Why Tina Fey Really Deserved Her Writers Guild Award for Comedy Excellence
Save for quick bathroom breaks or trips to the bar, an awards show generally doesn’t require its guests to leave their seats—unless, say, Oprah Winfrey is being honored. (When that happens, you’ll want to join the inevitable standing O.) But midway through the night, the audience at Sunday’s 70th annual Writers Guild of America Awards in New York City found themselves standing for another reason entirely: they were following instructions from their president.
No, not that president. (A Trump appearance likely would have been met with boos even louder than the ones that rang when presenter Robin Thede read Bill Maher’s name.) The request instead came from WGA East president Beau Willimon. In a show of strength in the face of adversity and unity in the aftermath of last year’s graze with a union strike, Willimon asked for those present to stand with their fists in the air and shout, “In solidarity! In solidarity! In solidarity!” The assembled writers, presenters, and honorees like Tina Fey, Robert Carlock, Rachel Dratch, Tracy Morgan, Seth Meyers, Anna Chlumsky, Adam Pally, and Ann Dowd played along; together, it made for one of the night’s most affecting and rousing moments.
“We tell stories that speak truth to power, and during the past year, the truth has been under attack—and along with it, the truth-tellers who are fighting to keep the truth alive,” Willimon said. “Journalists are under assault by the government, large-scale corporate mergers threaten to monopolize the distribution of film and television, a president whose regime embraces bigotry and greed has abandoned all respect for freedom of speech and the freedom of the press. . . Threats we are currently facing are dire, and will worsen if left unchallenged.”
Speaking with Vanity Fair during the awards’ pre-ceremony cocktail hour, the House of Cards showrunner and Oscar nominee praised the industry’s varied “truth-tellers,” saying, “There’s a lot of different ways to do that, whether it’s through comedy or drama, nonfiction, journalism, you name it. This year in particular, we see a lot of examples among the nominees of those who have been taking that role of speaking truth to power quite seriously.”
Look no further than the ceremony’s big winners: Get Out for best original screenplay; Call Me By Your Name for best adapted screenplay; The Handmaid’s Tale for best drama series and best new series; Veep for best comedy series; Saturday Night Live and Last Week Tonight for best comedy/variety series; Big Little Lies for best longform adapted screenplay; and Lifetime’s Flint for best longform original screenplay. To steal The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel star Rachel Brosnahan’s red carpet assessment, each “holds up a mirror to the world that we live in, shows us what we are—whether we like it or not—and maybe what we can aspire to be.”
Aside from Willimon’s call to arms, many stars avoided politics altogether at the mic. Instead, the awards were largely an opportunity to dine and imbibe with friends and peers, while the Writers Guild, West concurrently held a ceremony of their own in L.A., hosted by Patton Oswalt.
“When I get up onstage, it’ll be a good 40 percent of people I know, which is good: show up, goof off, get out,” Late Night With Seth Meyers writer and New York ceremony host Amber Ruffin told us before hitting the stage. Ruffin’s comedy chops were best put to use later in the night with an original musical number, “The Joke I Shouldn’t Tell”—which showcased punchlines that be too touchy in anyone else’s hands. (Example: “People are shocked that there was no nomination for the movie Girls Trip. Next year’s sequel is sure to win: Girls Trip 2: We’re Slaves This Time!” That led into the song’s chorus: “It’s the joke I shouldn’t tell / But what the hell / I’ll be forgiven, ’cause I’m a black lady / And you feel pressure to laugh at my jokes.”)
Ruffin loosened up the crowd, though there was plenty of mutual admiration on display from the start. Fey, Carlock, Morgan, and Dratch—the latter two of whom were on hand to present Fey and Carlock with the Herb Sargent Award for Comedy Excellence—all posed for a Saturday Night Live family photo. Seth Meyers and Adam Pally were seen getting jovial in a cocktail hour catch-up. Emmy winner Dowd floated from table to table, clapping shoulders and warmly smiling.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Lady Bird star Lucas Hedges got chummy with Call Me by Your Name author André Aciman, who accepted the adapted motion picture screenplay award on behalf of James Ivory. “He’s of course just the greatest,” Hedges gushed. (Perhaps they chatted about the 20-year-old Oscar nominee’s upcoming gay conversion therapy drama, Boy Erased.)
The night’s standout moment, however, came with Fey and Carlock’s acceptance speech, which had Carlock proclaiming that his writing partner should be on a postage stamp—“and not just because that means she’d be dead”—for canonical contributions like Mean Girls, Bossypants, and 30 Rock, which he thinks “should just start up again, because we need 30 Rock [today].”
Fey’s opinion of her creative partner was just as glowing, and equally tongue-in-cheek. “[Robert is] a great American and an upstanding person, and I think that that is worth noting,” she said. “If you have a meeting with Robert, when you get there, he will never be just getting out of the shower. He’ll shower himself on his own time. You’re safe! That is just how low the bar is now. That’s why we’re getting this award: We never made anyone who worked for us look at our genitals.”
And while Greta Gerwig lost best original screenolay to Get Out writer-director Jordan Peele,Lady Bird got its time in the spotlight when Fey compared herself to its beloved heroine.
“Looking around tonight, I’m reminded of how hard I worked to get out of this room,” she said, citing her literal tooth-and-nail fight to get in front of the camera from the writers’ room. “I had my teeth fixed and had people shoot lasers at my face, and just did so many squats. And yet, now I’m like Lady Bird, right near the end. I feel like I understand that this room will always be the best part of me.”
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