LOS ANGELES – If the Academy Awards experience an envelope malfunction this year, host Jimmy Kimmel believes heads should roll.
“It happens one time, that’s understandable,” the comedian says. ‘But if it happens a second time, no one is competent enough to be running a television show or network. So I don’t think it’s going to happen again. If it did, I would have to admit, it would tickle me deeply.”
Last year – in case you went to bed early – presenters Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty announced “La La Land” as Best Picture. The producers got on stage, looked at a card and realized the actors had been given the wrong envelope. “Moonlight” was actually the Best Picture. Kimmel and company tried to fix the situation but the damage was done.
Now, the question is: How will he address it? “A million jokes have been made about this subject, so that’s really the challenge,” Kimmel says. “But 99 percent of the show went pretty well. So I don’t think of it as the Titanic-caliber disaster that most people do when they reflect on it. And, ultimately, it’s just a bunch of celebrities handing each other trophies.”
At the 2017 event, Kimmel brought in folks on a bus tour and introduced them to the celebrities in the front rows. What he didn’t know was that one of them had recently been in prison. “When we actually handed him a cellphone, it was the first time he had touched a cellphone in like, ever. I do like there to be some danger in the show and I hope that it will be appreciated for what it is. I don’t think you want to have everything all buttoned down.”
Because situations change so rapidly, Kimmel and company don’t nail down his monologue until the day of the broadcast. Sure, pre-taped bits are handled weeks in advance. But part of the success of a good host is being able to think on his or her feet. After Jack Palance did one-arm pushups following his win, host Billy Crystal turned the moment into a running gag throughout the evening.
Kimmel, too, was facile during his first year hosting, playing off those in the audience and his band of late-night regulars. This year, he’s prepping by watching all the nominated films and looking for those moments that resonate.
“As I learned last year, sometimes, I think, the people in the room haven’t seen a lot of the movies they voted for,” he says. “In fact, I made a joke about the movie ‘Moonlight’ that fell somewhat flat and it’s because people didn’t get the reference.”
Politics, although fair game for late night, doesn’t always work in an awards show setting. “One of the positive things about Donald Trump, if there is any, is that when you make a joke about him people understand the reference,” Kimmel says. “You don’t have to go back and explain anything. That’s what would be great about having a popular movie nominated. People have seen it and you can take a shortcut to the punchline.”
With nine films in contention for Best Picture (and no clear frontrunner), Kimmel can stretch his comedic reach to the actors nominated. When all else fails, he has Matt Damon, his longtime foil on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” There, he frequently lampoons the actor and involves him in various skits.
“Matt is always a good sport about this stuff,” Kimmel says. “I’m always wondering, ‘Is this too much? Are people sick of this joke?’ But one of the things that I enjoy more than anything is beating a joke so far past death that it’s actually resurrected and becomes funny again.”
The envelope mishap, then, will likely be a topic, particularly since Kimmel joked about such a mix-up when he was a presenter several years ago on the Emmys.
“I pointed out the fact that if you decided to walk on stage and read someone else’s name, it would take a long time for people to kind of catch up and take that Emmy away from that person and give it back,” he says. “I think I actually ate the card that was inside the envelope.”
A reprise? Just wait, Kimmel says. “Every time I’ve hosted anything, whether it be the Emmys or the Oscars, right before the show I will lose confidence in a joke and cut it. I have learned that if I have some doubt about it, I should excise it. I also have most of the stuff committed to memory, so if I feel like it’s going to work, I can still throw it in without it being part of my script.”
The 90th annual Academy Awards airs Sunday on ABC.