Sean Spicer says his surprise Emmy Awards appearance was a chance to have some fun, and suggested Tuesday that people who were upset by it were taking things too seriously.
Clearly, not everyone was laughing, however.
After trade publication Variety posted a photo of James Corden trying to plant a kiss on Spicer at the awards show, the late-night host was blasted on social media for it. He attempted to address the criticism with humour in his monologue Monday night.
“Anyone ever have that feeling when you get a little drunk and then wake up the next morning and think: ‘Oh God. Who did I kiss last night?’ To be fair, everyone was kissing ass last night at the Emmys, I just kissed the biggest one there,” Cordon quipped.
For Emmys host Stephen Colbert, there’s also a risk that a joke he engineered could wind up doing collateral damage. The former White House press secretary’s cameo was Colbert’s idea, and they arranged to maximize the surprise factor through Chris Licht, the Colbert producer who knew Spicer from his background in news.
Colbert set the joke up by saying there was no way of knowing how many people would be watching the Emmys, then Spicer wheeled out from behind a podium to say “this will be the largest audience to witness an Emmys period, both in person and around the world.”
The clear reference was to Spicer’s first appearance in the White House press room, arguing against photographic evidence about how large President Donald Trump’s Inauguration Day audience was. (In an unfortunate parallel, Emmy viewership on Sunday essentially tied last year with the smallest ever for the television awards show).
Trump critics resented the apparent effort to “normalize” Spicer and make light of the idea of not telling the truth in the White House press room.
“The message of his presence was not only that we can all laugh at his service and sycophancy in the Trump administration, but that he’s willing to laugh with us,” wrote Frank Bruni in a column for The New York Times titled “The Shameful Embrace of Sean Spicer at the Emmys.”
Really, Emmys? Really, Stephen Colbert? I guess celebrity really does trump everything & redeem everyone. My column, https://t.co/fEJHPU4IpK
Pretty sure everyone at the Emmys should have been giving Sean Spicer the Tommy Lee Jones treatment. pic.twitter.com/IjbyuhDZKg
On The View, Joy Behar said that if Spicer and other Trump surrogates apologize to the American people, “then I’ll have fun with you, Sean.”
Liberal commentator Keith Olbermann tweeted that the Emmys lost its credibility by lionizing Spicer. Even a Republican strategist, Kevin Madden, warned on CNN that Spicer should be wary of equating notoriety with respect.
Memorializing Roger Ailes and lionizing Sean Spicer – who stands against the 1st Amendment and our craft – the Emmys lost all credibility pic.twitter.com/ZLuyGLPG9j
I’m not ready to laugh “with” Sean Spicer. I think he is an evil, opportunistic liar that hurt our country.
To which Spicer, reached on an airplane on Tuesday, offered a suggestion: lighten up.
“People are reading too much into this,” he said. While he respects people’s opinions, he said people shouldn’t take the appearance that seriously.
Spicer made the rounds of Hollywood parties after the Emmys and was greeted with many people asking for selfies.
“I was surprised at how nice people were to me,” he said, “even the people who I know don’t agree with me politically.”
Bit dubbed ‘incredibly disappointing’
Some fans of Colbert were also bewildered by the appearance. The Late Show host has soared in the ratings this year with comedy that has been sharply critical of Trump and his team. He should know the dangers of appearing too chummy: late-night competitor Jimmy Fallon still hasn’t recovered from the bad feelings engendered when he tousled Trump’s hair when the then-candidate appeared on the Tonight show last year.
After Spicer’s appearance, Colbert got in a rip. He joked that Robert DeNiro, who appeared as Bernard Madoff in the HBO movie Wizard of Lies, had actually been the star of The Sean Spicer Story.
Whoa: actual Sean Spicer comes out to discuss the numbers at the Emmies. Many people are gasping. (I do not love this.)
Emily Nussbaum, television critic at The New Yorker, tweeted after that one: “having cake, eating it too, then throwing it up again. There’s a lot going on.”
The website Vox said it was “incredibly disappointing” to see Colbert joking with Spicer.
“It went against everything Colbert purports to do on his fiercely pointed Late Show, and retroactively sucked the air out of any biting Trump jokes he tried to make in his opening monologue,” the site wrote.