This past Monday night was the 70th Primetime Emmy Awards. Colin Jost and Michael Che, from SNL’s Weekend Update segment, hosted the awards show this year. Their performance has been almost universally criticized as lackluster, low-energy and mostly not funny. While I was unable to watch the entire broadcast, I did watch as much as I could find online afterwards. The monologue was indeed lackluster; while Jost and Che have developed a passable chemistry on Update, it was not present at all last night. Both stood on stage awkwardly and seemed helpless when a joke didn’t land (which was often). Altogether, they looked as if they didn’t want to be there. Which begs the question: why, exactly, were they there? There is not one mold for an award show host, but most that I can remember have some semblance of enthusiasm for the show they are hosting.
Many people criticize Jimmy Fallon, but at the very least he will bring energy to any room. The best award show hosts I can remember — Tina Fey and Amy Poehler hosting the Golden Globes — had incredible chemistry and brought infectious excitement. If you’ve ever watched Weekend Update, you would know that ‘energy’ is not the word to describe Jost and Che. Even when good, the two operate in a detached manner, allowing them to either deliver harsher punch lines or milk a bad joke. While this may work on Update, it simply does not in an award show setting. Award shows are nights of celebration, where hosts can’t afford to make these mistakes.
That being said, the Emmys could have gone another way. It is a very political moment in the entertainment industry, and SNL has a reputation of tackling political issues (to varying degrees of success). Indeed, it is often Weekend Update itself that is charged with addressing political issues. So perhaps Jost and Che were tapped by the Emmys to bring a political bent to this year’s ceremony.
I believe that this would have been a great year to make the Emmys less about the actual awards and more about addressing the issues plaguing the television industry regarding the treatment of non-cis-male performers and performers of color, as well as the glaring lack of diversity in the nominees and winners. However, even if this were the case, choosing Jost and Che still would not make much sense to me, as the two are both men, and one of them a white man. Furthermore, some of Michael Che’s old stand up material is plainly misogynistic. Even if the Emmys wanted to politicize the event, these two would still be the wrong choice.
Lo and behold, Jost and Che’s material didn’t meet either of these criteria. They told some pointed political jokes, but instead of providing a message, they just used the terrible situation to create punch lines. Che opened the monologue with: “It is an honor to share this night with the many talented and creative people who haven’t been caught yet”; later, Jost remarked: “Netflix has the most nominations tonight. And if you’re a network executive, that’s the scariest thing you could possibly hear, except maybe ‘sir, Ronan Farrow is on line one.’” Rather than calling attention to these issues in an insightful way, these jokes simply make light of the (now well-known) fact that many very powerful television executives are horrible people.
We have seen that joke-making and comedy in general can be wielded like a sword; Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette brilliantly calls out the toxic culture surrounding stand-up; night after night and week after week, comedians such as Seth Meyers and Samantha Bee use their comedy shows to inform the public on our complicated political situation. During the Emmys, Jost and Che were more interested in using comedy as a shield; they hid behind tepid jokes with potentially problematic punch lines, seeming to believe that mentioning and making light of the issues was enough. Well, that is no longer enough. In a moment where it was possible to use their platform as hosts to accomplish something, Colin Jost and Michael Che accomplished nothing.