Kimmy Gibbler Is Not Dead…but She Does Deserve a Second Look
Did you know Kimmy Gibbler is dead?
The rumors swirled in my pre-Google tweenhood.
I thought about her body: She had been so thin on that show.
…But she did have boobs. Or maybe she had been wearing a padded bra? I wondered if I could get my mom to buy me a padded bra. (I was mid-puberty. Boobs, specifically boobs in comparison to my own developments, were how I evaluated the world around me.)
Somewhere along the line, perhaps when Google happened, we learned that Kimmy Gibbler’s death had been only a rumor. A hilarious one, because c’mon: It’s Kimmy Gibbler we’re talking about. Kimmy Gibbler is a joke.
But she’s not only the joke—she’s also the punchline. The perpetual foil to D.J. Tanner’s Full House bildungsroman, Kimmy Gibbler walked into our collective kitchen 20 years ago without knocking, and we couldn’t look away.
Chatting amongst friends, having one of those staple ’90s kids conversations, we wondered about that death rumor. Not only was she dead, but she died because of an eating disorder? Why though? I decided to re-watch the series.
Of 193 episodes, Kimmy Gibbler shows up in 143. And even in season one episode one, Kimmy’s presence and comedic timing is working overtime compared with the Tanner girls’, whose cuteness is a crutch as they learn almost in real time as the show airs.
Of course, this isn’t so much Kimmy as it is Andrea Barber, the actor who portrayed Gibbler. Barber is a pro from the get-go, going head-to-head with standup comic Bob Saget and soap star John Stamos in comedic bits that require her impeccable timing and clowning physicality to pull off. The “can’t you knock, Gibbler?” joke is apparently one that kept on giving, but mostly because Barber lets the jabs roll off her so she can spike a punch line, “Yeah, but when I do, no one answers!”
Sure, she gets the laugh, but Kimmy Gibbler as a walking badoom-cha is far less palatable to me now than it was in my childhood. Kimmy Gibbler as an interesting, strong-willed and witty teenage girl, though? Go on.
See, Kimmy reminds me of myself in that awkward era—a bold yet boyfriend-less girl who once told a friend’s mom to “sue me!” for something I don’t quite remember but definitely had to apologize for. I felt like the addendum to the “real” heroine’s story. I was the nosy neighbor.
That device, the nosy neighbor—Small Wonder’s Harriet, Married with Children’s Marcy, Family Matters’ Steve Urkel—is nothing new. But Kimmy is cast by the Tanner household men as only that. Here is a girl, the same age as their daughters/nieces, with absent parents—we never, ever meet Kimmy’s mom and dad, who allegedly can’t stand her either—and Danny and Jesse (Joey not as much) treat her like a rodent that’s evolved to survive rat poison. They’re cruel to her.
It’s in strict contrast to what the opening credits sell:
Everywhere you look, everywhere you go
There's a heart (There's a heart), a hand to hold onto.
Crisp, glorious San Francisco and its idyllic Painted Lady homes with baby Michelle snuggled between her two proxy dads in the backseat of a red convertible vrooming across the Golden Gate bridge…it makes your heart swell! Kimmy Gibbler, of course, was not created to ride in the convertible or play lawn games in Alamo Square Park. She leads a writer’s room existence, which is a twofold, utilitarian one: 1. Give D.J. something to do and 2. Be the butt of the joke so that everybody in the Tanner family can learn lessons without looking bad.
Gibbler is the Tanner family bed pan. She’s such a joke in the Full House world that there’s even a scene where Jesse has a nightmare that he’s been abandoned by his family and left to marry to the “horrible” Kimmy Gibbler. Problematic on many levels, the most blatant is that the writers thought it was A-OK to have an adult wed a teen bride on a family show…as a joke.
In the context of today’s social media bullying and body shaming, it’s just, like, not as funny to watch grown men rip on a child as it probably was in 1995.
Most uncomfortable, however, is Danny’s relationship with Kimmy. The widower at the nucleus of this new family model is the one who initially ropes in two adult bachelors to fill the void of “mother.” And yet Danny Tanner spits out joke after joke about kicking Kimmy out of his house, while she is, in fact, a child of a similar, pseudo-motherless scenario. D.J., Stephanie and Michelle get to learn life lessons via touching talks, but Kimmy, whose absent-parents storyline is used as comedic fodder, gets her life lessons through the school of hard knocks.
There’s one particularly bleak storyline: D.J. is bummed that she was rejected from Stanford, and Kimmy, who doesn’t get into any colleges, runs off to Reno to marry a random dude. Danny and Jesse mistakenly think D.J. is the one who eloped, but when they show up and learn that it’s actually Kimmy, they drop the caring father act and breathe a sigh of collective relief. Which is, um, terrible when you actually think about it.
Also, for the record: Kimmy is way more competent than D.J. ever will be. When Kimmy gives D.J. a babysitting gig, Deej can’t handle the kid and immediately calls Kimmy to figure out how to get the Dennis the Menace in bed stat. When D.J. wants to go on a date but has her little sisters with her, Kimmy’s the one who helps them sneak in to the movies. When D.J. likes a boy but can’t muster the words to tell him, Kimmy does it for her. D.J. is all problem, and Kimmy is all solution. Kimmy doesn’t have three dads to sit on the edge of her bed and teach her life lessons—Kimmy learns because she does. D.J. learns because she frets and whines—“But [Dad!/Joey!/Jesse!/Stephanie!/Michelle!]”—and ultimately, gets what she wants.
If D.J. is supposed to be the perfect daughter in training, then Kimmy is meant to be the idiot rebel. If D.J. is curvy and stylish, Kimmy is lanky and dressed like Peg Bundy (the early years). Along with some amazingly wild ’90s garb, Kimmy often wears skin-tight dresses that not only amplify her thinness but sexualize her in a way that’s both horrifying and empowering.
By today’s standards, of course, Kimmy body is par for the course. We see fewer D.J.s and Stephanies on screen than we do Kimmys. And the irony that this physique would cast a death-by-anorexia rumor in an industry that lionizes thinness is not lost on me. It’s death by the industry that created the punch line.
In season 6, D.J. forgets Kimmy’s milestone 16th birthday. When Kimmy confronts D.J. about it, D.J. selfishly flings some “you’re jealous of me because I have a boyfriend” B.S. Barber then subtly transitions from nosy-neighbor-clown to real girl. She is devastated. She cries. She can’t go home because her parents think D.J. has thrown her a party, and she doesn’t want to be embarrassed in front of her own parents. In a show that’s premise begins with a mother of three young girls killed by a drunk driver, it’s surprising that this Kimmy Gibbler moment is one of the most heart-wrenching to watch in the entire series.
Amid the cheesy life lessons, excessive adolescent blowups, random Beach Boys cameos and built-in laugh factories (“how rude!”), Kimmy Gibbler is a life force. She’s unapologetically weird, original and larger than life. She’s Mary Shelley’s monster—created to exist for her maker but undeniably the most human thing on screen.
Kimmy Gibbler is not dead. She’s so very much alive, and in this world, 23 years later, everywhere you look, everywhere you go, there’s a braces-wearing, frizzy haired tween compulsively wondering if her boobs are normal, who would answer the door for Kimmy in a heartbeat.