The greatest acceptance speech in Emmys history was in 2004 when Elaine Stritch told whomever would listen, “They can take me off the stage when they want to.” Sunday night at the 69th Annual Emmy Primetime Awards, This Is Us actor Sterling K. Brown did his best impression of Stritch while accepting the award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, and damn, it was good.
Brown was victorious for the second time in a row—last year he took home an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie—though winning for his performance on the breakout NBC comedy-drama This Is Us seemed to have him completely bewildered. Accepting the award, Brown struck the perfect chord of levity and unfeigned sincerity in a speech that will go down as the best moment of the night, and maybe even one of the ceremony’s all-time greats.
He began by acknowledging the work of his fellow nominees and then expressed how humbling it was to have his character enshrined in the pantheon of great male TV protagonists. “Like, Walter White held this joint? Dick Whitman held this joint?” Brown exclaimed. He then gave a poignant shout-out to Andre Braugher, who was the last African American lead to receive the honor when he won in 1998 for his role as detective Frank Pembleton in Homicide: Life on the Street.
And like all great speeches, Brown’s was sprinkled with some comic gems as well. He called his This is Us castmates “the best white TV-family that a brotha has ever had” (true), declaring that they even topped “them white folks that raised Webster” (also true). He thanked his co-star Ron Cephas Jones, and just as he was preparing to acknowledge the show’s writers, the Emmys’ “wrap it up music” rose to full volume. Brown was taken aback—“Nobody got that loud music!” he proclaimed, rightfully pointing out that a few earlier speeches had gone longer than his—but in pure Stritchian fashion, he held his ground on stage, continuing on even as producers cut his mic.
After the show, Brown got the chance to finish what he started. He took the opportunity to complete the requisite company nods and express his love for his wife and kids. He then spent an extra moment reflecting on Braugher and why winning this award was so important to him. “When I first got to [NYU] there was a poster of Gideon’s Crossing above the Public Theater, so I would see [Braugher’s] face all the time when I left my apartment to go to school,” he said. “So, I’m buggin out, bruh! I never thought that this was a possibility, and to be standing here 19 years after him! I wanna represent.”
Tonight at the 2017 Emmys, it’s safe to say Sterling K. Brown did just that.