The late-night host, who is already a winner this year, is prepping for a whole new kind of ceremony.

By Sarah Rodman
September 16, 2020 at 11:45 AM EDT
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Jimmy Kimmel may be hosting the Emmys for the third time but, in the COVID era, it’s a whole new ballgame. We chatted with the star of ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live! about his three nominations — including Outstanding Variety Talk Series and Outstanding Variety Special (Live In Front Of A Studio Audience: “All In The Family” And “Good Times”) — and about the challenges that lie ahead on Sept. 20 at the Staples Center.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: As with the return of Saturday Night Live in the spring, there’s a sense of gratitude that you all are trying to pull this off. It’s a small thing in the grand scheme, sure, but it feels like a relief to have a known quantity on the air.

JIMMY KIMMEL: That’s nice of you to say. I appreciate it. I mean, just to be totally honest, I agreed to do this almost a year ago. ABC asked me right away if I would do it. And I said yes. And then of course the world turned upside down. I know it’s not actually important, but I do think as far as the quality of your life goes, television is pretty important to most people, and for a lot of these people, this is their lifelong dream to be nominated for an Emmy. And I think that if we can do it, we should do it. Why not?

Is there a little part of you that is excited to do it a different way but also a little sad that it’s not happening the way it normally does?

Yes. I mean, listen, the fact of the matter is, it’s more fun to do jokes in front of an audience. There’s no question about that. But we’re just trying to be as creative as possible given the constraints and there are a lot of areas you can have fun with. Because everybody knows how an award show goes, but nobody really knows how it goes from a bunch of houses. So, we’re going to play with the conventions that we typically see at the Emmys and all these other award shows and adapt them. It’s almost like a home game version of a beloved television show. It’s like playing Wheel of Fortune in your house.

Given that usually you come out, do a big monologue, and then pop up intermittently during the show, are you preparing more filler material given the potential for technical difficulties and to just have more of a continuous presence, since you are going to be the only person we see all the time?

Yeah. I will be on this show a lot more than the host is typically on an award show. Usually there are big stretches where the host disappears, and we don’t have that luxury. And typically, in the last hour of the show when you’re trying to make up time, the first thing you cut is the host. So yes, we are preparing for as many scenarios as we possibly can.

Jeff Lipsky/abc

Will you be doing costume changes to switch things up?

That’s a funny idea and I hadn’t really thought about it, but practically it’s difficult because no one wanted to go through the process of trying on new clothes and getting those clothes fitted. I’m just wearing my old tuxedo from the Oscars or something, or maybe the last Emmys. I don’t know which tuxedo I’m wearing, but it will be a retread.

My guess is you’ll be wearing the one that fits.

Yeah. and I’ve gained a few pounds here in quarantine. So, they’re going to have to let those pants out a little bit.

I just keep thinking about you on the stage at the Staples Center, at this enormous empty arena....

I know. It’s a ridiculous proposition. And I was confused when we started this. I was like, “Why are we doing this in the biggest venue possible?” I mean, talk about feeling like an ant in a swimming pool. But it’s just for safety. It’s just to keep people as far away from each other as possible.

While the challenges are certainly many, do you also feel a sense of possibility that the nominees and presenters might seize an opportunity for ingenuity or silliness — for people to bring in their kids or pets? Are you guys trying to go to people that are willing to be playful throughout the night?

Definitely. We are asking our nominees and our presenters to help make the show fun. And I always approach this — and even when I’m not hosting the show — as it’s almost like our industry talent show every year, and we’re all responsible for making it fun. And I think that’s how most of the presenters approach it. And the show is not about me. It’s not my talk show. It’s about all these people who are nominated for all these great shows. And everybody wants to be funny. And everyone’s got a lot of time on their hands right now. And if you’re one of those people who’s bored by award shows because you feel like they’re all the same, which let’s be honest, most of them are, this one is not going to be the same. This one is going to be very, very different from others. And hopefully we’ll never do this again.

Have you put the kibosh or a quota on how many “I’m not wearing any pants” jokes that are available to the potential winners and presenters?

Well, I mean, there are different degrees of that. Like, okay, let’s say somebody stands up and they’re not wearing pants, and they’ve got shorts on, I mean, what if somebody stands up and they’re completely naked from the waist down? That would be fun to see. So I will not tell anyone what to do with their private parts.

I feel like that’s a very small list of people that that would be fun to see, but you know what? Anything is possible. And that’s what makes this exciting.

Wait a minute. Let’s go through the list of nominees and you tell me which ones it would be not fun to see with their pants off? The more dignified, the funnier it is.

Congratulations on your nominations. I’m presuming that never gets old?

No, it’s exciting. And it’s validating. And I’d be disappointed if we weren’t nominated. And it’s exciting to be nominated with Norman Lear for something other than our talk show. And I really enjoyed my working and personal relationship with him. You think Norman Lear would be jaded as far as winning Emmys goes, but that is not the case at all. I mean, he’s 98 years old and he still gets very excited about the whole thing. And I love being a part of that. He is an amazing man. He really is. There’s not a hint of old age when you talk to him.

[Editor's Note: Kimmel and Lear and their fellow producers took home the trophy at the Creative Arts Emmys earlier this week.]

When it is possible again, do you guys plan to do more of Live in Front of a Studio Audience?

Yeah, definitely. Once we can get a studio audience, we will do more Live in front of them.

And as far as Jimmy Kimmel Live! goes, do you have any sense of a timeline yet in terms of when you all will be able to regroup as you once were in the studio?

No, we’re just following the rules like everybody, and we will see what are our trusted local government officials tell us to do.

I’ve spoken recently to Seth Meyers and Jimmy Fallon about this moment in time for late-night and necessity forcing you all to be creative. Is there anything about this time that has actually been illuminating for you in terms of doing your show?

Illuminating? Yes. Here’s what has been illuminating: I’ve learned that it’s a lot easier to do when I have my staff around. I mean, it was at the point where my wife was making the props, and it was really getting kind of crazy handling every detail of the show by ourselves. So I will be very glad to be back in my office with my co-workers.

When it was first announced that the ceremony would be virtual, you joked you weren't sure why we were carrying on with the Emmys. Is it partially to lend some normalcy to this very abnormal moment?

I think we’re doing it for the same reasons we always do it, because for people who enjoy this sort of thing, it’s fun to watch. And for people who are in the television industry, it’s a dream realized. And there are a lot of people who might only get nominated this one time, and why take that away from them? Why take that excitement away from them when we don’t have to? Plus, I mean, let’s be honest, we’re watching 15-year-old episodes of The Bachelor. So, I think people will welcome some newly produced television.

For more on the Emmys check out the latest episode of EW's Awardist podcast.

The 72nd Emmy Awards airs Sunday, Sept. 20 at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT on ABC.

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