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2022 Emmy Preview: Best Actor in a Comedy Promises to Be a Battle of the Titans

It's been years since the list of contenders was this strong.
  • Photos: FX, Hulu, ABC, HBO, Apple TV+.
    Photos: FX, Hulu, ABC, HBO, Apple TV+.

    There's usually at least one nail biter of an Emmy category, but that category is almost never Best Actor in a Comedy. For ages now, it's felt like an afterthought, with one or two worthy nominees competing against a whole lot of filler. No disrespect to the talents of Michael Douglas, Don Cheadle, Matt LeBlanc, and William H. Macy, but from 2011 to 2021 they received 19 combined nominations for The Kominsky Method, House of Lies, Black Monday, Shamless, and Episodes. That's more a sign of a weak field than of love for these shows.

    But this year, Best Actor in a Comedy has caught fire. Thanks to a confluence of exciting debuts, beloved shows finally returning from pandemic hiatuses, and smaller projects breaking through in big ways, there are more worthy contenders in this field than there are slots on the ballot. Instead of waiting for an inevitable victory by the one guy who really seems to deserve it, this is a race we can actually get invested in.

    Here are some of the funny men to watch out for when the nominations are announced on July 12.

    Legends in a Buzzy Hit

    Martin Short won an Emmy for writing SCTV back in the 80s, and he won for producing a Mel Brooks tribute about 10 years ago, but he's never won as a performer. Thanks to his career-best work in Hulu's blockbuster Only Murders in the Building, he seems like a lock to get nominated and a major threat to win...

    ... except he might lose to his co-star Steve Martin, whose only Emmy win came in 1969 (!!) for writing The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. It's insane that neither of these men have been recognized for their decades of funny TV performances.

    Previous Winners Continuing to Kill It

    As beloved as they are — and as acclaimed as their show is — Martin and Short will have to get by Jason Sudeikis, who won last year for Ted Lasso and is back in the running again. The show got heavier in Season Two, and Sudeikis beautifully navigated Ted's emotional turmoil...

    ...but you can say the same for Bill Hader. who is finally back in the third season of Barry. He won for the show's first two seasons, and this year he's better than ever.

    Meanwhile, Donald Glover is getting great reviews for the third season of Atlanta. He won Best Actor in a Comedy for this show's first season (as well as the award for Best Director in a Comedy), and considering how weird and wonderful the new episodes have been, he could absolutely take the prize again.

    Stars of Critically Beloved Faves

    But what if these heavy hitters cancel each other out? Could that let Drew Tarver get the attention he deserves for his spectacular work on The Other Two? The show became a critical darling since moving to HBO Max for its second season, and Tarver's performance as frustrated actor Cary Dubek has been  crucial to its success.

    Matt Berry is similarly essential on What We Do in the Shadows. The show is definitely on Emmy's radar — it got nominated for Best Comedy Series in its last go-round in 2020 — so it would make perfect sense to recognize Berry's work as the sexually adventurous vampire Laszlo...

    ... just like it would make sense to nominate Nicholas Hoult for playing the man-baby emperor on Hulu's The Great. Elle Fanning's performance as Catherine the Great wouldn't be nearly as successful without Hoult's wild energy, and since the show scored writing and directing noms for its first season, acting attention would certainly be warranted now.

    Deserving Wild Cards

    Danny McBride has never been nominated for an Emmy, but this season of HBO's The Righteous Gemstones, with its deliriously insane storyline about motorcycle assassins trying to wipe out the titular clan, was especially good. As Jesse Gemstone, heir apparent to his family's megachurch, McBride mixed blowhard confidence and crushing insecurity into one of the season's most consistently funny performances...

    ...and you could say the same about Jake Johnson as the sleazy-yet-sensitive porn publisher on HBO Max's Minx. The show may not be buzzy enough to break through, but Johnson would be a very welcome surprise.

    And Of Course, Anthony Anderson

    Anderson has been nominated (but hasn't won) for all seven seasons of ABC's Black-ish, so it's reasonable to assume he'll get nominated for the show's eighth and final year. And unlike, say, Episodes, Black-ish has been part of the zeitgeist since it premiered. People loved the show, and they loved Anderson's perofmance as Dre Johnson. If Emmy voters give him the award at long last, nobody could complain.

    Nominations for the 74th Emmy Awards will be announced on Tuesday, July 12, 2022, with the ceremony to follow in September.

    Mark Blankenship has been writing about arts and culture for twenty years, with bylines in The New York Times, Variety, Vulture, Fortune, and many others. You can hear him on the pop music podcast Mark and Sarah Talk About Songs.

    TOPICS: Only Murders In The Building , ABC, Apple TV+, FX, Hulu, Atlanta, Black-ish, The Great, The Other Two, The Righteous Gemstones, Ted Lasso, What We Do in the Shadows, Anthony Anderson, Danny McBride, Donald Glover, Drew Tarver, Jason Sudeikis, Martin Short, Matt Berry, Nicholas Hoult, Steve Martin