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Before Emmy Gold: Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

We’re only a few hours away from Emmy gold. Up until now, the staff at Awards Radar have been tracking the twists and turns of the season. We’ve been looking at all the nominees and their past work, pointing out their hidden gems that might have led to taking home the gold.

Over the last few years, the Emmys have become a fierce competition between network and streaming juggernauts. Like previous years, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy series sees extraordinary talents represented on network and streaming. The category itself is so broad that it’s impossible to define or pinpoint the genre to one specific style we have, showcasing a crop of nominees who, year after year, make exciting choices.

Donald Glover

Nominated For: Atlanta

Previous Nominations: Atlanta (2018), Atlanta (2017 – win)

Hidden Gem: UCB Comedy Originals (2007 – 2010)

There’s not a part of the industry that Donald Glover hasn’t conquered. He’s an incredibly versatile actor, musician, and storyteller. Following Glover’s career back to his UCB beginnings, it was apparent to see something special was brimming with the quadruple threat. You can see him figure out the tone and unique style in those earlier sketches on YouTube.

As far as the Emmys go, this is Donald Glover’s third nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series as Earn in Atlanta. As the creator of the hit FX show, Glover got to flex his talents in front and behind the camera. He’s been nominated for Atlanta in writing, directing, and producing categories. One of the most impressive things about Atlanta is how it leans into surrealism and then swings into different comedy bits, like commercial parodies, to aid its strong perspective on unpacking race. In addition to its now star-turning cast, Glover’s ability in front and behind the camera makes Atlanta riveting.

Bill Hader

Nominated For: Barry

Previous Nominations: Barry (2019 – win), Barry (2018 – win)

Hidden Gem: The Skeleton Twins (2014)

While it’s been enjoyable to watch Bill Hader’s versatile talent in sketch comedy, he broke out of the SNL world with the 2014 movie The Skeleton Twins opposite Kristen Wiig. It was a hint that Hader had something deeper to explore in the comedy genre. It was finally on full display when he got his passion project off the ground with the HBO series Barry. The show follows a reluctant hit man who dreams of trading in his chaotic violent life for one in Hollywood.

In its third season, Hader’s pulling duty in front of and behind the camera as creator, writer, and actor. This is his third nomination in this category for Barry. The show has veered away from its dark comedy beginnings into a more dramatic fare, but he has an excellent track record, having won every time in this category for Barry. Hader’s range is incredible to take in as we watch Barry struggle with insurmountable trauma to fight to repair his mentor-mentee relationship with acting teacher Mr. Cousineau (Henry Winkler). While I wouldn’t classify his performance as comedic, it’s a searing performance you can’t look away from, and one with a ton of buzz behind it that will undoubtedly work in his favor.

Nicholas Hoult

Nominated For: The Great

Previous Nominations: N/A

Hidden Gem: A Single Man

For years it seemed like Nicholas Hoult was on the verge of becoming the next big thing. He broke out as a child actor in the 2002 film, About A Boy and got some attention in the show Skins. That said, in 2009, he gained favorable reviews for his turn in Tom Ford’s A Single Man. In the film, he played the young Kenny to Colin Firth’s grief-stricken George. Through his pursuit of George, Kenny aids in George’s reasons to live.

Later on, Hoult’s name was in the precursor conversation for his role in the 2018 18th-century dramedy, The Favourite. The movie featured a showy scene-stealing Hoult as Robert Harley. He was magnetic to watch on screen and looked like he was having a lot of fun. This year, he’s nominated for the Hulu series The Great, a show that sees him return to the 18th century in a very different role. In it, he plays Catherine The Great’s husband Peter III, another scene-stealing performance that’s garnered the young actor a few nominations.

Steve Martin

Nominated For: Only Murders In The Building

Previous Nominations: N/A

Hidden Gem: It’s Complicated (2009)

When we think of comedic greats, Steve Martin is at the top of that list. With a 6-decade career with 8 Emmy nominations and 73 nominations overall, he’s a living legend, and it’s impossible to list all of his achievements. He’s been in some of the most memorable films (Planes, Trains & Automobiles, Three Amigos!, Father Of The Bride; my favorites). Given his storied career, it feels ridiculous to narrow it down to just one gem, but I always go back to the 2009 Nancy Meyers film It’s Complicated. It’s a comfort movie that sees Steve Martin volleying with Meryl Steep, and it’s simply delightful.

His most surprising turn is his recent return to TV. All it took was the Hulu series Only Murders In The Building for Martin to experience an unlikely career resurgence. Martin has three nominations for Only Murders. Aside from actor, he’s an executive producer and writer on the show. As a performer, he has undeniable chemistry with old pal Martin Short. Although I think both of these nominees will split the vote, given recent reports that this will be his last project, I wouldn’t be surprised if he walked away with the gold.

Martin Short

Nominated For: Only Murders In The Building

Previous Nominations: N/A

Hidden Gem: Clifford (1994)

Like his Only Murders In The Building co-star Steve Martin, actor Martin Short has a long history in the industry. He’s known for his zany characters, like performances in Father of The Bride (1991), Innerspace (1987), and his character-bits on SNL.

Perhaps it’s because I was a child of the 90s, but I can’t help thinking of his full-on bonkers turn opposite Charles Grodin in the 1994 film Clifford as his hidden gem. It’s not exactly hidden because the film was universally panned, but when I think of his gusto, it’s this movie that comes to mind. Short plays the title character, who’s possibly the most annoying nephew on screen, but for me, it’s always a joy to see Martin Short overcommit to a bit. It’s that magic that makes his whole body of work strong. As mentioned with Steve Martin’s portion, I see the pair of nominees splitting the vote, but it’s nice to see Martin Short recognized.

Jason Sudeikis

Nominated For: Ted Lasso

Previous Nominations: Ted Lasso (2021)

Hidden Gem: Kodachrome (2017)

If there ever was someone to give Bill Hader a run for his money, it’s his SNL co-star Jason Sudeikis. Sudeikis as Ted Lasso has exuded a Midas gold touch. Ted Lasso has scored 20 Emmy nominations, making it the most nominated comedy series this year. People are just in love with this feel-good show.

Like Barry, the Apple TV comedy series saw Sudeikis and Brendan Hunt explore further into darker material, as we see the seemingly unflappable Ted Lasso deal with depression and anxiety. It’s a subtle but nuanced performance from Jason Sudeikis that’s been bubbling in these two seasons, but it’s a quality we’ve seen in him with turns in Sleeping With Other People (2015) and Colossal (2016). Another poignant performance that comes to mind is Sudeikis’ turn in the underrated Netflix film Kodachrome (2017). It’s an estranged father/son road trip film that explores a bumpy relationship and calls for a vulnerably raw performance by Sudeikis. While the film didn’t get the attention it deserved, those who saw it caught onto the depth of the actor’s ability. As for his chances tonight, I’d say he might win over Bill Hader.


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Written by Niki Cruz

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