Joel McHale opened the 2015 ESPYS Wednesday at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles with a lot of jokes for athletes and sports fans. As always, the host of “The Soup” nailed the sarcasm: “I know I’m the E! personality that you are so interested to see.”
He didn’t hold back anything during his opening monologue, handing out the digs left and right. He came out playing horse to Triple Crown-winning jockey Victor Espinoza and then noted that Donald Trump’s first act as president would be deporting Espinoza back to Mexico; and that the jockey would be fined by the NFL for whipping a three-year-old… horse, that is.
The evening also supplied many more burns and highlights:
BURN: There’s nothing like having friendly faces in the crowd when you’re hosting a big awards show. McHale had his “Community” co-star Ken Jeong in the audience for support, but couldn’t resist a little dig. “Tonight, the world’s finest athletes … and the Philadelphia 76ers have gathered with Hollywood’s finest actors … and Ken Jeong … to celebrate the past year’s most incredible athletic achievements.” The camera cut to Jeong guffawing.
HIGHLIGHT: Alex Rodriguez over-apologized to everyone in a self-deprecating bit with Jeong and McHale. Sorry, baseball fans, the apology included nothing about steroids and the sport. He instead apologized for things as catastrophic as Jon Snow dying in “Game of Thrones” (and for spoiling it for those who didn’t know) and the water shortage in the state of California. “I’m sorry they canceled ‘Community,'” said Jeong, speaking for Rodriguez. “They brought it back,” noted co-star McHale. To which Jeong answered, “I’m sorry they brought it back.”
HIGHLIGHT: Brett Favre babysat Peyton Manning‘s daughter as Manning got on stage to accept the award for Best Record-Breaking Player. “I want to thank my daughter for being my date tonight,” he said.
BURN: McHale didn’t have such kind words for Canada’s favorite son when he noted that it’s been 22 years since a Canadian team has won the Stanley Cup. Justin Bieber is 22. “It’s not a coincidence, Canada, you know what you have to do.”
HIGHLIGHT: Who could forgot Stuart Scott’s emotional speech at last year’s ESPYs? “A year ago tonight, someone else came up on this stage and reminded us of his own unbreakable spirit,” said Robin Roberts as she introduced the In Memoriam segment, honoring Scott, her close friend and former ESPN host.
BURN: McHale had some words for bandwagon sports fans. He congratulated the Golden State Warriors for their first NBA championship since 1974, then praised the U.S. Women’s National Team for their first World Cup victory “since we all started caring about it 11 days ago!”
BURN: In a bid to boost viewership, the ESPYs were aired live on ABC instead of on the cabler. When he was talking about NBA star DeAndre Jordan and his free agency courtship, he compared it to a long-running Alphabet show. “And they said there’d never be a black ‘Bachelor.’ You’re welcome, ABC.”
HIGHLIGHT: Accepting the Jimmy V Perseverance Award, Cincinnati Bengal Devon Still spoke about his daughter, Leah Still, and her fight against cancer that spawned the movement #LeahStrong. Unfortunately, Leah was unable to travel to Los Angeles to accept the award herself. “Thank you for letting me be a father first, and play football second,” he said. He later thanked his fiancee on her patience, since they were unable to plan a wedding during Leah’s treatment. Tearing up, he said to her, “That don’t mean you leave here tonight thinking of some crazy stuff and throwing out the budget.” The break in laughter was much needed after such an emotional video that detailed his daughter’s diagnosis.
BURN: McHale saved a zinger for one of the top televised sports events of the year. “I hope you don’t look back and think you’ve wasted three hours of your life on this. You know, like the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight. I’ve seen better fights over beach chairs.”
BURN: UFC champ Ronda Rousey also proved she’s got zing to go with her jab. After accepting the Best Fighter Award on the red carpet, she said, “I wonder how Floyd (Mayweather) feels about being beaten by a woman for once.”
HIGHLIGHT: Halle Berry presented the Pat Tillman Award for Service to former Notre Dame basketball player and army veteran Danielle Green, who lost her left arm in Iraq. During her acceptance speech, she shared that comrades searched for her wedding ring after the loss of her arm. They later found her hand and wedding ring in the sand. She is now a counselor and helps other military veterans.
BURN: McHale saved the biggest burn of the evening for another comedy legend, saying that Ronda Rousey knocked out more women than Bill Cosby. But he quickly corrected himself: “Excuse me, Doctor Bill Cosby.”
HIGHLIGHT: A video played before World Cup standout Abby Wambach introduced Arthur Ashe Courage Award winner Caitlyn Jenner. “The whole world thought that they knew me, and they knew nothing about me,” said Jenner in the film. Narrated by Jon Hamm, the film detailed Jenner’s life as a top American athlete in 1976 and included interviews from Caitlyn, her mother and sister and daughter, Kendall Jenner. “I’ve never felt more pressure than in the last few month… picking out this dress,” she joked about her white custom Atelier Versace wrap gown. “The fashion police, please be kind to me, I’m new at this.” Her speech got more serious as she listed the names of people murdered because they were trans. “If you want to call me names, make jokes, doubt my intentions, go ahead. I can take it. But for the thousands of kids coming to terms with who they are, they shouldn’t have to take it.” She made a plea to the public to educate themselves on the trans community and to accept people as they are. “Trans people deserve something vital,” Jenner said. “They deserve your respect. And from that respect, comes a more compassionate community, a more empathetic society and a better world for all of us.”