Jimmy Kimmel’s Oscar monologue was tepid and unfunny – it’s time for a new host

Time for a change: Jimmy Kimmel delivers his opening monologue at the 96th annual Academy Awards (Getty Images)
Time for a change: Jimmy Kimmel delivers his opening monologue at the 96th annual Academy Awards (Getty Images)

Jimmy Kimmel wasn’t – despite Donald Trump’s assertion, posted to his social media site Truth Social mid-show – the worst Oscar host ever. But his opening monologue wasn’t especially funny, inspiring light titters rather than belly laughs. But it fit a melancholy ceremony nearly derailed by a protest right outside the venue, and an industry uncertain about its own future.

Kimmel has always been a bit too strait-laced for these things, a US TV fixture who is deadpan rather than silly, a gentle ribber rather than at all mean. Tonight was a case in point: he saved his harshest gags for noted boogeyman Gerard Depardieu and Madame Web, a movie so easily mockable that most of the great jokes about its awfulness have already been made by its actual cast.

Robert Downey Jr appeared slightly miffed – or bored, or a mix of both – by a gag made about his historic drug issues, but even that felt vaguely tepid. Kimmel’s material was so safe that he may as well have made a number of gags about the length of Killers of the Flower Moon – oh wait, he did.

Other lines barely constituted as jokes, from a mention of Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling winning “the genetic lottery”, to determining that Christopher Nolan’s reason for not owning a smartphone and writing scripts on an internet-less computer is due to a porn addiction.

Opening monologues are a delicate art. Just ask Jo Koy, who bombed at this year’s Golden Globes. But ideally they fall somewhere in between Ricky Gervais’s tired roasting and the wince-inducing cheesiness of Ellen DeGeneres. It’s why Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s Globes hosting remains the gold standard in the modern era of awards shows – they were sharp, fast, mocking of the right things. Their 2014 joke about George Clooney choosing to float away into space and die in Gravity than spend one more minute with a woman his own age still kills.

Missing from Kimmel’s monologue was any similar sense of danger. There was barely any spice, either. Only one joke felt particularly ribald (“Jodie Foster is young enough to be Robert De Niro’s daughter… [but] she’s 20 years too old to be his girlfriend”) but… meh. In its place was a sense of lukewarm gentility. But perhaps it’s what this particular ceremony called for.

Hollywood’s response to the ongoing violence in Gaza was – as it has been throughout this awards season – an uncomfortable elephant in the room, with the show delayed by five minutes due to a pro-Palestine protest outside that prevented a number of stars from arriving at the Dolby Theatre on time. Kimmel mentioned the delay, but not what caused it.

Towards the end of his monologue, he invoked Hollywood’s current existential crisis, from the threat of artificial intelligence to last year’s triple dose of strike action by actors, writers and directors. “We said, ‘We will not accept a deal without protections against artificial intelligence’,” Kimmel said. “As a result, actors no longer have to worry about being replaced by AI. Thanks to this historic agreement, actors can go back to being worried about being replaced by younger, more attractive people.”

It was funny. If not ha-ha funny. Maybe because it was not, fundamentally, about anything funny. Workers’ unions. Worker exploitation. Tech bros running the industry. Everything, everywhere feeling a bit like it’s standing on a cliff edge. “Could AI have written Transformers: Rise of the Beasts?” Kimmel asked at one point. “Yes, the answer is yes.” People chuckled in the audience. But you wonder if those who needed to hear it even cared.

Someone may have been able to wring laughs from a difficult moment in time, but Kimmel wasn’t that guy. Smaller ceremonies – including the Governor Awards and the Independent Spirit Awards – have flourished of late under the hosting of comedians such as John Mulaney and Aidy Bryant, proving that there’s still juice in a gig that’s often described as slightly thankless. The Academy would be smart to mix things up moving forward, maybe go for a less starry if far funnier name. When Mulaney himself appeared later on in the show – to present Best Sound – it seemed like an audition. For Oscar’s sake, I hope it was.