The Saturday Night Live icon, 44, put his own spin on opening themes from television shows like Friends, Stranger Things and The Brady Bunch — even reuniting the original cast — at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on Monday, September 12. Before showing off his moves with the help of some talented backup dancers, the Georgia native poked fun at his status as the unofficial “mayor” of TV while wearing a black suit and matching top hat.
“Well, it’s finally here, folks. TV’s most special night, where the biggest stars on television celebrate other stars on television while all of you watch at home — on television,” he said as he was met with a round of applause. “It’s the Emmy Awards! … For everyone in this room, TV is more than just how we make a living. It’s also how our agents make a living.”
He continued: “I mean, if it weren’t for TV, what would we do in our free time? Read books? No one in this room has read a book in the last 50 years. Watch TikTok? Oh, you mean tiny, vertical television? Or have sex? Gross!”
Thompson has earned several Emmy nominations over the years for his work on SNL, winning Outstanding Original Music And Lyrics in 2018 for a digital sketch titled “Come Back Barack” with Chance the Rapper. Monday marked his first time hosting the ceremony — and he had some big plans in store.
“I feel [the pressure], for sure,” the Kenan & Kel alum said on the Today show one week before the Emmys. “I’m excited. I’m excited to get it done. … [I keep having dreams that I’m] late or forget something, you know what I mean? Like, I don’t have a suit.”
At the time, Thompson noted that the first few minutes of the show were what he was concerned about the most. “For me, it’s mostly about the beginning of it and nailing the monologue and whatever the opening is going to be. Then throughout the rest of the night, the bits will play with other people.”
The former Nickelodeon star also assured Emmys watchers that the awards will be conflict-free, referring to Will Smith‘s now-infamous outburst at the 2022 Oscars. Smith, 53, stormed the stage in March and slapped Chris Rock across the face after the comedian, 57, made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith‘s shaved head. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air alum has since been barred from attending Oscars events for the next 10 years and rescinded his Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences membership.
“It kind of just threw the entire world off guard, basically, and that won’t happen again,” Thompson told the Associated Press days before Monday’s ceremony. “Even if I am roasting [someone], it shouldn’t come across as any sort of malice.”
The All That alum noted that he thinks hosting the Emmys is a “huge deal” for any performer — and revealed he initially was hesitant to take the gig. “It’s not necessarily something that I want to drop the ball on. So I was like, ‘Let me sit with this,'” he explained. “This should be a night of appreciating artistry and creativity and removing the stress of it all out. I get it — it sucks to lose, and everybody’s picking outfits and trying to do the red carpet thing. But at the same time, it’s an awesome thing to be in the room on Emmys night, and I don’t want that to get lost in the stress.”
Thompson isn’t the first SNL superstar to take the Emmys stage. Colin Jost and Michael Che teamed up as hosts in 2018, following Andy Samberg in 2015 and Seth Meyers in 2014. Jimmy Fallon emceed the ceremony in 2010.
“Everyone’s got to do it once, and it’s his turn, he’s earned it,” Meyers, 48, told Variety of his pal Thompson in August. “The good news is Kenan, like I was, is lucky enough to be connected to a talented group of writers. The SNL writing staff, I’m sure, is going to show up for Kenan because he has been showing up for them and their sketches, getting laughs on looks and line reads for two decades.”
Along with hosting the show, Thompson and his SNL costars are nominated for Outstanding Variety Sketch Series.