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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Hey, Jimmy Kimmel: Gonzaga landed on the moon

Comedian Jimmy Kimmel addresses the audience during the 46th AFI Life Achievement Award gala ceremony honoring actor/director George Clooney at the Dolby Theatre, Thursday, June 7, 2018, in Los Angeles. (Chris Pizzello / Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Any good conspiracy theory is only strengthened by attempts to disprove it.

So no one can fault Jimmy Kimmel for doubling down when confronted with evidence that Gonzaga University does, indeed, exist.

On Thursday, the late-night TV host devoted nearly seven minutes of his show to the comedic theory that Spokane’s Jesuit university is an elaborate hoax.

While the laughs keep coming for this Kimmel-Gonzaga punch line, the branding boon is worth millions, according to one local advertising expert.

“I don’t believe Gonzaga University exists. I think somebody made it up to recruit a basketball team,” Kimmel said, poking fun at the school – for a third time – as the Zags play in the NCAA Tournament.

“Gonzaga is like eggnog,” the comedian said. “You hear about it once, and then for 50 weeks you don’t see it, it disappears, it’s gone.”

Never mind that Gonzaga has produced a number of famous figures – NBA star John Stockton, House Speaker Tom Foley, crooner Bing Crosby – as many pointed out on Twitter.

In one tweet, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson declared “under penalty of perjury” that Gonzaga is a real place, sharing a postgame photo of his 10-year-old son and Zags player Jeremy Jones.

The university weighed in, too, sharing video testimonials by a few true believers, including ESPN anchor Neil Everett and Gonzaga videographer Kurt Nolen, who said he used to work for Kimmel.

“We’re just trying to fan the flames of this thing to keep the story alive,” said Dave Sonntag, Gonzaga’s vice president for marketing and communications.

But Kimmel just couldn’t be convinced. As of Friday afternoon, he hadn’t responded to an online petition requesting he speak at Gonzaga’s next commencement ceremony.

Oh, well.

“It’s safe to say the Kimmel ‘feud’ combined with NCAA coverage is priceless for Spokane,” said Kate Hudson, public relations manager for Visit Spokane. “What makes the Kimmel thing so special is it was unsolicited coverage that has gone viral.”

Hudson pointed out Google trends showing recent spikes in searches for “Jimmy Kimmel Gonzaga” and “Where is Gonzaga?”

“If you were to pay for that kind of advertising, it would be millions of dollars,” she said.

On Twitter, Visit Spokane has been sharing the hashtag #GonzagaExists, which is about as flattering as “Spokane doesn’t suck.”

The tourism agency used a similar social media strategy in March 2017, after the Guardian newspaper published an essay by Spokane native Cody Delistraty, which contained factual errors and portrayed Gonzaga’s basketball team as the last hope of a struggling city. A Twitter campaign used the playful hashtag #CodyComeHome to tell Delistraty about some of Spokane’s finer attractions.

Still, it couldn’t hurt to play along with Kimmel’s theory.

“I think the Jimmy Kimmel piece is the ultimate ‘lean into it’ scenario,” Daniel Thorpe, president of the Spokane marketing firm Boom Creative, said in an email. “Celebrate the mystique that Gonzaga might be actually be a fictitious place. Own that weirdness because there is a kernel of truth to it.”