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.
The dystopian vision of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the deeply cynical Washington comedy “Veep” and the ever-topical “Saturday Night Live” won top series honors Sunday in the Awards ceremony that took almost nonstop aim at President Donald Trump in awards and speeches.
“Go home, get to work, we have a lot of things to fight for,” producer Bruce Miller said in accepting the best drama trophy for “A Handmaid’s Tale,” which also won best drama writing and directing awards and a best actress trophy for Elisabeth Moss. A beaming Margaret Atwood, whose 1985 novel is the show’s source, was onstage.
Moss won her first Emmy and thanked her mother in a speech that was peppered with expletives, while Ann Dowd won supporting actress honors for the drama.
Donald Glover won the best comedy actor for “Atlanta,” which he created and which carries his distinctive voice, while Julia Louis-Dreyfus was honored for a sixth time for her role as a self-absorbed politician in “Veep,” named best comedy for the third time.
“I want to thank Trump for making black people No. 1 on the most oppressed list. He’s the reason I’m probably up here,” Glover said, acknowledging the entertainment industry’s and the Emmys’ tilt toward the nonstop political under Trump.
Host Stephen Colbert’s song-and-dance opening — with help from Chance the Rapper — included the song “Everything Is Better on TV,” which, among other Trump digs, mentioned his alleged ties to Russia and included the lyric “even treason is better on TV.”
During the same act, Louis-Dreyfus sang “Imagine if your President wasn’t loved by Nazis.”
“Saturday Night Live” triumphed for a season of skewering Trump and creator Lorne Michaels said he knew it was an important year for the show to get things just right.
“I remember the first time we won this award,” Michaels said in accepting the show’s trophy for best variety sketch series. “It was after the first season in 1976. I remember thinking … this was the high point,” and there would never be “another season as crazy, as unpredictable, as frightening, as exhausting or as exhilarating. Turns out I was wrong.”
“SNL” had a smash year with its political comedy, led particularly by Alec 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.”
Alec Baldwin, who won an Emmy for his memorable portrayal of Trump on “Saturday Night Live,” gave Spicer some sympathy backstage.
“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.”
But Spicer’s joke still 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.”
Spicer was an integral player in Trump's war on the press. Sorry if I don't giggle at the mutilation of one of our country's founding ideals
— Sulome Anderson (@SulomeAnderson) September 18, 2017
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.
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.”