Cedric the Entertainer opened the 2021 Emmy Awards with a salute to the late Biz Markie’s classic track “Just a Friend” — with some reworked lyrics sprinkled with nods to HBO Max, Sesame Street, and Black-ish. LL Cool J, Rita Wilson, and rapper/Dave star Lil Dicky joined in for the high-energy performance, each contributing a verse that both gently skewered and celebrated television in the pandemic era. It was a loose start to the night that got the crowd dancing and swaying at their tables.
Opening the segment, the comic and actor emphasized that this year’s ceremony would subvert expectations of being “more subdued, kind of like an Emmys Lite.”
“We all have our favorite shows from growing up,” the host said. “My favorite TV memory is sitting with my grandmother, watching our programs together. And tonight, it isn’t just about the very best of this past year — it’s all about the things that we love about television.”
The evening’s first presenter, Seth Rogen quickly addressed the elephant in the room: gathering for such an event amid a very much ongoing pandemic. “Let me start by saying: There is way too many of us in this little room,” he said. “What are we doing? They said this was outdoors. It’s not! They lied to us.” After pointing out the roof over everyone’s heads, he cracked, “It’s more important that we have three chandeliers than that we make sure we don’t kill Eugene Levy tonight. That is what has been decided. This is insane.”
After the night’s first two awards had been doled out, Cedric grabbed the mic again, this time going solo for a more traditional monologue. He joked about finding a “new Jeopardy! host” in the room by the end of the night, knocked Nicki Minaj for her vaccination claims and proudly claimed that his Pfizer shot was the “Neiman Marcus” of vaccines. (Moderna was Macy’s, he cracked, while the J&J shot was more like the discount store T.J. Maxx.) He also paused to celebrate the number of black nominees, shouting out seven-time nominee Anthony Anderson in particular — though noting “it’s still hard out here for a pimp,” given that Anderson is up against Jason Sudeikis, a heavy favorite to win Best Actor in a Comedy for Ted Lasso.
This year’s ceremony features a record amount of nominations for a new comedy TV series, with Lasso nabbing 20, including Outstanding Comedy Series along with noms for acting, writing, directing, sound editing, and theme music, among others.
The 2021 event follows a 2020 ceremony dominated by Schitt’s Creek, which became the first show to sweep all four acting categories in its genre, also taking home prizes for writing, directing, and Outstanding Comedy Series.