Host Stephen Colbert warned us ahead of Sunday’s prime time Emmys that politics would not be off-limits.
But it felt like U.S. President Donald Trump was everywhere during the ceremony — his name turning up in rambling tirades, acceptance speeches and taking up a good chunk of Colbert’s opening monologue, always the butt of the joke.
Perhaps the show was just punching back.
The president has spent years slighting it, seemingly holding a grudge ever since he was twice nominated for The Apprentice only to lose both times. Trump even took a moment during one of the presidential debates to say he should have won an Emmy after Hillary Clinton brought up his losses.
Politics may have overshadowed the show, but it also made for some of its most memorable moment. There were, however, a few entirely apolitical highlights too. Here’s what happened.
Dumping on Trump
There were plenty of easy jabs at the president. Colbert lampooned his tweets and quipped that “Emmys go to the winner of the popular vote.” But sandwiched between those were fierce critiques of his administration.
Atlanta‘s Donald Glover sarcastically thanked Trump during his best comedic actor acceptance speech “for making black people number one on the most oppressed list.”
“He’s probably the reason why I’m up here,” he said.
Presenter Lily Tomlin didn’t call out Trump by name but subtly told the crowd she refused “to be controlled by a sexist egotistical lying hypocritical bigot.”
It came full circle when Alec Baldwin won best supporting actor in a comedy series for his portrayal of the president on Saturday Night Live.
“I suppose I should say, at long lost Mr. President, here is your Emmy,” Baldwin said, while clutching the trophy.
The return of Spicey
The night’s biggest surprise was also Trump related. It came just moments into the show when Colbert brought out former White House press secretary Sean Spicer, podium and all.
Spicer, who guested on Jimmy Kimmel Live last week, grinned while lecturing the crowd on the potential size of the Emmys viewership.
“This will be the largest audience to witness an Emmys, period,” he said, an allusion to his demonstrably false claim in January that the audience to Trump’s inauguration was the biggest ever.
Many stars dropped their jaws and covered their mouths, while a camera captured a stunned Melissa McCarthy (who played Spicer on SNL) scratching her nose and holding her chin.
As the real Spicer wrapped, Colbert thanked “Melissa McCarthy” for showing up.
The focus on Trump may have blurred what was arguably the night’s most important trend: a clear focus on honouring a diversity of industry players. Or as presenter Dave Chappelle put it, “I’m truly amazed how many black people are here … I counted 11 on the monitor.”
Master of None‘s Aziz Ansari and Lena Waithe won for outstanding comedy writing, making Waithe the first black woman to win the prize.
“The things that make us different — those are our superpowers,” she said during her acceptance speech, thanking everyone for embracing a queer black girl from the south side of Chicago.
She added backstage: “What it does is, it says that it’s possible.”
Along with his best comedic actor win, Atlanta’s Donald Glover also scored best comedy direction. “This is nuts,” he said. “I just love everybody out here for letting me be up here.”
The Night Of‘s Riz Ahmed took home best actor for limited series or movie. And This is Us‘ Sterling K. Brown paid tribute to Andre Braugher during his acceptance speech for lead actor, drama. Braugher was the last black man to win the honour.
“I’m the first African-American in 16 years nominated. That kind of blows my mind,” he said.
The academy also recognized many strong female roles this year, a move praised by Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman while accepting the best limited series Emmy for Big Little Lies, which the pair starred in and co-executive produced.
But they also urged for more of these types of roles.
“Bring women to the front of their own stories, and make them the hero of their own stories,” Witherspoon said during the speech.
She elaborated back stage: “It’s great to be the architect of your own destiny and create material for yourself.”
The Handmaid’s Tale, which took home eight Emmys including best drama series, also showed a range of strong female voices in its adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel.
“I think there’s still a lot of work to be done but incredible progress has been made,” said the show’s star Elisabeth Moss, who won best dramatic actress for her role as the handmaid Offred.
Atwood, who was in attendance, was feted numerous times and got a standing ovation as she made her way onto the stage after The Handmaid’s Tale won best drama series.
And each time the show won a trophy, the recipient thanked Atwood. Reed Morano, who won for her directing, called Atwood “her idol.” Show star Moss was also generous in her praise.
“Oh my gosh, thank you for what you did in 1985, and thank you for what you continue to do for all of us,” she said while accepting for best dramatic actress.
It wasn’t just Atwood — fellow Canucks Jean-Marc Vallée, director and executive producer of Big Little Lies and Saturday Night Live boss Lorne Michaels were thanked over and over as their shows kept racking up awards.
Big Little Lies’ Laura Dern told reporters in the press room that working with Vallée was like “doing a little dance” every day and she loved the fact that he was “gender blind.”
SNL‘s Don Roy King paid his tribute to Michaels while accepting for best directing, variety — “Because of Lorne Michaels, I have the best job in television.”