encouraging. And the legendary Alec Sulkin — screenwriter for the Ted movies and Tom Brady groupie — took me out for dinner to celebrate.
So what made you decide to walk away from The Late Late Show and television?
The main reason I left The Late Late Show was — creatively I lost interest in late-night comedy. The other reason was that the business side of that particular show was excessively flawed so I escaped the silliness. ... I just developed a specific, aristocratic comedic sensibility that didn’t mesh with late night. Fortunately, I have an outlet for it with my personal life. And now, it appears, Instagram.
So no strong desire to return to television or get back into the spotlight?
My mom ... said there are two types of people — those that like being on stage and those that like being in the audience. ... I know I’m comfortable on stage, and I’ve been told I’m good at it. But I’m also very comfortable being in the audience.
You have this weird, eclectic, post-TV career doing random stuff, including interviewing yourself for the Los Angeles Times.
I’ve been asked to do a lot of interviews, and I turned them down over the years. I wasn’t interested. But in 2015 I told Martin Miller, the TV editor of the L.A. Times, "I’ll do it if you let me interview myself.” People don’t understand, but of all the things I’ve done, that’s my favorite. It captured my comedic sensibility.
I didn’t know that Instagram was going to be like this. It’s an extension of that interview with myself.
You grew up in Minnesota and became a lifelong fan of the Timberwolves, but also rooted for the Sixers and Julius Erving?
Dr. J was my favorite player growing up. I loved it all: the Spectrum, [Sixers public-address announcer] Dave Zinkoff, ‘The whirling dervish,’ the Statue of Liberty dunks, and so on. There was no one like The Doc.
Have any lingering affection for the Sixers or thoughts on Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons heading into next season?
Embiid is very talented but I prefer Karl-Anthony Towns [laughter]. He obviously has to stay healthy, which is problematic for him. And I think his shot selection is suspect sometimes.
And I have a major issue with Ben Simmons’ shooting. My favorite NBA stat is field goal percentage — I like guys that are efficient and who can shoot — not just around the rim.