By James Hibberd
September 20, 2020 at 08:11 PM EDT
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Jimmy Kimmel opened the first-ever virtual Emmy Awards on stage at the Staples Center in Los Angeles performing to an almost entirely empty arena Sunday night.

The late-night host's monologue tackled some of the expected subjects: The pandemic, the upcoming presidential election, and the sheer absurdity of trying to pull off the pomp and pageantry of a major awards show when nearly everybody involved is at home.

Kimmel's unique opener was made even more surreal by the production intercutting the host with footage of audiences from past Emmy telecasts to provide the comedian with a quasi-ironic laugh track. The move made the monologue both more reassuringly familiar, yet also more bizarre, at the same.

Below are the comedian's best (and not so best) jokes from the opening of the 72nd annual Primetime Emmy Awards:

– "Of course we don’t have an audience. This isn’t a MAGA rally, it’s the Emmys."

– "The most nominated show of the year is Watchmen, with 26 nominations. Watchmen is a superhero show, but it also feels really real. It is a very realistic show, except the part where anyone in Oklahoma is wearing a mask."

– "Isn't Watchmen what Jerry Falwell Jr. was into?"

– "Why would you have an award show in the middle of the pandemic? No, I'm serious. I'm asking why are we having an award show during a pandemic?"

– "This is the year they decide they have to have a host?"

– "Television is your friend, it's your friends, your big brother, your sister's sister, your mama's family, your two dads, your crazy ex-girlfriend... it's even your dog, the bounty hunter."

– "Hats off to the television visionary Norman Lear who this week became the oldest Emmy winner ever at age 98. Norman didn't grow up dreaming of winning Emmys. In fact, television wasn't something people had until he was a teenager. When Norman Lear was a boy, his dream was to not get kicked to death by a horse. Norman you are a miracle. The only thing I will be producing when I'm 98 is phlegm."

– "I'm up here all alone. Just like prom night."  

– "Congratulations are also in order for a young Emmy upstart named Quibi which has 10 Emmy nominations this year, including Outstanding Short Form Comedy Series and Dumbest Thing to Ever Cost a Billion Dollars."

– "There are so many great dramas this year. A little show from a friend up north is up for every Emmy, 15 nominations for Schitt's Creek. Oh by the way you will see that logo a lot. In order to meet broadcast standards, the network sensors say every time I say the words Schitt's Creek, we are required to put the word Schitt's Creek on the screen — just in case you were wondering why network television is almost dead. HBO can show us a big blue penis, no problem! I can't say the word Schitt's with a 'c.'"

At one point, cardboard cutouts (and a live and solo Jason Bateman) were shown in the Staples Center seats. Kimmel and Bateman had an amusing exchange where the Ozark star assured he was "very clean."

The Morning Show star Jennifer Aniston also made an appearance to trade social distancing jokes with Kimmel and then tried "disinfecting" a winners' envelope with an out-of-control fire.

Then later: "Welcome back to the No People's Choice Awards."

And later: A skit with Barry actor Anthony Carrigan playing a not-very-subtle Russian agent posing as a U.S. mail carrier looking to manipulate mail-in ballots.

Kimmel previously admitted he was anxious about the hosting gig, which tends to be a rather thankless endeavor even in normal times. "I am nervous about the technical end of it because it's not something I know much about, not something I can control," he said on Good Morning America. "Think about just trying to Zoom with your grandparents, and now imagine that we've got 150 celebrities who haven't made themselves lunch in, like, 19 years, [and] are now trying to connect technically to an awards show. Those are the challenges we're facing ... My nightmare is that I'm on primetime television, completely alone, unable to speak to anybody, and I've got a bunch of Emmys that need to be handed out and I don't have anyone to give them to."

The show does represent a return to normalcy in one respect, however, as the awards industry had been increasingly experimenting with "hostless" formats in recent years, with mixed results. Kimmel is on record as not being a fan of the host-free format and noted that such decisions are often due to top talents rejecting the job. “They started by getting rid of the host, and now we got rid of the audience,” he joked to Deadline about this year's show. “I think not having a host is a ridiculous idea, and I don’t think it worked...  I suspect that everyone will figure that out, and we will have hosts for a long time, and occasionally somebody will say, ‘Oh, we’re going to do it without a host,' and they’ll pretend that it was a conscious decision, when the reality is that all the people they asked said ‘no.’ So, to me, an award show without a host is like a radio station without a disc jockey. You need that voice, it’s better that way. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but it’s like going to a restaurant without a waiter."

—Lynette Rice contributed to this report

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