Comedian Jimmy Kimmel kicked off the 2016 Emmy Awards with a sharp opening segment and monologue that set the stage for a telecast likely to be dominated by “Game of Thrones,” “Veep,” and “The People V. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.” Unlike many live show hosts, who are dogged by awkwardness and pacing issues, Kimmel’s monologue was marked by taut, confident delivery that belied few signs of awkwardness. The host was also particularly savvy about which shows were worth highlighting — demonstrating not just an ease on television but a love for, and interest in, the year’s buzziest and most provocative shows.
Kimmel started the broadcast with a pretaped segment in which he was “running late” to his hosting gig; in his bowtie and tuxedo jacket, he hitched a ride in O.J. Simpson’s white Bronco, Phil Dunphy (Ty Burrell)’s minivan from “Modern Family,” Selina Meyer’s presidential limousine from “Veep,” James Corden’s carpool karaoke SUV, and finally, hopped on a dragon for the rest of the journey. When he “arrived” onstage, Kimmel began by running out into the audience and handing an Emmy statue to Jeffrey Tambor, nominee and frontrunner for outstanding lead actor for “Transparent.” “That saves us 22 minutes,” Kimmel quipped. He was making a joke, of course,but he wasn’t wrong; about an hour into the broadcast, Tambor snagged that actual Emmy, for real.
He then went on to encourage anyone in a show without dragons or a white Bronco to just go home, before singling out several members of “The People V. O.J. Simpson”‘s nominees — including Sarah Paulson, who brought her real-life counterpart Marcia Clark as her date. Kimmel thought this was very funny. “Everybody knows, if you want to win, sit next to Marcia Clark,” he quipped, prompting Paulson to mockingly boo him. Kimmel added that it must put Clark in a strange position — was she rooting for O.J. to win, now?
Perhaps most brilliantly, Kimmel’s comedy found a way to talk about some of the most fraught issues facing Hollywood and the television industry without falling into the trap of either becoming ridiculously mean or narcissistically fawning. For example, he observed that this year’s set of Emmy nominees is the most diverse ever, adding that the only thing Hollywood loves more than diversity is congratulating themselves for diversity. He joked that “Transparent,” a comedy about “Nazis and stuff,” “was born as a drama but identifies as a comedy.” Later in the broadcast, he announced that “Dr. Bill Cosby” was going to be walking onstage, and then followed it up, a few seconds later, with “”Don’t worry, he’s not really here, I just wanted to see what you guys would do.”
And in perhaps the most politically charged moment of the evening, Kimmel took the opportunity in his monologue to zoom in on Mark Burnett, developer of the 2008 “Celebrity Apprentice” with Donald Trump, to blame him for the current political climate. (Somewhere in there, Kimmel also managed to call Trump’s wife “Malaria Trump.”) It was kind of an indictment of Trump – and kind of one of Burnett — and maybe more so, an indictment of television, as a crass medium. But it was also an acknowledgment, I thought, of just how influential that room full of creators, executives, and performers can be.
Comedians hosting events in huge rooms full of important people can sometimes act like they are above the room. Other times, the host can seem a bit like a brown-nosing hanger-on, buttering up the crowd. Kimmel positioned himself as a dry, snarky member of the crowd, sometimes even asking rhetorical questions. It set the stage for a broadcast that, in a year of more television than ever, is finding new and better ways to talk about itself.