Though many awards show hosts like to kick off their shows with a pretaped bit and/or musical number — like Jimmy Fallon did at the Golden Globes in January — that’s not exactly in line with Kimmel’s dry style. So instead, he let Justin Timberlake open the show with a splashy performance of “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” his Oscar-nominated song from Trolls (aren’t movies magical?), before walking onto the Oscars stage and delivering a brief monologue that would’ve been right at home during an episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live!
There were references to the supposed Hollywood bubble, the expected shoutout to Kimmel’s long-running “feud” with Matt Damon, and a whole string of jokes about the Oscar-nominated movies that many Americans probably haven’t seen.
Still, some of Kimmel’s punchlines had sharper teeth than those softballs — and as you might expect, many of them were about today’s political climate. “I don't have to tell anybody the country is divided right now,” he began, “and I've been getting a lot of advice, people telling me, ‘You need to say something [at the Oscars] to unite us’ ... I can't do that.” Then Kimmel then looked out at the audience. “There's only one Braveheart in this room,” he said as the camera to cut to Mel Gibson, who was nominated for Best Director for Hacksaw Ridge. “And he's not going to unite us, either, okay?”
However, once he got that uncomfortable Mel Gibson quip out of the way, Kimmel pivoted to an earnest plea for unity anyway:
There are millions and millions watching right now, and if every one of you took a minute to reach out to one person you disagree with ... and have a positive, considerate conversation — not as liberals or conservatives, but as Americans. If we would all do that, we would make America great again. We really could. It starts with us.
From there, the most immediately controversial jokes Kimmel made weren’t about politics at all. One was a halfhearted reference to a pivotal Moonlight sex scene that basically amounted to “LOL handjobs!” and the other was a deeply sarcastic riff in which he referred to Meryl Streep as “uninspiring and overrated.” Naturally, the Streep jokes earned a standing ovation anyway, because after all, she is Meryl Streep.
All told, Kimmel’s monologue was ... fine. Again, it wasn’t very different from what Kimmel does four nights a week on his late-night show, though to be sure, he doesn’t usually have to deliver his monologue in the face of whoever he’s lightly mocking (unless that person is Matt Damon).
In fact, Kimmel’s Emmys monologue from September 2016 was much more pointed, especially when he specifically called out Apprentice producer Mark Burnett as responsible for the rise of Donald Trump and declared, “If Donald Trump gets elected, and he builds that wall, the first person we’re throwing over it is Mark Burnett.” But hey: Maybe Kimmel just had more to say about television versus all those movies he hasn’t seen.