In March of 2014 Jimmy Kimmel Live was taping in Austin and asked if I could make five giant piñatas in two days. Any rational person would say it was impossible, but they wanted piñatas of Jimmy Kimmel, Guillermo, Lady Gaga, Willie Nelson, and Lil Wayne. How could I turn that down? I agreed to give it a try, and my family rallied around me to make it happen. This is what happened in the two all-nighters that followed.
2 pm Wednesday. Because of the short deadline we were forced to work with thin cardboard, which was new to me because I usually start with balloons. I made two big, misshapen cardboard potatoes before I finally figured out what I was doing wrong.
2:30 pm Wednesday. Kerry positions where the face will go on the Lady Gaga piñata using reference material given to us by the show.
5:08 pm Wednesday. It took us a while to figure out how to shape the bottom of the face and create the neck. Next we made ears and noses from tape, newspaper, and cardboard.
8:13 pm Wednesday. The piñata needs two layers of papier mâché in order to hold its shape, but we don’t have enough time for two rounds of drying so we have to put them both on at once. There’s not even time to allow that to dry – as soon as the papier mâché is dry enough on the surface we have to start decorating.
1:44 am Thursday. Jimmy Kimmel or Frankenstein? I should have bent the flaps at the top of the head more gently to get a more rounded top of his head. It’s too late to fix these, but we’ll try to hide it with the hair and do better tomorrow on the other two. To prevent the newsprint from showing through we painted the papier mâché with a stain-blocking primer.
3:14 am Thursday. We needed to cover a large surface area in as little time as possible, so my usual crepe paper techniques were out. I didn’t want to just paint them because all the papier mâché bumps would show. Linda suggested using spray adhesive to attach tissue paper squares. She found four shades of tissue paper we could work with.
3:33 am Thursday. We painted Lady Gaga’s face pink before applying white tissue paper in hopes of creating pale white skin with just a hint of color to contrast with her white hair. But the white tissue paper allowed more pink to show through than we expected, and as a result her skin wasn’t uniformly colored. No time to fix that, just gotta move on.
While Kerry works on the face, Amy cuts crepe paper for hair. The Lady Gaga piñata had over a quarter mile of white crepe paper for hair, made up of hundreds of pieces that were individually measured and cut to lengths between 30 and 60 inches.
While Amy is measuring and cutting, Linda is assembling cut pieces of crepe paper into groups of 20 pieces that can be hot glued onto the piñata. This was such a huge job that Amy and Linda spent a couple hours just making hair for Lady Gaga while Kerry and I worked on everything else.
5:59 am Thursday. The Guillermo piñata was the last one in line. He took a long time to dry and with five hours to go, he is only just now getting his skin.
6:50 am Thursday. Kerry glues hundreds of individual pieces of crunched black crepe paper to Guillermo’s head to simulate his slicked-back hair. This task takes about two hours to complete.
9:06 am Thursday. Jimmy Kimmel’s hair is made from the black paper crinkles used in gift bags, stuck to his head using spray adhesive. Guillermo’s hair is finally finished.
9:15 am Thursday. Is that Lady Gaga or Edgar Winter? Amy, Linda, and Kerry hot glue Lady Gaga’s hair on layer by layer as the deadline approaches.
9:32 am Thursday. Linda turns her attention to making a shirt and tie for Jimmy Kimmel.
11:01 am Thursday. Jimmy, Guillermo, and Lady Gaga. Three giant piñatas built from scratch in about 22 hours. Not everything worked out the way we hoped, but for a rushed first attempt, they came out pretty well. We’ll take what we learned from these and make the next ones better. But first we all need to sleep.
4:25 am Friday. We started work on Willie Nelson and Lil Wayne at 4 pm Thursday. Changes in temperature and humidity meant that it unexpectedly took much longer this time for the papier mâché to dry. Because of this we were behind schedule all night, and it didn’t occur to me to take any pictures until Kerry was hot-gluing dreadlocks one at a time onto Lil Wayne’s head. The dreads were made of one, two, or three pieces of crepe paper gently twisted together and crunched by hand. Linda spent about two and a half hours crunching crepe paper for Lil Wayne’s hair.
5:15 am Friday. Ready to start decorating Leonard Nimoy. I mean Willie Nelson. Whew, that was close!
6:57 am Friday. Linda made Willie’s headband and guitar strap out of tissue paper, and his braided pony tails out of crepe paper. Our cat helped.
6:57 am Friday. Lil Wayne’s teeth are covered with jewels, so we tried to simulate that with a rhinestone-studded smile. Amy’s slender fingers and long nails were perfect for handling and applying these. When it comes to delicate work like this, my hands are like boxing gloves.
9:15 a.m. Friday. Lil Wayne is ready. Wait – where’s his hat?
10:19 am Friday. The logo on the front of Lil Wayne’s cap is from his apparel company, Trukfit.
10:40 am Friday. The finished Willie Nelson and Lil Wayne piñatas, built from scratch in about 18½ hours. Although Jimmy Kimmel Live didn’t end up using any of our piñatas on air, my family enjoyed the experience of working together to pull this off, and I learned a lot by making piñatas in a way I’ve never done it before. Everyone I worked with at Jimmy Kimmel Live was professional and easy to work with. They apologized that the piñatas never made it on air, but we all knew before we started that they might not be used on the show, so that wasn’t a surprise. Overall these two days were a really cool and memorable experience for all of us.