Disguise, secrecy behind Spicer's Emmy turn

Fomer White House press secretary Sean Spicer's appearance at the awards ceremony garnered mixed reviews.
Fomer White House press secretary Sean Spicer's appearance at the awards ceremony garnered mixed reviews.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • When he was the White House press secretary, Mr Sean Spicer did not hide his disdain of the elites in Hollywood.

But now that he has quit his job, he has to build - and mend - bridges if he wants to have a lasting and more lucrative tenure in the next phase of his career.

On Sunday, he was a surprise guest at the Emmy Awards, making his appearance at the end of host Stephen Colbert's opening monologue. That included a long riff about United States President Donald Trump's uneasy relationship with the entertainment industry and apparent frustration that his NBC reality series The Apprentice never won an Emmy.

Colbert, a frequent critic of Mr Trump and Mr Spicer, went on to say that the President was primarily concerned with television ratings, but that there was no way to know how large his audience was.

Colbert asked: "Sean, do you know?" At that point, Mr Spicer shot out of the wings - pushing a podium similar to the one immortalised by Melissa McCarthy in her impersonation of him on comedy show Saturday Night Live.

He recited his infamous briefing room statement when he was press secretary, nearly word for word.

"This will be the largest audience to witness an Emmys, period - both in person and around the world," he declared with a semi-straight face.

In January, he had charged into the White House briefing room and criticised accurate news reports that President Barack Obama's inauguration crowd was bigger than Mr Trump's.

For Mr Spicer, who resigned in July after clashes with the media and disagreement with Mr Trump over the appointment of Mr Anthony Scaramucci as communications director, the Emmys were his latest bid to court the largely liberal coastal entertainment and news elites he so acidly disdained as the President's alter-ego spokesman.

The once-obscure party spokesman has been elevated to a level of celebrity he scarcely dreamed possible a year ago. Like many before him, he hopes to translate his embattled tenure into something more durable and lucrative.

So the Emmys were also a chance for Mr Spicer to cultivate a television industry audience that he may need as he seeks speaking engagements and paid television appearances in his post-White House life.

His arrival on the Emmys stage garnered mixed reviews - not so much for his star turn with Colbert of The Late Show, but for Hollywood's sudden embrace of a man once viewed as a not-so-truthful mouthpiece for a president whom many despise.

As Mr Spicer prepared to return to Washington on Monday, he was asked if he was worried that Mr Trump would take offence at the skit, which many saw as lampooning the latter's preoccupation with the size of his inauguration crowd.

"I certainly hope not," Mr Spicer said. "This was an attempt to poke a little fun at myself and add a little bit of levity to the event."

He added that he did not give senior White House staff a heads-up about his appearance. According to him, Colbert suggested the idea.

When Mr Spicer and his wife headed to Los Angeles last Saturday, he wore a disguise.

When scripts were handed out to crew members and performers, his name was nowhere to be found - replaced by an innocuous surname that began with the letter "S".

A person familiar with the planning of the Emmys programme said Colbert and his staff regarded Mr Spicer's appearance as a joke at the expense of Mr Trump and a way to poke fun at Colbert too.

Colbert was mocking himself by using Mr Spicer to overstate the size of his viewership.

Since leaving the White House last month, Mr Spicer has been on a speaking and television circuit.

Last Wednesday, he appeared as a guest on ABC late-night show Jimmy Kimmel Live in an interview that drew criticism for its perceived leniency towards Mr Spicer.

But at least among some people in Hollywood, he may have been forgiven.

At the Television Academy's Emmys after-party in Los Angeles, several gown- and tuxedo-clad revellers stopped to gawk at him.

Other guests patiently lined up nearby - Mr Spicer was posing for selfies.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 20, 2017, with the headline 'Disguise, secrecy behind Spicer's Emmy turn'. Subscribe