LOS ANGELES — Emmy Awards host Kenan Thompson and the ceremony's producers are predicting a conflict-free zone, unlike the Oscars show that was marred by an on-stage slap.
Thompson said the confrontation last March in which Will Smith attacked presenter Chris Rock over a joke directed at Smith's wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, was both unsettling and avoidable.
“It kind of just threw the entire world off guard, basically, and that won’t happen again," Thompson told The Associated Press. “Even if I am roasting (someone), it shouldn't come across as any sort of malice.”
If a joke ends up stinging, he said, an apology and conversation may be in order. But Rock — who “doesn't have a mean bone in his body," Thompson said — or any other comic shouldn't expect a reaction like Smith's to a quip.
A first-time Emmy host, the veteran “Saturday Night Live” cast member is following in the footsteps of other “SNL” colleagues including Michael Che, Colin Jost and Andy Samberg.
Thompson said he slept on the offer before saying yes. The ceremony airs 8 p.m. EDT Monday, Sept. 12, on NBC and will stream live on Peacock, with dramas “Succession” and “Squid Game" and comedies “Ted Lasso” and “Hacks” among the leading nominees.
“It's a huge deal, and it’s not necessarily something that I want to drop the ball on. So I was like, ‘Let me sit with this,’” he said. After talking with producers, he knew that he wanted to do it and the approach to take.
“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,” Thompson said. “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.”
Reginald Hudlin and Ian Stewart, returning as executive producers for the ceremony, consider Thompson perfect for the job.
“He is beloved, and from the time we announced him there’s been nothing but positive responses,” Hudlin said. “He has these great connections with everyone, and we’re going to maximize those connections.....He’s the unofficial mayor of Hollywood."
While Rock was the first participant at a major awards show to pay physically for a joke, Ricky Gervais has drawn his share of celebrity frowns for the insult humor he routinely employed as Golden Globes host.
Stars taking part in the Emmys needn't worry about being in the line of comedic fire with Thompson, Stewart said.
“If you went to Kenan’s house for a party, you know it’s just going to be a fun, easy time with a lot of laughs,” he said. “There's nothing that can be in any way aggressive or acerbic. He’s not that man.”
Viewers have come to know Thompson's style from “SNL," where he's a regular part of music video send-ups and plays vivid characters including the spotlight-hogging host of “What Up With That." He also starred in the just-ended sitcom “Kenan.”
Is there a part of him as a performer he's eager to showcase on the Emmys? “How quick I can be on my toes,” he replied, then turned the question outward.
“We know the people who are in the categories," he said, but there could be the welcome surprise of, say, a legendary actor in attendance.
"We should be aware, and point that out and celebrate them," he said. “I really want the community aspect of it all to be in the forefront."
Asked if he'll take part in any musical numbers, Thompson said it's more than likely.
“I think we need to open with a bang.... (and) there's some some ideas cooking on that level. But whatever it is, it has got to be tight, and it can’t seem like it's just there to fill time,” he said. “We have their (viewers) attention. It'd better be worth having."