You Might as Well Stand on Stage and Kill Yourself: Welcome to the Emmys

Let’s be honest: if any of us ever gave an awards show monologue, we’d probably screw it up. Making people laugh is hard. Doing it in a cold room full of people who are all obsessing over whether they’ll win or nail their introductions later is even more difficult. Then add the fact that you have to make sure not to include any material that’s too challenging or offensive. You might as well stand on stage and just kill yourself. You’d at least kill with one person.

So it was probably not much of a surprise that Neil Patrick Harris went out and started dying. Then the producers made it worse. Because out came Jimmy Kimmel, Jane Lynch, Jimmy Fallon and Conan O’Brien. The trouble with having funny people surround someone who may be failing to be funny is that you spend time thinking about how much they made you laugh. Then you look at the current guy and wonder why he can’t be more like them.

The trouble, too, is that “guy in the audience screws with the monologue by yelling at the host” feels like at least 50% of the monologues on Saturday Night Live, and it has pretty negative connotations. As soon as someone on the cast comes out to mess with the host, you suspect that the SNL writers might not have had any confidence that the host could pull the monologue off. It’s a wordless indicator to the audience at home that this might not be good.

Seeing NPH surrounded by those previous hosts in just that kind of opening sketch was agonizing. The poor guy. He was going to taaaaaaaaaannnk. And then, thankfully, Kevin Spacey dug it out of the nosedive, with a fourth-wall break into the camera. Suddenly, everything made sense. The chaos and awkwardness were engineered, intentional. His House of Cards nod to the camera killed, and he milked it with the impish evil of his character Frank Underwood.

Most of the time, the whole “the monologue is bombing!” bit really is a bomb. It’s tough to get right, because there’s nothing more dangerous than telling an audience that they should think that what they’re watching sucks. But, sometimes, it works. Tonight was one of them.