Nobody sounded more excited about the Grammys than host Trevor Noah, whose highly caffeinated opening monologue included going around the room and marveling at the stars in attendance, frequently asking, “Are you kidding me?” It was tempting to say, “Dude, you’re the comic, you’re supposed to be kidding me.”
Yet Noah’s relentless positivity might be onto something in terms of recognizing the relationship between the host and a shrinking award-show audience that doesn’t necessarily want to be told how uncool they are for carving out a few hours to watch.
Through the years, that’s become a popular semi-ironic posture for award-show hosts, from Ricky Gervais’ acerbic, I-don’t-need-this-stinking-job stints at the Golden Globes to Jo Koy’s attempt to approximate some of that snarkiness in his Globes outing last month, which fell about as flat as a stand-up act can and put Koy on the defensive in its aftermath.
Comics can garner applause and earn street cred for letting some air out of the pomposity of these events. If the people inside the room don’t laugh or appear uncomfortable, the theory in certain circles is “Hey, they’re privileged celebrities who can’t take a joke, that’s on them.”
The reality, though, is “How it plays in the room” only represents part of the equation, and an equally significant one – certainly to the networks carrying these telecasts – is how the material plays to an audience at home. That’s where the disconnect in a detached, isn’t-this-silly, too-cool-for-school attitude might be the most pronounced.
Noah has consistently offered a clear counterpoint to that in his Grammy appearances, giving the impression of relishing his front-row seat. Anthony Anderson also played the role of unabashed cheerleader and TV fan in hosting this year’s strike-delayed Emmy Awards, which, not necessarily thanks to his efforts, was widely and rightfully deemed one of the best of those ceremonies in years. (It was also the lowest-rated Emmys ever, for various reasons, so the good tidings didn’t translate into more viewers, just more satisfied ones.)
None of this invalidates casting a jaundiced eye toward the absurd aspects of award shows, or the idea of trying to get music, pop or TV stars to laugh at themselves. What has changed is the nature of the audience, as the percentage of the population watching award shows has dwindled – a dynamic hastened by the pandemic, the streaming age, and an overflowing abundance of options – leaving behind a core constituency that doesn’t need to be told what they’re watching is stupid, with the inherent implications of what that might say about them for tuning in. (Ratings for Sunday’s Grammys actually increased 34% from 2023, averaging 16.9 million viewers, according to CBS.)
Notably, hosting award shows has become one of the more thankless tasks in showbiz, so much so that the Globes – which admittedly suffered from its own spotty history and past scandals – essentially had to settle for Koy after other comedians declined the gig. The fact that ABC will again turn to its in-house late-night star, Jimmy Kimmel, to host the Oscars for the fourth time also reflects that more novel candidates aren’t salivating at the opportunity.
Simply put, award shows have moved into a more defensive mode, less about chasing elusive viewers than preserving the ones they attract.
On a rain-soaked night in Los Angeles, Noah tried to inject a ray of sunshine into the Grammys, celebrating the music and the stars. Even if his approach occasionally felt a little over the top, it at least reinforced why somebody might want to share in that.
For more CNN news and newsletters create an account at CNN.com