By and large, Sunday night’s Emmy awards were a rousing success. Women-fronted shows like The Handmaid’s Tale and Big Little Lies took home tons of hardware, while wins by Donald Glover, Lena Waithe, Riz Ahmed and Sterling K. Brown made for one of the most diverse award shows in recent memory. But when the dust settled, all anyone could talk about was Sean Spicer.
The erstwhile White House press secretary was the night’s surprise guest of honor, which led to a tidal wave of criticism on social media and beyond. The bit was simple: Spicer interrupts Stephen Colbert’s opening monologue by rolling onto stage behind the fake podium Melissa McCarthy used to spoof Spicer on SNL. He announces that the Emmys will be witnessed by the largest audience” ever—a nod to his trademark lie as Press Secretary—and he’ll roll off into the Trump castaway ether, never to be heard from again.
The crowd reaction shots will go viral (they did), and the Emmys will have their water cooler moment (they did). And while Colbert and the show’s producers—whose idea it was to invite Spicer in the first place—knew the bit would be controversial, the sheer volume of the backlash has reportedly caught them off guard.
The outcry was especially loud among journalists and members of the Hollywood community, who criticized the Emmys for giving a platform to a man who was complicit in Trump’s xenophobic and racist administration. “I’m not ready to laugh ‘with’ Sean Spicer. I think he is an evil, opportunistic liar that hurt our country,“ Zach Braff tweeted. Meanwhile, MSNBC host Larence O’Donnell pointed out that by participating in the normalization of Spicer, the Emmys helped him “pump up his 'lecture’ fees which is all that matters to him now.”
I’m not ready to laugh "with” Sean Spicer. I think he is an evil, opportunistic liar that hurt our country.— Zach Braff (@zachbraff) September 18, 2017
Emmys helped Spicer pump up his “lecture” fees which is all that matters to him now. https://t.co/nzo5n8VuYx— Lawrence O'Donnell (@Lawrence) September 18, 2017
The argument could be made that Spicer was the butt of his own joke, and that the coastal elites he spent months berating from a podium were actually laughing at him, not with him. But we’re not going to make that argument here. There were a lot of famous people in the room last night, but none loomed larger than Spicer. Not long after his appearance, photos of an ebullient Spicer posing with fans and chugging beers emerged. He was a hit at the after parties. James Corden gave him a kiss. Spicer wasn’t just invited to the prom. He was crowned prom king.
Corden kisses Spicer naively believing him to be a TV character from a bad sitcom. Oh, wait… (“Like a dog listening to classical music”) pic.twitter.com/sPdoOHjUVY— Richard Littler (@richard_littler) September 18, 2017
Remember when everyone got mad at Jimmy Fallon for petting Trump’s hair? This was no different. Spicer aided and abetted Trump’s assault on our democratic norms for months, and only left because he didn’t get a long with his new coworker. Spicer still hasn’t copped to lying to the American public on a daily basis and defended the President on national television as early as last week. America was built on the ideal of the second chance, but you have to put in the work first. Instead of saying sorry for all the lying, Spicer is openly laughing about it, and some of us are willfully laughing alongside him. Hollywood loves a good redemption arc, and last night proved it. But some people just aren’t worth saving.