Through the years, Emmy hosts have come from typical showbiz day jobs: singers (Frank Sinatra), actors (Neil Patrick Harris) and all kinds of funny ladies (Jane Lynch, Ellen DeGeneres).
But in Jimmy Kimmel, tomorrow's Primetime Emmy Awards will have its first host since at least Johnny Carson who has so completely dedicated himself to being just that: a host. Conan worked for years as a writer. Letterman is a stand-up at heart. But Kimmel's rise through showbiz has been as a radio host (where he hired a 16 year old intern named Carson Daly), a game show host (Win Ben Stein's Money), host of The Man Show and, last April, even the host for President Obama as emcee at the White House Correspondent dinner. (Kimmel roasted the guest of honor with a stream of one-liners: "There's a term for guys like President Obama. Probably not two terms, but…")
Kimmel's gracious, welcoming on-screen persona is no act but the story of his career, and it's why the show already feels like it's in good hands.
Even off screen, Kimmel's hosting reputation is a minor Hollywood legend. On football Sundays, he's been known to personally cook Italian feasts for 30 at his home and even had a full-size pizzeria-style pizza oven installed in his kitchen so he could feed more guests.
Since 2003, Kimmel has hosted the red-hot late night show, Jimmy Kimmel Live! Ever the gracious host, Kimmel's has scored some of his biggest hits by inviting the audience into the show with the series "Hey Jimmy Kimmel" series of bits, asking viewers to post videos of specific pranks, like "I gave my kids a terrible present," "sprayed my dad with a hose," or "pulled the TV plug at my Super Bowl Party."
Like all great hosts, Kimmel's approach is not to be the life of the party but to make his guests them feel like friends and family.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of Live!'s most famous faces actually are family, like practical joker cousin Sal Iacono and longtime foils aunt Chippy and the late uncle Frank Potenza. Live!'s band, Cleto and the Cletones, is led by a childhood friend, Cleto Escobedo, and Man Show pal Adam Corolla is a regular.
And when the guests won't come, he hosts them anyway: Live!'s best running joke in its early years was Kimmel's nightly sign-off, when he would "apologize" to A-lister Matt Damon for not having had time to bring him out on stage.
Jimmy bumped Matt Damon? Is that a joke?
Of course it was.
Damon eventually came around, got in on the joke, become a Live! regular and eventually launched the show's biggest viral (if unprintable) hit with Kimmel's ex-girlfriend, Sarah Silverman.
When awards show hosts struggle, it is usually because hosting is an unfamiliar role. For Kimmel, it's the role he's been rehearsing for his whole life, and we're the lucky ones: We get to be his guests.