The madness has to stop. For far too long, the number one complaint about award ceremonies has been the overblown runtimes, and the incessant comedy sketches are a big part of that. TV’s biggest names gathered in Los Angeles, and abroad via satellite, for the Primetime Emmy Awards last Sunday, returning to a live (albeit more reserved) show after going mostly digital last year due to COVID. While the results were largely predictable, nobody could have foresaw a mid-show sketch about the Mike Pence fly. If you don’t understand that sentence, that’s perfectly reasonable, as well as the logical response to a callback to a vice presidential debate that happened 11 months ago. Tired is an understatement as many viewers took to Twitter and beyond to voice their utter bewilderment at the decision. While by far the most tedious, it was one of many, many sketches of the night all delivered with a thud. How did we get here, and when will it stop?
In a year where the academy only deemed two sketch shows worthy of nomination, they somehow thought they could deliver their own pre-recorded and live sketches of broadcast quality. Maybe it was the smaller scale of stage and venue that led the producers into thinking they needed to overcompensate, but it was all sorts of unnecessary. We saw Rita Wilson rap with Lil Dicky, a bouncer refuse Ken Jeong entry, and the women of The Neighborhood, which IMDB assures me is a real show, complain about their seats. I’m exhausted. Each of these bits added nothing to the festivities but awkward tension and precious time, and it’s become a growing trend of the last decade across all the major ceremonies.
It’s unclear when and why award shows became dead set on trying to wring comedy out of large, physical bits. Maybe it’s part of the chase for their ever-declining ratings or the rise of brand social engagement that convinced the producers that they needed more than a monologue, but these sketches’ collective batting average is abysmal.
Some notable bits include: Jimmy Kimmel opening up the 2012 Emmys with a recorded sketch involving Lena Dunham eating cake in the nude on the toilet while various actresses punched the botox out of Kimmel’s face; Seth McFarlene singing “We Saw Your Boobs” at the 2013 Oscars; Ellen Degeneras heading into the audience for an A-list group selfie at the 2014 Oscars; Jimmy Kimmel rerouting a tour bus into the theatre for some star gawking at the 2017 Oscars; Jimmy Kimmel, Gal Gadot, and others interrupting a screening of A Wrinkle in Time to deliver snacks to moviegoers; “nurses” walking around administering fake flu shots to celebs at the 2019 Golden Globes; Ken Jeong and Nick Cannon making a Tik Tok live at the 2019 Emmys; and, of course, 2021’s Oscar trivia game, which was so awkward it had many viewers wondering if it was a back-up plan to some off-screen snafu. All were disruptive, clumsy, and entirely forgettable, only screaming back to mind during the next tepid sketch.
Award shows seem to be going through an identity crisis, and the pandemic certainly hasn’t helped. Like the executives behind the Miami Dolphins or whatever terrible team you follow, the puppet masters behind the scenes of our vaunted ceremonies just keep making mistake after mistake in attempts to concoct what should be obvious solutions to holes in their shows. Host or no host? Boring host or problematic host? Comedians or James Franco? It’s like a company thinking a pizza party will satiate and stop their underpaid and overworked employees from quitting in droves (oh wait, Ellen did a pizza party too, at the 2014 Oscars). Nobody asked for this.
Humor is essential to making an entertaining award show and it is more than ok to limit it to snappy one-liners. The truly memorable moments come from monologue jokes, like Chelsea Peretti’s monologue at the 2019 Writer’s Guild Awards, John Mulaney and Nick Kroll’s monologue from the 2017 Film Independent Spirit Awards, and every time Tina Fey and Amy Poehler host anything.
There’s nothing to overthink. Just hire a funny comedian to host. Maybe vet that host first. A spell of one-liners up top and some lightly scattered throughout to introduce significant presenters and segments via a host or god-mic narrator is the gold standard. Brevity is key here for both writing and performance. Performing live is tricky and a big reason why nobody outside SNL bothers. These ceremonies are tech-sensitive affairs bound for miscues and dropped feeds even in the most bare bones production, so make it easy on your cameramen and control room. In other words, stay in your lane.
Again, it can’t be said enough how endless these ceremonies feel even to fervent fans. They have always needed to cut the fat, not add more fluff. Eliminate the skits and bits, the homages and history lessons. Free up this time to let the winners deliver their full speeches without interruption, show clips of the nominated shows, play the in memoriam, and wrap it up. After all, the entire reason these shows exist is to celebrate and acknowledge achievements in film and TV of that year. Giving the honored persons room to shine is the point. Nobody expects speeches to be good, they’re essentially an oral thank you note to the cast and crew (though notably omitting the below-the-line workers) and nods to family. A short boring speech is still a boring speech so just let them talk, and if we keep awarding trophies to middle-aged white men they’re just going to ignore the timer anyway.
There’s no need for transparent attempts at virality. Hosting duties should be about delivering jokes instead of creating moments. As a host, you’re there to liven up and shepherd the show, not to make it about yourself. When both the celebrities in the audience and viewers at home are all rolling their eyes, who are you doing this for?
Just keep it simple: drop the sketches. And maybe stop hiring Jimmy Kimmel.
Olivia Cathcart is a comedian and writer.