At the Emmys on Sunday, former White House press secretary Sean Spicer rolled out his podium during Stephen Colbert’s monologue and cracked some jokes for the audience. Spicer’s appearance was largely polarizing, and on Monday, Mike Schur, the creator of The Good Place, spoke to Andy Greenwald on The Watch about why he thought the bit was misconceived.
Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.
Mike Schur: The [big] annoyance to me personally [at the Emmys] was Sean Spicer in the house. I hated that so much.
Andy Greenwald: I wanted to bring that up. So I agree with you—I’d love to hear your take on it.
Schur: I thought it was a terrible, misconceived blunder. I did not enjoy it ... most of the people that I spoke with did not enjoy it. I don’t think you get to do what [Spicer] did—which is essentially serve as a mouthpiece of an agitprop organization for like a state-run media, and lie—just bald-faced lie to everybody—and then also say, “How dare you?” to people who accuse him of lying, and attack those people who say, “Why are you lying?” And then get fired, essentially, and then come out and go, “Haha, remember when I lied to you guys? That was so funny. It was so funny how I lied to you.”
Greenwald: And [he] gets to be a good sport, and it was all in good fun, it’s all entertainment, we’re all performers here.
Schur: Yeah, it wasn’t—it was not fun. None of this has been fun. It’s not a joke. And I really resent the idea that he gets to be normalized by anyone, much less a group of people who, by-and-large, are sort of leading the resistance against him and everything that he and his administration stood for.
So that part of it to me was—I guess I sort of get it. I was sort of game planning. Because I love Stephen Colbert more than you could ever imagine. I think Stephen Colbert is like ... I think he’s one of the most important performers and one of the greatest comedic performers I’ve ever seen in my entire life. And I was trying to work it out in my own head as to—what was the thinking? I believe the thinking was something like this: It was like, “This entire administration is a joke. And I’m going to prove it.” Right? It was something like that. It was like, “I’m going to now show you—everyone, including you, Mr. President—how much of a stupid joke everything here was.” And I sort of see it from that angle. But I don’t agree with it. And I don’t think that it should have happened, because I don’t think that’s what it did. I think instead of saying it was a joke, I think it was saying, “We’re all in big trouble,” because there’s now a completely blurred line between entertainment and actual fact and reality.
Greenwald: I agree with you, and I appreciate the generous view that you’re taking. … What’s been interesting to me over the last year and a half has been seeing Stephen Colbert … [find] the public persona behind that desk. Because I think even he would admit it was not an entirely smooth transition to go from the fictional Colbert on Comedy Central to the host of The Late Show. But I think he’s figured it out. And, for the most part, [Sunday] night… [was] an even bigger stage for a coming-out party for who he is as a performer for everyone, not just for this specific character. Yet that rang so false to me because it reminded me [that] a lot of these late-night hosts have been wrestling [with this idea] in different ways: That “Well, we’re behind the desk for all of America. We help put America to sleep,” that sort of antiquated Johnny Carson thinking where “I’m gonna feint this way and then feint this way.” Although [Colbert] has mostly avoided that ... to his great ratings gain over the last year. So that's why, to me, it felt discordant.
Schur: Like you said, he’s not interested in that, I don’t think, nor should he be necessarily. I think that that old Carson-y way of thinking about what it means to be a broadcaster—it’s a noble idea, and I don’t think that it’s impossible or anything, but that way of thinking also [masked] a lot of problems that the country had. People weren’t taking sides, and I know that there [are] a lot of platitudes about “uniting us instead of dividing us” and stuff, but I, in general, think it’s better for people on television to be expressing their opinions [rather] than not expressing their opinions.
Colbert hasn’t seemed that interested in sort of playing both sides and “both sides-ing” this, in part because what the “this” right now is less “both sides-able” than it’s ever been. And when the president, for example, both sides-es something like Charlottesville, then everyone—unanimously, almost—points out what a huge mistake it is to try to do that. So, I couldn’t find the angle on the idea behind Spicer that was [different than] “We’ve done a bunch of Trump jokes at his expense. Now let’s throw his supporters some love.” … It sure didn’t seem like that was the intention of it, and even if it had been, that would have been a miscalculation. I think it was like a ratings ploy a little bit—like a “Let’s get people talking” ploy, and a little bit of a sly wink from Colbert like, “I’ve been telling you what a joke this administration is, and now I’m gonna prove it by having one of them just come on the Emmys and make a fool of himself.” But I hated every second of it.