Emmy Experts Typing: Comedy Actor is battle between past champs and rookies

Welcome to Emmy Experts Typing, a weekly column in which Gold Derby editors and Experts Joyce Eng and Christopher Rosen discuss the Emmy race — via Slack, of course. This week, we tackle Best Comedy Actor, an award that has gone to two “Saturday Night Live” alums three times in the last four years.

Christopher Rosen: Hello, Joyce! We’re back and ready to talk about one of your favorite performances of the year. Of course, I mean Bill Hader on “Barry.” As Vanity Fair recently reminded us, Hader and Jason Sudeikis — Hader’s top competitor in the Best Actor in a Comedy Series category — have never lost at the Emmys, a stat that will come to an end this year. Not that it means all that much beyond clickbait: Sudeikis was a nominee once here, last year for “Ted Lasso,” and he won. Hader won twice in 2018 and 2019 and finally returns to defend his crown this year. You’ve been all aboard the “Barry” train since burning through the series before Season 3 and everything you’ve said has me thinking nothing can stop Hader from his non-consecutive threepeat. Even Sudeikis doesn’t seem all that invested in defending his crown. He’s busy shooting Season 3 of “Ted Lasso,” which he’s talked about as being the show’s final curtain call. Assuming that holds, it seems easy to imagine a scenario where Hader wins this year and Sudeikis takes back the award next year for his last bow as everyone’s favorite coach. But you’re the “Barry” expert here, tell me why Hader will likely emerge victoriously?

joyceeng: Bill Hader is just next level. No shade to his “SNL” pal and other excellent performances in this category that I greatly enjoy, like Martins Steve and Short on “Only Murders in the Building” and our dear hopediction Jake Johnson on “Minx.” I think what gives him the edge, besides the fact that he’s 2-0, is his extraordinary range he gets to deploy not just throughout the season but within the same episodes and scenes. The show is so darkly funny and so adept at switching on a dime between tones, and a huge part of that lies in Hader’s hypnotic performance that covers everything from unhinged and broken to disturbingly hilarious. He didn’t even say a word in the penultimate episode and you could not take your eyes off of him. Hader also has a perfect Emmy clip in the fifth episode that encapsulates the tonal tightrope his performance and the show walk so well, when Barry lists all the ways he could gaslight Elizabeth Perkins’ BanShe executive for canceling Sally’s show. They include “little things, like replace her dog with a slightly different dog, or, you know, change the furniture in her house so she thinks she’s shrinking. You know, basic stuff. Most of it I learned in the military. Some of it on a subreddit. You know? Basically, just plant a seed and then they just kinda hang themselves.” Hader delivers this in the most sweet, casual manner and I legit could not stop laughing when I watched it. I LOL’d all over again transcribing this for you! And I know this is an acting category, but even though Hader and Sudeikis are both co-creators of their shows, “Barry” feels like it has much more of Hader’s stamp and vision on it (he’s directing every Season 4 episode) than “Ted Lasso” does with Sudeikis. It’s hard to find anyone who’s not in awe of Hader’s skills as an actor, director and writer. Like me, Ben Stiller also could not get over the sixth episode’s legendary chase. In other words, this man has everything. But are we too focused on these two recent champs?

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Christopher Rosen: We probably are, but I don’t really think anyone else can break through. It would be easy to suggest Steve Martin here as an alternative: he’s Steve Martin, after all, and “Only Murders” is a show that will seemingly do really well at this year’s Emmy Awards — even if it came out a long time ago. But Martin and Martin Short probably both have their “Only Murders” stans (make mine Steve), and I think when it comes to generating support for an upset win here, neither has enough juice. Since you brought him up, let’s talk about our man Jake. We’re obviously in the tank here, but I kind of think our hope might pay off? Johnson was part of The Hollywood Reporter’s comedy actor roundtable, and HBO Max has definitely pushed “Minx” out there for voters in a way that I don’t think either of us initially expected. Could this be the year he gets a deserved bit of recognition from the academy?

joyceeng: I’d have more confidence in Johnson if he already had an Emmy footprint, but if last year showed us anything in the comedy lead categories, it’s that voters just check off familiar names to fill out their unlimited ballots. William H. Macy returned for “Shameless” after two years of snubs, which you could attribute to the college admissions scandal, but they also brought back Allison Janney for “Mom” for the first time since 2018. And Kenan Thompson and Aidy Bryant made the cut for “Kenan” and “Shrill,” respectively, two nominations that served strong “I’m nominating them for ‘SNL,’ so I guess I’ll vote for them here too” energy. Johnson would be an inspired choice, but it’s more likely that Anthony Anderson will collect his eighth and final bid for “Black-ish.” Besides Johnson, what other underdogs could you see surprising here? Rhys Darby of internet fave “Our Flag Means Death” is in 10th place. “What We Do in the Shadows” hasn’t netted an acting nomination yet, but Matt Berry and Kayvan Novak are hanging out in the teens in the odds. And newly minted comedy series contender “Hawkeye” sees Jeremy Renner in 24th place.

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Christopher Rosen: I think if anyone breaks through here it’s probably either Berry or Novak. “What We Do In the Shadows” was a surprise Emmy favorite in 2020, and now that it’s established it goes to reason that some plaudits for its actors might follow. I’m glad you brought up Renner and the lol comedy “Hawkeye.” No, I don’t think he should get nominated. But even though we’re not talking about actresses this week, I do think we should seriously push Hailee Steinfeld for the show. She’s so funny! Kate Bishop is easily the best Marvel Television Universe creation so far, and the success of “Hawkeye” really rested on her shoulders. But, sorry, we’re still doing actors. Anything else here before we sign off? Do you want to throw a few kind words toward Donald Glover or Nicholas Hoult?

joyceeng: Steinfeld is so great and effortlessly funny on “Hawkeye” — I’ve already told you how I considered her on my TCA Awards nominations ballot in comedy before we learned the show was submitted in comedy, my mind — and while I wouldn’t nominate Renner here either, I will say that he has some amazing dry line readings and everything between him and the LARPers is pure art. Anyway, I have Glover in, but not Hoult, even though he’d be a worthy nominee. “The Great” feels kinda stuck in this middle ground where it’s not a new show but it’s also not as noisy as some returning shows like “Barry” and “Atlanta.” I am still unsure about how “Atlanta” will perform overall because this season was so different, not in a bad way. I know big “Atlanta” fans who have differing takes — one loved everything about Season 3 and another was frustrated because he wanted more of the main cast. Glover is a past winner and is probably safe for a nom, but I don’t think he’ll win. He was expected to repeat in 2018 until our favorite hit man-turned-actor came along.

Emmy odds for Best Comedy Actor
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