An Oscar host has to either be very confident — or very stupid — to let himself be upstaged before the show even starts.
Because while Jimmy Kimmel was the host of ABC's Sunday broadcast, he wasn't the first person you saw — or even the second. The show opened not with Kimmel, but with Justin Timberlake and a horde of dancers, entering through the crowd while singing a nominated song from Trolls, which might have been more exciting if the sound was better, and the song was better. Oh, and if the director had actually let us see Timberlake, rather than losing him in backlighting and cutaway shots of the crowd.
Well, if you're betting on that first choice, go with "confident," because Kimmel came out comfortable and swinging. He joked that he was not the kind of host who can unite people — and then proceeded to make jokes about reconciling with Matt Damon. "It's so easy to reach out and heal," he said, as he took digs at Damon's Great Wall bomb and President Trump, whom he thanked for making Hollywood look less racist by comparison.
Kimmel's stand-up always navigates that treacherous line between mean-but-funny and flat-out-mean. It's a balancing act hit he hit just right in September, when he hosted the Emmys for ABC, and hit again Sunday in his opening monologue. Well, unless you're a Trump fan: In that case, the message was "if you stay, you're in for a long night."
It was a gentler Kimmel than you sometimes see, but that's probably just what the crowd and the occasion demands. For the people nominated, this is a big night — and for some, the biggest of their lives. They have the right to expect that the jabs at them will sting, but not kill.
"We're going to have fun tonight," Kimmel said as he got ready to move off to the first award. "I hope we're going to have fun tonight."
Let's hope he turns out to be right.