For three of the four big kudocasts, every year prompts a fresh round of speculation as to who will host the next installment, followed by intense scrutiny of the host’s various failings. For the past few Grammys, however, the hosting dilemma has been resolved: LL Cool J, who has been tapped for the Feb. 15 kudofest.
How did LL manage to succeed where so many other comedians, actors, and media personalities have failed? Per the rapper, being aware of his limited role in proceedings has proven to be the key.
“I’m not delusional,” he says. “I don’t think I’m Billy Crystal. I don’t think I’m Ellen (DeGeneres) or Whoopi (Goldberg). So I approach it with a place of humility, where I know the show isn’t about me, it’s about the artists and them having a great moment, and I’m there as a fan enjoying the ride. I just try to soak up the atmosphere, like a fly on the wall who has to talk every now and then.”
Watching the Grammys, you can see this sensibility at work. Never trying to push himself ostentatiously out of his comfort zone, LL functions purely as a host, easing transitions and keeping the trains on tracks without ever elbowing his way into the spotlight. He’s been equally adept at managing the unexpected, as evidenced by his classy, understated “death in the family” remarks about the death of Whitney Houston, who died just a day before the telecast in 2012.
LL cautions he never takes the job lightly, because “if it becomes easy then that means you’re taking it for granted, and that’s when you set yourself up for a disaster. I just have fun with it. Plus, it’s not like doing a play where it’s the same thing 10 or 20 times. There’s always different moving pieces, there’s always different dynamics, and I have to make sure I’m there to keep the show moving smoothly.”
Next month’s Grammys aren’t the only event where one can see LL’s hosting skills at work. Starting last fall, he also has been serving as host of Spike’s “Lip Sync Battle.” Launched from a recurring segment of “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” the show has been an unexpected success, posting immense ratings for the network and spawning viral hits with performances from Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Channing Tatum.
“Honestly, we were lucky enough to get him to do it,” says Spike prez Kevin Kay. “If we had made any other choice we all should’ve been taken out back behind the studio and shot. He’s just that good at it.
“It was easy to say let’s find a comedian to do it,” Kay continues, “but sometimes when you have a comedian they just want to be the funny guy all the time. LL is very generous in that way. He’s funny and has a sense of humor, but the quality that’s most important to this show is that it’s about friends having fun, and he’s having so much fun. It’s not about him. He’s already a star; he doesn’t really need the exposure.”
“I’m glad it happened that way,” LL says on the fate of “Lip Sync Battle.” “I’d like to tell you I’m a genius that knew it would (be a success), but I’d be lying. All I knew was I was a huge fan of the concept, which is why I did it. I only do things that I really respond to. But I didn’t expect that.”
In addition to his hosting gigs, LL recently surpassed 150 episodes on CBS’s “NCIS: Los Angeles,” making it his longest-running acting job. (His NBC sitcom “In the House” ran for 76 episodes in the late 1990s.) Though he’s had greater success with TV than pics, his box office tally includes roles in hits like “Charlie’s Angels,” “Any Given Sunday” and “S.W.A.T.,” plus a degree of cult film credit thanks to his first ever role in Def Jam production “Krush Groove.” Aside from acting, hosting and music, LL’s extracurriculars include a fashion line and a venture into software, though he says he’s not particularly keen to leverage his brand willy-nilly.
“I’d just like to do a better job with all of the jobs that I do now,” he says. “Create better music, create even more entertaining TV, just improve upon what I’m doing. Honestly, I’m not like some overly superduper ambitious guy, I just love what I do. I’m not looking to put my tentacles in a million things. I want to have fun and continue to create.”