“We just want to make fun of things that are funny,” Underwood, 34, tells PEOPLE exclusively. “We’ve always tried to keep that in our minds, but this year more than ever.”
The star — nominated for female vocalist of the year — wants viewers to know that whatever jabs she and Paisley deliver during the show are made in good fun.
“I hope that people don’t take clips and things out of context — that’s the most frustrating part, I think,” Underwood says of the hosting gig.
“We have this eight-minute-long monologue, and we really do try to be in the middle,” she adds. “But people will pick out individual jokes and be like, ‘Can you believe they ripped on so-and-so?’ or ‘They did this on this person?’ But we do it to everybody! We try to be equal and make fun of funny things.”
Paisley, 45, says he’s come to expect backlash and knows some jokes will be taken out of context, but that doesn’t mean any topic is off limits.
“There’s no news happening,” the cohost quips. “What could we possibly make fun of right now?”
Still, he says he and his cohost can breathe a tiny sigh of relief. Last year, they emceed the show just days before the election and toed the line with their monologue, in which they lightheartedly lampooned infamous moments from Clinton-Trump race, from Trump’s “nasty woman” dig to Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” comment.
“That’s a difficult time; we’ve done that twice, and tensions are running high at a point like that, so that’s a dance that’s difficult to do, and I don’t miss that,” Paisley adds. “It’s a little easier in off years, in that sense.”
All jokes aside, Paisley confirmed the awards will pay tribute to members the country music community lost this year following the mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival. In October, a gunman killed 58 people and injured 527 at the country music festival, making it the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
“It’s very important to use this show as a vehicle to uplift our community and our industry,” Paisley told PEOPLE exclusively. “The best thing we can do is acknowledge it, pay our respects, and then perform this music and use this music for what it’s best at, which is unifying and giving us joy and finding the light here. … Humor is an important aspect. It may be more important than ever that we make some people laugh this year.”
Miranda Lambert, Little Big Town and Keith Urban scored the most nominations for the 2017 awards show, where Reba McEntire and Kelsea Ballerini, Maren Morris and Niall Horan, Thomas Rhett and many more are set to perform.
The 51st CMA Awards will be held at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville on Nov. 8 at 8 p.m. ET. The show will air live on ABC.