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Two magazines, two celebrity profiles. Why is Jimmy Kimmel’s story a better read?

Late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel was on the cover of the Jan. 17 issue of Rolling Stone, on his knees, wearing a tool belt, wrench in hand, exposing a sliver of plumber’s butt crack as he grinned slyly at the camera.

Actress Megan Fox is on the cover of the February issue of Esquire, wearing panties, an unzipped hoody, exposing the top curves of her breasts peeking out from a sheer bra.

Jonah Weiner’s profile of Kimmel is a throwback to the seminal celebrity profiles of the 1960s and 1970s, when writers such as Gay Talese and Tom Wolfe and our own Roger Ebert would spend generous amounts of time with celebrities and provide some fascinating glimpses into the lifestyles and mindsets of these stars. (Maybe the most famous and influential celeb profile ever is Talese’s “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” which ran in Esquire in April 1966. The article has its own Wikipedia entry.)

Equal parts keenly self-aware and who-gives-a-bleep, Kimmel invites Weiner to sleep at his home and even smokes pot with the writer. Weiner has access to the kind of moments that make PR teams cringe, e.g., when a stylist blackens Kimmel’s hair preshow “where it’s a bit too gray or a bit too thin for HD,” or when Kimmel and Weiner drive past the comedy club where Jay Leno famously tries out new material every Sunday and Kimmel says, “Leno hasn’t been a good stand-up for 20 years.”

As for the Esquire profile of Fox: good luck if you can get through it without wanting to hurl the magazine across the room (or click away if you’re reading online).

It’s not that the writer doesn’t have access to Fox; in fact, the interview starts with a discussion taking place “deep in her house,” we’re told.

Problem is, the writer is telling Fox about an ancient Aztec sacrificial ritual, comparing the celebrity status of the human sacrifice in the year before his death and the celebrity status Fox enjoys but also finds to be a great challenge.

Fox’s reaction to the writer’s comparison:

“It’s so similar. It really is.”

I’m fairly certain they’re both serious.

Profiles in celebrity worship

Here’s the Esquire writer describing the beautiful Ms. Fox:

“The symmetry of her face, up close, is genuinely shocking. The lip of the left curves exactly the same way as the lip on the right. The eyes match exactly. The brow is in perfect balance, like a problem of logic, like a visual labyrinth…What she is is flawless. There is absolutely nothing wrong with her.”

And you just want to kill yourself reading that.

To be fair, there are some fascinating passages in the Fox article, e.g., Fox saying she’s been speaking in tongues since she was eight and admitting she decided to get her Marilyn Monroe tattoo removed after actually reading about Monroe and realizing that was not a happy life. But then we get back to the same old reluctant-celebrity B.S. we’ve seen in a hundred profiles, e.g., “Megan Fox doesn’t particularly want to be famous any more…She would much rather be an archeologist exploring the ancient ruins of Israel and Egypt.”

Go for it, Megs! Get the undergrad training, the Master’s, the Ph.D., maybe a teaching position at a prestigious university — and boom, you could be exploring the ancient ruins of Israel and Egypt in what, 12 years?

Meanwhile, the readers can enjoy the photos accompanying the article, featuring Ms. Fox staring through the camera while wearing underwear or a sexy dress.

I don’t mean to pick on Megan Fox. She is astonishingly beautiful, and she has delivered some interesting work. (I’m the guy that liked “Jennifer’s Body,” and I thought Fox did pretty well in “This is 40.”) But come on. This is a woman who joined Twitter, gave herself the handle of “Lover. Healer. Mother.”, amassed more than 335,000 Followers in less than a week (while Following not a single person) and then gave up, saying after five days she didn’t understand the point of the whole thing.

So when you’re writing a profile and you apparently swallow the whole reluctant-star-on-a-spiritual-quest routine without blinking, you’re going to produce a celebrity profile that is just short of nauseating.

The Rolling Stone writer is clearly a Kimmel fan, but (in large part to Kimmel’s savvy but cheerfully open approach), we get a look at an actual human being who happens to be talented, ambitious, increasingly wealthy and famous, a little dark — but also not that different from a lot of regular guys with a broken marriage in the past and two kids he loves.

As celebrity profiles go, that’s the right stuff.

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