The Best Emmys Moments: Seth Meyers, Bryan Cranston, and a 'Seinfeld' Kiss

From moving speeches to inspired comedy bits—Amy Poehler is Beyoncé!—a round-up of the craziest, funniest, most moving moments from the 2014 Emmy Awards.

Mark Davis/NBC

Seth Meyers’ Monologue Was Great and Also Terrible

Seth Meyers’ opening monologue went from zero to hilarious very fast. But when we say zero, we mean zero. Like really unfunny. Like a joke about how MTV doesn’t play music videos anymore unfunny. (“That’s like network TV holding an awards show and giving all the trophies to cable and Netflix,” was the payoff. If you call that a payoff.) But it got good! It got “Weekend Update” good, even, which is nowhere near Tina Fey/Amy Poehler at the Golden Globes-level good, but as breezy and punchy as any of us could really have hoped for or expected.

His best joke ridiculed the category fraud that TV obsessives loved, well, obsessing over in these past weeks, mocking the “comedies that make you laugh and comedies that make you cry, because they were dramas submitted as comedies.” There was a solid dig at the underwhelming How I Met Your Mother finale being darker than Breaking Bad and Dexter’s: “Jesse Pinkman lived. Dexter lived. But your mother didn’t make it. Sleep tight.”

The thing that Seth Meyers did that was very tricky in his monologue is that he wasn’t mean. He did not turn the Emmys opening into a roast, which is something that we’ve become a bit accustomed over the years. That might explain why his schtick—sort of a bemused truth-telling about the industry that bordered on way too insider-y—didn’t seem to go over as riotously as your typical Ricky Gervais-Seth MacFarlane-Jimmy Kimmel brand roasting. But it was smart. Welcome to the Smart Emmys, Meyers seemed to be saying, which is about as polarizing a greeting you could give at one of these things.

Amy Poehler Was Beyoncé

Confirming what we’ve all sort of suspected, Amy Poehler revealed that she is actually Beyoncé. In an inspired bit (that was definitely stronger than Meyers’ monologue) the Parks and Rec star was announced by Meyers to present the first award of the night with an introduction she wrote herself. “Please welcome Beyoncé,” Meyers said, as Poehler walked on stage—nailing that Beyoncé sashay, it must be said—to pronounce, in her own words, the award for “Best On-Screen Orgasm in a Civil War Reenactment.” Voters are stupid and Poehler never wins at this damn-blasted show, but bless her for always being the best thing about it anyway.

Jimmy Kimmel Skewered Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson

Were you craving a little more bite to your banter? Meyers’ late-night colleague Jimmy Kimmel arrived to do the roasting that Meyers might have been afraid to do, laying it thick (and good-naturedly) on True Detective stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. “You got so fat since the Oscars,” Kimmel told McConaughey, beginning brilliantly before segueing to a more hum-hum groaner, a quip about how much weed the actor smokes. Original. He redeemed himself, though, with this zinger about McConaughey’s loopy speeches during last Oscar season. “How many speeches of those are we supposed to sit through? Alright alright alright already.”

Allison Janney Humblebragged Like a Boss

One week after winning the Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series Emmy for Masters of Sex, Allison Janney picked up the trophy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for her performance on Mom. It was her sixth Emmy, following four statues she nabbed for her role on The West Wing, a fact that Janney straight up bragged about during her Emmy speech. Related, Allison Janney is flawless. (Presenting later with Octavia Spencer, Janney solidified this hypothesis: “I know what you're thinking. That we’re here to announce a sequel to The Help," she joked. “And you’re right!”)

Billy on the Street Shouted at Everyone

If you’re not familiar with Billy Eichner’s game show Billy on the Street, the basic premise is that he runs—literally—through the streets of New York and quizzes unsuspecting strangers “in the face” about whether or not they agree with his own (hilarious) taste in pop culture. An Emmy-themed installment of the show that played during the ceremony was basically the best thing to happen to an awards telecast ever.

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To one startled New Yorker, for example, he shouts, “Maggie Smith doesn’t give a shit about these awards.” When another is asked if she watches Orange Is the New Black, the stranger spontaneously responds, “I do, but I’m not a lesbian.” Chock full of solid Tatiana Maslany snub, Judging Amy, and nobody-knows-who-Seth-Meyers-is jokes that are funny specifically because they are concepts taken SO SERIOUSLY by Eichner and seem so inconsequential to the average passerby, the segment should—if there’s any justice and any stock in these things as a showcase for talent—turn Eichner into an even bigger comedy star. And, in turn, our lives will all be that much funnier.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Bryan Cranston Made Out (Again)

“Hold on, Clark Gable,” began Julia Louis-Dreyfus, looking as if she’s been drinking the blood of virgins (seriously, she looked freaking amazing), immediately addressing the elephant in the room: co-presenter Bryan Cranston’s mustache.

It was all foreplay, however, for the best presenter banter of all time. Louis-Dreyfus made a joke that Cranston looked like a character Elaine had dated on Seinfeld. Cranston said he actually was that character—“We actually had a kissing scene together!”—but Louis Dreyfus was faux not buying it. As the audience erupted in laughter, a crazy thought crossed my mind. What if, in the age of knee-jerk 140-character griping about how bad these awards telecasts are, there actually was an awards show that we all were actually enjoying? Openly? When Cranston began necking with Louis-Dreyfus after the latter’s Emmy win for Best Actress in a Comedy, punctuated by her brilliant opening speech line—“Yeah, he was on Seinfeld”—it seemed it really was true.

Nearly Every Emmy Nominee Starred in the Night’s Best Bit

How do you do a successful awards bit? As Ellen DeGeneres learned with her now-famous Oscars selfie, you enlist the help of every nominee you can find. Meyers followed suit with an open forum staged halfway through the telecast, where nominees including Jon Hamm, Andre Braugher, and Fred Armisen could ask the host questions. Melissa McCarthy’s anger over her car being towed was the early highlight. Josh Charles holding the Emmys bathroom key was hilarious, until you remembered that Josh Charles played Will Gardner and Will Gardner is no more and then you cried a thousand Good Wife tears all over again. Julianna Margulies being told she couldn’t keep Maggie Smith's Emmy because Jon Hamm already called it was pretty great, too.

Larry Kramer Got a Standing Ovation

“We should all be Larry Kramers,” Ryan Murphy said about the trailblazer, activist, and playwright whose siren call to acknowledge the AIDS epidemic and stop the disease from becoming a death sentence gave birth to his play, The Normal Heart. Ryan Murphy has never made more sense.

Sarah Silverman Gave the Daffiest Speech

I don’t know if Sarah Silverman was stoned when she accepted the award for Outstanding Writing in a Variety Special but she concluded her speech by saying, “We’re all just made of molecules and we’re hurling through space right now.” You be the judge.

Gwen Stefani Made the Best Mispronunciation of All Time

Did Gwen Stefani say The Colbert Report wrong when announcing the winner for Outstanding Variety Series? Of course not. That’s just how Gwen Stefani pronounces “Colbert” in her accent. GWEN STEFANI IS PERFECT. But on the off chance that Stefani did say “Colbort” by mistake, it did birth the best Beyoncé-Stephen Colbert hybrid hashtag of all time. #surfColbort

Julianna Margulies Gave the Best Speech

Julianna Margulies gave a wonderfully ebullient, humble, and slyly edgy speech accepting her much-deserved trophy for The Good Wife. (In a veiled jab at cable dramas, many of which only have to produce as few as six or eight episodes a year, Margulies thanked her writers who “never cease to amaze me with 22 episodes a year.”) She called Christine Baranski a “beacon of light to us all” and asked her co-star Josh Charles, who recently asked to be written off the show, “What were you thinking?” I also think Christine Baranski is a beacon of light and I, too, would like to know what Josh Charles was thinking. I AM JULIANNA MARGULIES.

Bryan Cranston Gave the Most Moving Speech

“Even I thought about voting for Matthew,” Cranston began, openly acknowledging the neck-and-neck two-horse race between him and Matthew McConaughey for Best Actor. But it’s in the conclusion to his acceptance speech that Cranston really nailed the idea that these silly thank-you oratories can actually be moving and emotional and thought provoking. Referring to the nickname his family gave him as a child, he said, “I would like to dedicate this award to all the Sneaky Petes of the world, who thought that settling for mediocrity was a good idea, because it was safe. Don’t do it. Take a chance. Take a risk. Find that passion. Rekindle it. Fall in love all over again. It’s really worth it.”