Sunday night, Sean Spicer found his way out of the bushes and, for the first time since his hostage role in the Trump administration ended, embraced the spotlight. Appearing on the Emmys stage as part of a Trump-bashing bit in host Stephen Colbert’s ruthless monologue at the expense of the president, Spicer seemed eager to soak up the applause.
There’s an argument that, aside from his mere appearance becoming the show’s greatest sight gag and buzziest moment, it made sense to invite Spicer to TV’s biggest night. He was arguably a part of the most memorable TV moment of the past year, when Melissa McCarthy first played him on Saturday Night Live.
McCarthy, who won an Emmy last week for her portrayal, reacted to Spicer’s appearance with a look that silently said, as my Daily Beast colleague Tim Teeman pointed out on Twitter, “This is amazing and terrible and my stricken expression speaks for the audience at home.”
The chorus of gasps and laughter from the stunned audience played out in reaction shots from everyone from Modern Family’s Sarah Hyland to Veep’s Anna Chlumsky, who made the kind of shocked face like she just saw a hilarious ghost—a full-body physical reaction that cemented her status as the night’s most viral .GIF.
Twitter, as expected, lit up like fireworks on the Fourth of July, the equivalent of a 140-character standing ovation for a public figure who lived out his short tenure in the embattled Trump administration in relentless disgrace and disgust, applauding him for “gamely” participating in the roasting of his former boss.
The appearance came during a segment in Colbert’s opening monologue centered on Trump’s obsession with winning an Emmy Award back when he was the host and producer of The Apprentice, which was nominated for several Emmys over its run but never won—a matter that a bitter Trump even whined about during a presidential debate, in a clip that Colbert showed the audience.
Making a connection between the Emmy-craven president, whom Colbert predicted was watching Sunday’s telecast closely, and the TV industry, the host made a crack about Trump being constantly concerned about his ratings, just as TV bigwigs are with viewership.
In a nod to one of the most notorious “alternative facts” that Spicer was forced to spew from his Press Secretary podium—a gross exaggeration of how many people attended Trump’s inauguration—Spicer wheeled that podium out onto the stage, and, with a shit-eating grin on his face, said, “This will be the largest audience to witness an Emmys, period, both in person and around the world.”
“Melissa McCarthy, everyone!” Colbert shouted, while Spicer left the stage to the loudest applause of the night thus far.
The moment was fun, sure. It was clever, too, the actually well-executed version of Chris Rock inviting Stacey Dash to the stage at the Oscars. But while that awkward bit did nothing for Dash’s career, the volume of cheering for the Spicer bit already is kind of sickening.
This dude does not get to be a folk hero.
Sean Spicer does not get to be funny.
The moment might earn your applause. Sean Spicer does not.
Former Trump staffers making light of the administration only after they’ve left the White House and their jobs are no longer at risk does not absolve them of their complicity in the international dumpster fire they were more than happy to pour gasoline over while they were still getting a paycheck.
Sean Spicer openly lied to the American public, participated in the stonewalling of the free press, and then shrugged his shoulders and copped “the boss made me do it” as his defense. It’s not noble to skewer that boss now that he’s free from shouldering those burdens and the shame of being so spineless. It reveals someone who has even less character than we originally thought, once again proving that when it comes to the members of this administration, there’s no such thing as setting the bar too low.
We have a tendency to be easily seduced by TV moments like this, and become complicit in career rehab for the people who don’t deserve them. Again, the moment was a hoot. But the cheering for Spicer is entirely misdirected. Just because you’re the first one to abandon ship doesn’t mean you’re owed a seat in the lifeboat.
It’s interesting that just this week, Colbert himself told Jimmy Kimmel, in response to Kimmel saying he felt sorry for Spicer, “Really? Because he wasn’t apologizing. He wants to be forgiven, but he won’t regret anything he did. You’ve got to regret to be forgiven.”
It’s the rightful opinion, but one that seems contradicted by this publicity-drumming Emmys bit.
That’s why it was smart, even necessary, that the button to the entire Spicey moment was when, minutes later, Colbert introduced the cast of Big Little Lies—the five faces from my personal Mount Rushmore, and a much-needed palate cleanser from the Spicer hogwash—and cracked about it being the Sean Spicer story.
Let that be your reminder.