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You didn’t really think there was an audience, did you? When Jimmy Kimmel took the stage to host the 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards, aka the “Pandemmys,” he was greeted with a sea of smiling celebrities just as if 2020 was any other year and not the year of the coronavirus pandemic. “Thank you for risking everything to be here,” he said. “Thank me for risking everything to be here. You know what they say: You can’t have a virus without a host.”
But after a few minutes of the usual awards show banter — including jokes directed at TV legend Norman Lear and the mobile content company (and walking punchline), Quibi — Kimmel pulled back the curtain to reveal the truth: All those celebrities were ported in from footage lifted from past awards shows, and the host was cracking jokes to an empty room. “Of course I’m here all alone; of course we don’t have an audience,” Kimmel said. “This isn’t a MAGA rally — it’s the Emmys!”
That pointed dig at President Trump and his supporters — who have gathered at in-person events that have notoriously been mask-optional — was the most political jab that Kimmel took during his monologue. Well, except for a distinctly R-rated dig at a prominent Trump fan who has recently fallen from grace amidst a sex scandal. Musing about HBO’s much-nominated Watchmen, Kimmel quipped: “Isn’t Watchmen also what Jerry Falwell Jr. was into?”
Mostly, Kimmel used his opening moments to try to explain exactly why the Emmys were going on in the middle of turbulent times that have included a pandemic, a contentious election, raging wildfires and the deaths of elder statespeople John Lewis and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “‘Why’ is a question I’ve been asked a lot this week,” he said. “It might seem frivolous and unnecessary doing this during a pandemic. You know what else seems frivolous and unnecessary? Doing it every other year!”
“What’s happening tonight is not important,” Kimmel continued, making sure to emphasize the “not” part. “It’s not going to stop COVID, it’s not going to put out the fires. But it’s fun. And right now we need fun. My god, do we need fun. This has been a year of division, injustice, disease, Zoom school, disaster and death. We’ve been confined to our homes like prisoners in a dark and lonely tunnel. And what did we find in that that dark and lonely tunnel? A friend who has been there for us 24 hours a day: our old pal television.”
With the overtures out of the way, Kimmel proceeded to demonstrate how this year’s Emmy ceremony would be a feat of TV magic. With the theater mostly empty — save for Jason Bateman, who was the lone audience member who heard Kimmel’s monologue in person, only to promptly bail when he learned he’d have to listen to more jokes — Kimmel headed to “Emmy Mission Control,” a virtual space where hundreds of nominees around the world were videoconferencing from their homes. (Or, in the case of the Schitt’s Creek folks, a fashionable COVID-free gathering in Toronto.) “We have live feeds from over 100 locations in the world,” Kimmel boasted. “This is where the magic happens; this is the nerve center.” He also explained that hazmat-suit-clad Emmy trophy presenters would show up to hand the winners their statues.
As it turned out, Kimmel wasn’t all by his lonesome after all: Other celebrities besides Bateman proved brave enough to put in an IRL appearance. Jennifer Aniston, Tracee Ellis Ross, Zendaya, Barry’s Anthony Carrigan and ex-Joe Biden portrayer Jason Sudeikis were among those who stopped by mission control to lend the lonely Pandemmys host an assist. “What could possibly go right?” Kimmel joked as the show prepared to go on. At least he got by with a little help from his famous friends.
The 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards aired Sept. 20 on ABC.
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