Ranking the ESPY Awards hosts from the coolest to the most WTF

Ranking ESPY Awards hosts is tough. After all, the finished product usually smooths out any wrinkles or controversies thanks to massive amounts of editing. But that doesn’t mean that all ESPY Awards hosts are created equal. No, the best of the best manage to combine an effortless wit with a certain untouchable cool.

After all, these hosts have to be able to impress and hang with the Derek Jeters of the world all while conveying a certain sense of authority to the crowd at home. It requires a certain presence, a certain charisma and, oh yeah, at least a passing knowledge of sports. And so, with all that in mind, let’s just get down to it as we rank the ESPY Awards show hosts from the coolest and most appropriate to the lamest that made us all just think WTF?

16. Jimmy Smits

Year Hosted: 2000
Speaking of WTF… WTF? Jimmy Smits? Was Ricky Schroder unavailable? Did Scott Baio not return his calls? I mean, I get it, Jimmy Smits was on NYPD Blue at the time, and… you know what? I still don’t get it. This is just inexplicable. He’s not funny, he’s not cool, he isn’t a sports guy, he’s just… he’s Jimmy Smits. How impressed is Derek Jeter going to be with Jimmy Smits? Come on.

15. Tony Danza

Year Hosted: 1996
Here are Tony Danza’s credentials for hosting the ESPY Awards:

Yeah. I’ve got nothing. But, I suppose I will give him the edge over Jimmy Smits because Danza wrestled in college and has that general jock aura about him, which gives him at least a tenuous link to the sports world, plus maybe Jeter thought Danza could hook him up with Alyssa Milano? I don’t know, I’m just trying to think positive. Still, it’s Tony Danza. How did this happen?

14. Matthew Perry

Year Hosted: 2005
This seems like yet another Jimmy Smits/Tony Danza situation, but Perry does have one key thing going for him – he was actually a top tennis prospect before moving onto acting, which I know seems unbelievable given his general, well, Matthew Perryness, but there you have it. But again, tennis phenom or not, it’s Matthew Perry. That’s just a weird choice.

13. Rob Riggle

Year Hosted: 2012
Rob Riggle is a comedian, which is important for an awards show host and immediately sets him apart from the other weirdos behind him, but here’s the problem: who the hell is Rob Riggle? Okay, that may be a bit hyperbolic. I know who he is, but can you honestly tell me that famous athletes were excited to rub elbows with him? I mean, that’s a big part of the host’s responsibilities when it comes to the ESPYs. Get the athletes excited to be there. Make all the funny jokes about Cleveland that you want, that still isn’t going to get Jeter ready to hang with you in the champagne room.

12. Drake

Year Hosted: 2014
Sure, it hasn’t actually happened yet, but this is about the idea of the hosts more than their actual performances, so I’m going to allow it. And really, how could I pass up an opportunity to crack on Drake? Yeah, yeah, he’s got the whole performer thing going for him, which helps, and athletes probably will want to hang out with him, but when it comes to Drake and sports, the jokes practically write themselves. He is the world’s most infamous bandwagon fan, and a walking, talking, living, breathing meme. Are we sure he isn’t doing this just so he can get within 50 feet of LeBron? I guess it all depends on the terms of the restraining order. What? He doesn’t have one yet? He will. He most definitely will.

11. Jeff Foxworthy

Year Hosted: 1997
Okay, I’m guessing this one was a home run to the NASCAR crowd, but to everyone else? Uh… no. He fails the Jeter test miserably – I’m not sure if there is a more incongruous pair of people on the planet – and he doesn’t exactly project that hip, cool image that the ESPYs are always so desperate to put out there. Still, he’s a comedian, and that means that he can handle himself on stage, so he’s not the worst of the worst. Still, it’s hard to find anyone less cool and so this seems like an appropriate spot for the king of the redneck joke.

10. Lance Armstrong

Year Hosted: 2006
Look, I’m sure that this is tainted a bit by the events of the last year or so – much like Lance’s career itself – but I just can’t go any better than 10 even if I leave all that aside. The reason is simple: while Lance definitely has the sports credibility – or did, anyway – this is just an awkward ass choice. I mean, it’s Lance Armstrong. Was anyone really looking forward to him telling corny jokes? Besides, the ESPYs has always been partially about the athletes mingling with other celebs from outside their milieu. Lance Armstrong as host just made the whole thing seem even more incestuous and weird than it already is. But you do have to give him credit for having the balls to host. Ahem. Sorry.

9. Jon Hamm

Year Hosted: 2013
I’ll admit that in a few years’ time, Jon Hamm as host might seem as lame and as inexplicable as Jimmy Smits or Tony Danza, but here’s the thing: Jon Hamm is actually a pretty cool guy. He’s surprisingly funny, he’s got a smooth as hell image that plays really well with the ESPY crowd, and he’s a huge sports fan that played a variety of sports growing up. Look, I won’t lie to you, I have a little bit of a man crush on Jon Hamm and I’m sure that’s swaying things here, but he’s dreamy as hell. Don’t even try to deny it. I apologize for nothing.

8. John Goodman

Year Hosted: 1995
He’s John Goodman and John Goodman is The Man. Sometimes, it’s that simple. And okay, while he probably didn’t spend all night getting lit with Jeter in the club (we’ll just ignore that Jeter wasn’t even in the majors yet when Goodman hosted) he still brought a certain presence to the event that everyone had to respect. Besides, you probably don’t know that Goodman actually played college football at Southwest Missouri State, so as weird as John Goodman: ESPY host might seem, he was actually kind of an appropriate choice. Kind of. Okay, not really. But, still, it’s John Goodman and, again, John Goodman is The Man.

7. Seth Meyers

Years Hosted: 2010, 2011
It’s hard to find a more white-bread host than Seth Meyers (well, at least until the day Jimmy Fallon hosts anyway), but for the ESPYs that also meant that he was perhaps the most appropriate host, someone who would just get up there, tell some effortless, inoffensive jokes and move the show along at a nice, breezy pace. In many ways, he is the perfect ESPYs host – they brought him back for a second time for a reason – but he’s still just dopey Seth Meyers, and he lacks that edge or that It Factor. He probably could hang with Jeter, but more towards the back. He’s Jeter’s designated driver. That’s Seth Meyers.

6. Justin Timberlake

Year Hosted: 2008
He’s not really a natural host – at least not at first glance – what the hell does Justin Timberlake know about sports, right? But as everyone who has seen him on SNL knows, the dude is surprisingly gifted when it comes to comedy, and when it comes to the cool factor, well JT passes the Jeter test with flying colors. In fact, Jeter might not be cool enough to hang out with Timberlake. That’s right, Derek Jeter fails the Timberlake test.

5. LeBron James and Jimmy Kimmel

Year Hosted: 2007
This was an interesting experiment – it was the first and only time the show had two hosts – and it’s hard to know how to properly rank them. I guess in the end all I can do is combine them into one weird hybrid monster of a host and rank them that way. LeBron covered both the cool factor and the sports factor, while Kimmel brought the jokey emcee factor that a good host has to have. Sounds like the perfect host. And it would have been except, well, they aren’t one dude, and in the end, the whole idea actually seemed kind of awkward. Still, points for ingenuity, and you know what? I bet Jimmy Kimmel actually could hang with Derek Jeter. Every group has to have that one viciously funny dude.

4. Jamie Foxx

Years Hosted: 2003, 2004
Jamie Foxx passes almost all of the tests – he’s cool, he’s funny (don’t forget that he started out in the cast of In Living Color), and he and Jeter would be a natural fit out at the clubs together. All in all, a totally solid host, and I’m actually kind of surprised that they haven’t brought him back for more. Then again, that’s what happens when you get mixed up with Kanye.

3. Dennis Miller

Years Hosted: 1993, 1994
At first glance, this might seem a little too good for Dennis Miller. But, you have to remember, this is the Dennis Miller of 20 years ago, not the cranky old coot of today who would just make everyone vaguely uncomfortable while telling jokes about Nancy Pelosi. Dennis Miller was the OG of ESPY hosts for a reason. No one was considered more of a smart-ass, with equal parts emphasis on both the words “smart” and “ass,” and his ability to work a room was held in high esteem. Back then, he was maybe the go-to host for shows like this.

2. Norm Macdonald

Year Hosted: 1998
Look, if it were up to me, Norm would be number one on this list. (Wait, you mean it is up to me? Hmmm.) But, in the interest of fairness and, more importantly I suppose, appropriateness, Norm was just too weird and too raw to get a better ranking than this. Basically, you know what you’re getting with Norm Macdonald. He’s going to get up there and make everyone uncomfortable with wildly inappropriate – yet wildly hilarious – jokes. And that’s exactly what happened. Norm just firebombed the whole damn show. And again, everyone knew this would happen, which probably actually makes him the most inappropriate of all the hosts. Yet, his subversive I don’t give a f-ck nature also makes him in some ways the coolest of all hosts. You know what? To hell with it, Norm belongs near the top.

1. Samuel L. Jackson

Years Hosted: 1999, 2001, 2002, 2009
Look, there’s a reason that Samuel L. Jackson is the only four time host of the ESPY Awards. And that’s because he’s the dude with the wallet that says “Bad Motherf-cker” on it. You aren’t ever beating Samuel L. Jackson. You just aren’t. And that’s why he’s hosted the ESPYs more times than anyone, and why he’s number one on this list.


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Jon Hamm image: YouTube
Rob Riggle image: YouTube
Seth Meyers image: YouTube
Samuel L. Jackson image: YouTube