NEW YORK — Weeks after leaving his job, former White House press secretary Sean Spicer was onstage at the Emmy Awards on Sunday joking about one of his first — and more dubious — claims from the press room.
Host Stephen Colbert, playing the straight man in his opening monologue, said it was difficult to tell how many people would be watching the show. At that point, Spicer wheeled a podium onto the Los Angeles stage.
“This will be the largest audience to witness an Emmys period, both in person and around the world,” Spicer said. The reference was to his Inauguration Day claims, contradicted by photos, about how big the audience was for President Donald Trump’s oath of office.
“Wow,” Colbert replied. “That really soothes my fragile ego.”
Even without Spicer’s surprise appearance, politics couldn’t help but make its way onto the Emmy Awards stage, especially since Colbert noted that Trump was the biggest TV star of the year.
Spicer’s joke rubbed several people the wrong way on social media, and Colbert didn’t let him off the hook, either. Pointing out Robert DeNiro in the audience, he noted that the actor had been nominated for his role in the HBO movie “Wizard of Lies” (about Bernard Madoff). Colbert joked that he thought the movie was “The Sean Spicer Story.”
On Twitter, actor Zach Braff contended the Spicer appearance was too soon: “I’m not ready to laugh ‘with’ Sean Spicer,” he tweeted. One of former President Barack Obama’s top aides, Dan Pfeiffer wrote, “congrats to @seanspicer for his new job as the punchline to an unfunny joke.”
But he got some sympathy backstage from an unexpected source in Alec Baldwin, who won an Emmy for his memorable portrayal of Trump on “Saturday Night Live.”
“I think the average person is very grateful for him to have a sense of humor and participate,” Baldwin said. “And Spicer obviously was compelled to do certain things that we might not have respected, we might not have admired, we might have been super critical of in order to do his job, but I’ve done some jobs that are things you shouldn’t admire or respect me for, either.”
Colbert blamed the Emmys for Trump’s election as president. He suggested if Trump had won an award for “Celebrity Apprentice,” he might not have run for president. He showed a clip of a presidential debate where Trump said he should have won an Emmy.
“Unlike the presidency, Emmys go to the winner of the popular vote,” he said.
Baldwin couldn’t resist picking up that baton when he grasped his trophy. “I suppose I should say, at long last, Mr. President, here is your Emmy,” he said.
“SNL” had a smash year with its political comedy, led particularly by Baldwin and Melissa McCarthy’s impersonation of Spicer. It dominated the Emmys, too, with the show winning for variety sketch series and Kate McKinnon, who portrayed Hillary Clinton, taking a supporting actress award. McKinnon thanked Clinton from the stage for her “grace and grit.”
Lorne Michaels, the longtime top producer at “Saturday Night Live,” said he knew it was an important year for the show to get things just right.
“It was one of the most amazing years we’ve ever had because everything changed every day,” he said backstage.
Donald Glover, best actor winner in a comedy for his role in “Atlanta,” brought up the president his acceptance speech, saying that “I want to thank Trump for making black people No. 1 on the most oppressed list.”
A number of nominees wore blue ribbons, distributed by the ACLU in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.
“They asked us if he would wear these ribbons to bring attention to the DACA children – the 800,000 vulnerable children were waiting for Congress and our administration to give them permanent, safe homes – and not keep them in this limbo that is terrifying all of them and really affecting lives,” said actor Mandy Patinkin.
Three acting veterans got in the toughest shot at Trump — without mentioning his name. Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, the stars of the movie “Nine to Five,” appeared to present an award.
“Back in 1980 in that movie, we refused to be controlled by a sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot,” Fonda said.
“And in 2017,” Tomlin added, “we still refuse to be controlled by a sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot.”