“Sh*t, this is like a f*cking press conference,” former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer joked last night to a group of Deadline staffers after his cameo to kick off the Primetime Emmy Awards. “It’s been a crazy night,” he said at Netflix’s post-Emmys bash.
It certainly was. Earlier on Sunday, in a moment that shocked the live audience at the Microsoft Theatre in downtown Los Angeles and surely beyond, Spicer emerged onstage during host Stephen Colbert’s opening monologue. As anyone who has watched The Late Show With Stephen Colbert knows, Colbert’s views regarding Spicer’s former boss Donald Trump are quite strong — and quite clear. So when Spicer was rolled out on a special Emmys/White House podium — à la Melissa McCarthy’s Saturday Night Live sketches — it begged the question: Why would Spicer ever put himself in this position?
Taking it all in stride — and making more public appearances by the day, with a recent appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live scoring big ratings — Spicer said he simply responded to an idea that was put to him last Thursday by Colbert and his team. “Stephen Colbert and his executive producer reached out, and they had a really interesting idea for his monologue tonight,” Spicer said. “I thought it was interesting, and we went from there.”
Operating within a Trump administration that has been outright hostile toward SNL, Hollywood liberals and the media, Spicer has certainly approached his situation with a sense of humor that has mostly been lacking in American politics—at least, in any intentional way. For Spicer, choosing to place himself on display at the Emmys was an “opportunity to be a little self-deprecating and laugh at yourself.”
“I think there’s a couple things [to consider],” he said at the party, where guests spent the night asking him to take photos together. “One is, you have to recognize that there’s a lot of folks that do have a political difference, but I have a respect for the professionalism that a lot of people have in the film and TV industry. You can respect someone’s political abilities without necessarily having a problem with their political leanings. I’ve found that with a lot of the folks here tonight.”
Despite a sense that Spicer might have been the butt of the joke last night, along with Trump — the latter the subject of a series of takedowns by presenters and winners alike — Spicer ultimately felt he was respected by Colbert and his staff throughout the process. “I think there might be a difference in our political leanings here and there, but I respect the job that they do, and I think that hopefully, they respected the job that I did, in terms of serving the country,” he said.
Spicer has already weighed in with his thoughts on McCarthy’s “Spicey” routine on SNL, but last night, he gave Deadline his take. “I think the first one was funny, it was hysterical, and then there was some of it that I think was just not as funny. But the first one, I laughed a lot,” he said. “The second one, I probably laughed a little at the beginning, and then I think it got a little [less funny], but I don’t think that’s dissimilar from a lot of viewers. It was like a normal Saturday Night Live skit: It started out funny, and didn’t end as well.”
Of course, things ended well for SNL last night, when it collected four more wins to give it a total of nine Emmys this year, rewarding the show which in its 42nd season saw record-high ratings.
With regard to Trump and current events, Spicer has his take, though he’s not inclined to give it, still viewing the world through the lens of White House Press Secretary. “Sure, I’ve got my thoughts, but that’s not what a press secretary’s job is. A press secretary’s job is to articulate the thoughts of the President, or the principle that they serve, and that was my job to do. But your job isn’t to articulate your own thoughts—it’s to articulate the thoughts of the person that you serve,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of folks in this industry, when I’m out here in Hollywood—there’s individuals that might not agree with the script they were given, or the network they’re on, but at the end of the day, when you sign up for a job, you understand what you’re getting, and I was honored and privileged to serve this President, this administration, and the American people.”
With the White House’s revolving door of key departures, it often appears there is a contract—implicit or otherwise—that following their exits ex-staffers will continue to serve Trump’s message and his image. “There’s no contract,” Spicer said. “But I would tell you that it was an honor and privilege to serve him. I would never betray that trust, and [seek to be] be an advocate for the policies that he campaigned on. And I’m going to be true to myself.”
For Spicer, it’s been unclear what exactly that means in terms of the career he plans to carve out post-Trump. Speaking of his future ambitions, Spicer said, matter-of-factly: “I think I want to do the Oscars, the Grammys, People’s Choice Awards — but I want to do it all.” Taking on speaking engagements, including a visiting fellowship at Harvard — “30 years too late, but I’m still glad to be in,” he said — one thing seems clear: Politics, for him, are a thing of the past.
“I’ve enjoyed my time in politics, and you never want to say never, but I’m ready to move on,” he said.
Spicer was also asked if he feels Trump would be willing to return to late-night television as a guest himself anytime soon. “We’ll see—that’s up to his own [discretion]. He’s got a new team. I’ll leave it up to them to decide.” Surely it would be a ratings bonanza, but also a fairly difficult sell given late-night’s continued rebuke of the President — even the more neutral talk-show hosts are giving their takes now. “He has [been criticized], and I think some of it is fair, and some of it is unfair,” Spicer said. “I’ll leave it up to him to make his decisions about where to go next.”
One thing for sure about Trump, Spicer said: He had no knowledge of Spicer’s planned appearance Sunday. “Very few people [knew]. It was very top secret, lock and key. It was pretty amazing,” Spicer said. “There were no leaks on this one.”