If you thought you were tuning in to watch Jimmy Kimmel kick off the 2020 Emmys in a totally empty auditorium filled only with cameras, you were half right.
The host appeared in front of what looked to be a full audience at the Staples Center as he took the stage for his "Pandemmys" monologue, but it was actually just old footage of other award shows. It looked as if Kimmel got some gut-busting laughter in response to his jokes about quarantine binge-watches, and he kept up the ruse for several minutes before the camera cut to Kimmel himself sitting in that audience. And things only got more surreal from there.
"You know what they say—you can't have a virus without a host," Kimmel said. "The big question I think we should answer is why would you have an awards show in the middle of a pandemic? Seriously, I'm asking. Why are we having an award show in the middle of the pandemic. And what the hell am I doing here?
"This is the year they decide they have to have a host," he quipped. "'Why' is the question I been asked a lot this week, and I get it. It might seem frivolous and unnecessary to do during a global pandemic, but you know what else seems frivolous and unnecessary? Doing it every other year. What is happening tonight is not important. It's not going to stop COVID or put out the fires, but it's fun. And right now, we need fun. My god do we need fun. This has been a miserable year. It's been a year of division, injustice, disease, zoom school, disaster, and death. We've been quarantined and locked down, confined to our homes like prisoners in a dark and Leonel tunnel. What did we find in that dark and lonely tunnel? We found a friend who is there for us 24 hours a day. Our old pal, television."
Kimmel waxed poetic about the magic of television (especially when we're all stuck at home) and paid tribute to Norman Lear, who at 98 is the oldest Emmy winner ever.
"Norman didn't grow up dreaming of winning Emmys," Kimmel said. "In fact, television wasn't something people had until he was a teenager. When he was a boy, his dream was not to get kicked to death by a horse. Norman, you are a miracle. The only thing I'll be producing when I'm 98 is phlegm."
Kimmel also offered congrats to the Emmy-nominated Quibi, "the dumbest thing to ever cost one billion dollars," and explained that any time he said the title Schitt's Creek, the spelling of that title would have to also be shown on screen.
"HBO can show us a blue penis, no problem," he joked. "I can't say that word Schitts with a C."
When Kimmel finally revealed that the audience footage was fake, he showed that the Staples Center was actually filled with cardboard cutouts of stars plus the real Jason Bateman.
Regardless, he got his fake audience to give him a standing ovation and explained how the night would go.
"We're attempting to do something that has never been attempted before," he said. "And for good reason. Instead of bringing the nominees to us, we went to them. We have live feeds to and from more than 100 locations around the world. You know how hard it is to get your parents to Facetime? Multiply that a lot."
Kimmel then showed off a command center that looked vaguely like it might actually belong to Batman.
"This is where the magic happens. This is the nerve center," he said. "As you can see we've taken every safety precaution...I feel like I'm in a Best Buy. This is wonderful. So here's how this is gonna happen. If you win, we'll have a guy drive to your house and chuck the Emmy through your window. No, we won't do that, but we will be connected with everyone throughout the show hopefully."
Tonight's show is unlike any other in Emmys history. In an effort to keep all the stars safe from COVID-19, only Kimmel is presenting from the Staples Center with help from a few nominees, like Jennifer Aniston, Bateman and Tracee Ellis Ross. Everyone else is safely at home or at their own much smaller Emmys event, and each nominee was sent their own camera set up. That means we're at the mercy of more than 100 different internet connections and live feeds, so good luck to us all.