Henry Winkler an early winner as Emmy Awards kick off with stinging jokes

Henry Winkler poses with his best supporting actor in a comedy award for television series Barry.
Henry Winkler poses with his best supporting actor in a comedy award for television series Barry.PHOTO: REUTERS

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - The 70th Emmy Awards, television's equivalent of the Oscars, opened on Monday (Sept 17) with an edgy flurry of jokes about diversity in Hollywood, Mr Donald Trump, race and sexual harassment in the entertainment industry.

Saturday Night Live nominees Kate McKinnon and Kenan Thompson led a group of actors including pop stars John Legend and Ricky Martin - and even RuPaul - in an amusing song-and-dance number touching on the hot-button issues.

They then yielded the stage to hosts Colin Jost and Michael Che, who are also regulars on the veteran NBC comedy sketch show - and let the zingers fly.

"This year, the audience is allowed to drink in their seats. Hope you're excited about that - because the one thing Hollywood needs right now is a bunch of people losing their inhibitions at a work function," Jost said to hearty laughs.

In describing The Handmaid's Tale, one of the evening's top nominees, Che said the Hulu show "takes place in an imaginary future where an entire group of people is violently forced to work and make babies against their will".

"It's what black people call history. It's 'Roots' for white women," he quipped, referring to the landmark 1970s television mini-series about slavery.

The glittering gala in downtown Los Angeles will see The Handmaid's Tale face off with record-breaking HBO fantasy epic Game Of Thrones for top honours - especially the coveted best drama prize.

Others in the best drama race include FX spy thriller The Americans, HBO's futuristic western Westworld, Netflix favourites The Crown and retro sci-fi mystery Stranger Things, and NBC family saga This Is Us.

The first awards of the night went to sentimental favourite Henry Winkler - the Fonz himself - for best supporting actor in a comedy for Barry, and Alex Borstein for Amazon's The Marvellous Mrs Maisel.