The COVID-19 pandemic created once-in-a-lifetime challenges for producers of Sunday’s 63rd Grammy Awards, but the unusual outdoor setting gave first-time host Trevor Noah the makings of comic gold.
Speaking to nominees seated at tables on a stage outside Los Angeles’ Staples Center, the music show’s traditional venue, “The Daily Show” anchor smoothly mixed in jokes about the COVID-influenced broadcast with a topical jab at Britain’s besieged royals and a mild political barb aimed at U.S. Capitol rioters. He had some fun with various performers, but mostly not at their expense.
The tent setting itself was humorous, looking like an advertisement for upscale outdoor dining during the pandemic as tuxedo-clad Noah, standing in the al fresco cocktail lounge, appeared at times as much maitre d’ as emcee for the music world’s royalty. But consider the higher comic degree of difficulty: It was hard to tell if Noah’s immediate audience was laughing since nominees were masked.
Noah caught the vibe of the show, both the humorous and serious parts, and deserves bonus points for getting in more than his daily 10,000 steps shuttling between the outdoor stage to indoor performance set while delivering bon mots without losing his breath.
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He dropped his wry, reserved demeanor momentarily to enthusiastically applaud a show-stopping performance by Cardi B featuring Megan Thee Stallion.
“Wow! Wow! Wow! Did you see that?” he said, ascending to the giant bed that was part of Cardi’s B set. “This is a dream I’ve had to be in bed with Cardi B. And then my grandmother comes in and whops our (behinds) for having our shoes on in the bed. … I don’t know about you, but we have to cool down. We’ve got to go for a quick break and let the stage dry off.”
Here are some of Noah’s notable lines from the ceremony – more hits than duds.
Explaining the decision to hold much of the show outdoors: “We have made the decision to socially distance from Staples Center. We’re still broadcasting to you from the heart of downtown Los Angeles. This is not a Zoom background. This is real. My uncle is not going to walk behind me naked even though I told him I was having an important meeting.”
Legally required L.A. smog joke: “As you can see here, we are outside. Meaning we get to enjoy the great Los Angeles air, which I know may be as dangerous as COVID, but we’re willing to take the risk.”
“Daily Show” material No. 1: “Tonight is going to be the biggest outdoor event this year besides the storming of the Capitol.”
U.K. zinger No. 1, royals division: “Our impressive nominees will be sitting at those table for their awards. So right now, there’s more tension in that tent than at a family reunion at Buckingham Palace.”
Contractually required musician drug joke: “This is going to be the rare awards show where the white stuff going up people’s noses is cotton swabs.”
On feather boa-sporting Harry Styles: “Ladies, you got to watch out, because he’ll steal your heart and your dress and he’ll look damn good doing it.”
U.K. zinger No. 2, after Styles’ performance, government division: “It’s amazing to think that someone that talented and handsome is from the same place as Boris Johnson.”
Before Cardi B’s performance: “We’re all going to find out what ‘WAP’ stands for. If you have small children in the room, just tell them it’s a story about a cat taking a bath.”
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On Billie Eilish’s five awards in 2020: “She won so many Grammys last year that her Uber home was a U-Haul.”
Noah later described 19-year-old Eilish as “a gifted young artist who earlier tonight helped us kick off the show. She’s also the reason parents all over the world are looking at their teenagers asking, ‘What have you achieved?’ ”
“Daily Show” material No. 2: “Today, the single record has never been more important. You see, in the new world of streaming, if the artist can create that perfect single, their song will be streamed billions and billions of times, making them anywhere from $2 to $3.”
Tweaking social media tweak: “Now, we’re going to take a quick break so I can check Twitter and see all the nice things people are saying about me.”
After Bad Bunny’s performance: “That sounds exactly like I was back in the club, except I’m not getting kicked out this time.”
Network-required plug for another CBS show: “What do Adele, Ed Sheeran and Lady Gaga all have in common? They’ve all done Carpool Karaoke episodes where James Corden hit a pedestrian and kept driving.”
On the ubiquity of Bruno Mars’ music: “As with every Bruno Mars song, I can’t wait to dance to that at every wedding for the rest of my life.”
Post-Post Malone’s performance: “That was an amazing performance. And even more amazing tattoos. That’s the most reading I’ve done all year.”
Noah got serious early in the show with a fitting wish.
“Tonight, we’re hoping that this is all about what 2021 can be, full of joy, new beginnings and coming together. Never forget what happened in 2020, but full of hope for what is to come.”
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