LOS ANGELES -- Comedic actor Rob Riggle has never hosted a show.
Until Wednesday night.
That’s when he emcees the 2012 ESPYS live at 9 p.m. ET from the Nokia Theatre at L.A. Live in downtown Los Angeles.
“You’re trying to make me nervous, right?” Riggle said with a slight laugh. “All I’m going to do is treat it like a big party, and I’m the host.”
The ESPYS -- an acronym for Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly -- are presented by ESPN to recognize individuals and team athletic performances of the past year.
LeBron James, Aaron Rodgers and Brittney Griner are among the nominees for the 20th anniversary show, which includes 33 categories that span all sports. Celebrities such as Kenny Chesney, Zooey Deschanel and Nas also will be in attendance.
Riggle, known for his work on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” and memorable appearances in “The Hangover” and “Saturday Night Live,” said he’s ready for the challenge and looking forward to meeting the athletes he has watched for years.
He follows in the hosting footsteps of singer Justin Timberlake, actor Samuel L. Jackson and comedian Seth Meyers.
“Just because I’m hosting doesn’t mean I’m above being a fan,” said Riggle, who also is an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. “And I’m just going to do my best. I sound like an athlete there, right? Hopefully, it’ll work out. That’s all I can do.”
Playbook had a few minutes with Riggle to dive deeper into his preparation for the show.
Even “Saturday Night Live’s” Seth Meyers, the host for the past two years, said he was nervous before he went on stage. What about you?
“Same here. I’m not a household name. They won’t know me right away. 'What? Who is this guy?' That’s what the armchair quarterback with a beer in his hand is saying, 'Who is this guy?' And throw on top of that that athletes make me nervous. I don’t know why but they do. Maybe because, as a kid, I looked up to them. At the end of the day, if you don’t have a little anxiety, you’re not human.”
Are there athletes you want to meet?
“I want to meet all of them. I met LeBron James a couple of times. I’d love to meet Drew Brees. I think so highly of him. I’d want to meet Peyton Manning. I love watching them do what they do. I love seeing these athletes at the top of their game. It’s like witnessing history. It’s really cool if you get a chance to see Michael Jordan play basketball. See LeBron. See Tom Brady. It’s something you tell your kids about. When your folks say they saw Elvis or Johnny Unitas play, how cool would that have been?”
When did you start writing your monologue for the ESPYS?
“The four writers and I had a mini writers' retreat back around the beginning of June. That was a great experience. We got together and got to know each other. We spit out the ideas and the big stories we wanted to do. Then we dove in.”
You’re a huge sports fan yourself, especially with your love of the University of Kansas, where you graduated. Did you put in some of your interests in the show?
“I definitely kept putting in my requests to talk about certain things. But I don’t want to be too self-indulgent. The show is not about me. It’s about the year in sports and the sports fans. As a fan, I have a couple of things I want to say, but I’m not going overboard about it.”
How will the show begin?
“I can’t go into that, but laughter loosens you up. You always start the show tight. I’m hoping they are going to be nice and funny and laugh. But you never know. They could be angry and tired. You just never know. When they laugh and enjoy themselves, as a performer, I loosen up. Then we’re cooking. I get into a really nice comfort zone. When they shut down, they don’t give you anything. You tighten up. I don’t care how good of a comedian you are.”
Worried about the reaction of the athletes you might be joking about?
“They shouldn’t come if they aren’t man or woman enough to handle a little ribbing. If you get ribbed, that means people like you and it means we believe you can handle it. People don’t make fun of people they don’t like. They make fun of people they love. That’s how it works. If something gets said, you smile and know that you’re on our radar and we like you.”
How honored were you to get this gig?
“I was blown away. I’m not even exaggerating. I kept trying to confirm it with my manager. 'They want me to present or host? Host the whole thing?' It didn’t register with me. When I finally accepted it, I was unbelievably flattered and honored and really intimidated. I had never really hosted anything.”
And now all the eyes are on you for the live show.
“Wait, it’s a live show. Really? Oh, no. We’re going to have fun. I already know there will be haters out there. I’m just hoping there will be a few people who like it. That’s just the nature of the business we’re in. As long as I have fun and the people there have fun, it’s going to be all good.”