Emmys: 8 Most Memorable Speeches From Past Years

7:30 AM 9/1/2016

by Meena Jang

From Julia Louis-Dreyfus' speech swap with Amy Poehler to Viola Davis' historic win, a look at the humorous, emotional and empowering acceptance speeches that left a mark.

AP Images/Invision

  • Viola Davis

    2015: Outstanding lead actress in a drama series

    The How to Get Away With Murder actress made history when she beat out Claire Danes, Taraji P. Henson, Tatiana Maslany, Elisabeth Moss and Robin Wright to become the first black woman to receive the award. Davis gave a moving speech about diversity in Hollywood and limited roles for black actors and actresses onscreen. "The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there," she said at the podium, bringing Henson to her feet and Kerry Washington to tears. Davis then thanked Shonda Rhimes and the "people who have redefined what it means to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be a leading woman — to be black."

  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus

    2012: Outstanding lead actress in a comedy series

    In a pre-arranged bit, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Amy Poehler "mistakenly" swapped their pre-written acceptance speeches before Dreyfus was called to accept her third Emmy award.

    The Veep actress, reading off of a sheet of paper, began by saying, "I would like to thank NBC, Parks and Rec, my beautiful boys Archie and Abel..." before realizing that she had Poehler's (who was also nominated in the same category) speech in her hands. The audience caught on to the joke when the camera panned to a stunned Poehler, who ran up to the stage to hand Dreyfus the correct paper.

  • Jon Hamm

    2015: Outstanding lead actor in a drama series

    Hamm got a rousing standing ovation when he finally scored his first Emmy since garnering a total of 16 nominations over the years. The Mad Men actor, who couldn't quite believe he had won, gave a shout-out to fellow nominees Kyle Chandler, Jeff Daniels, Bob Odenkirk, Liev Schreiber and Kevin Spacey when he took the stage.

    "Nope, nope, nope. There's been a terrible mistake, clearly. This is impossible," Hamm said. "It's impossible to be named with all of those extraordinary gentlemen. It's impossible to be standing up here. It's impossible to have done this show with this incredible cast."

  • Merritt Wever

    2013: Outstanding supporting actress in a comedy series

    Wever, who won her first Emmy for her supporting role in Nurse Jackie, gave perhaps the shortest acceptance speech ever: "Thank you so much. Thank you so much. Um...I gotta go. Bye."

  • Melissa McCarthy

    2011: Outstanding lead actress in a comedy series

    During the 2011 ceremony, all lead actresses nominated in the comedy series category jokingly lined up onstage and held hands as presenters Rob Lowe and Sofia Vergara prepared to announce the winner. In true pageant fashion, McCarthy was given a tiara and bouquet of roses when her name was called. The Mike & Molly actress got teary-eyed as she thanked her husband, sister, parents and cast and crew. "I'm from Plainfield, Illinois and I'm standing here, and it's kind of amazing," an emotional McCarthy said.

  • Jeffrey Tambor

    2015: Outstanding lead actor in a comedy series

    The Transparent star read through a pre-written list of co-stars, family and teachers he wanted to thank at the podium before ending his speech by dedicating his award to the transgender community. "Thank you for your patience. Thank you for your courage," Tambor said. "Thank you for your stories. Thank you for your inspiration. Thank you for letting us be part of the change."

  • Meryl Streep

    2004: Outstanding lead actress in a miniseries or a movie

    Streep jokingly basked in her own glory when she took home the award for lead actress in a miniseries or a movie for her performance in Angels in America in 2004. "There are some days when I myself think I'm overrated," she said at the podium. "But not today!" She continued her speech by praising the other nominees, except fellow Angels co-star Emma Thompson, "who will hold a grudge for the rest of her life."

  • Ricky Gervais (and Steve Carell)

    2007: Outstanding lead actor in a comedy series

    Presenters Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart announced Ricky Gervais as the winner at the 2007 ceremony, but the comedian wasn't present to accept his award. Naturally, the two late-night hosts decided to hand the award to someone else.

    "Ricky Gervais couldn't be here tonight, so instead, we're going to give this to our friend, Steve Carell," Stewart said, as The Office actor (who was nominated alongside Gervais) ran from his seat to the stage and jumped in joy.

    The following year, Gervais made his return to the Emmys stage and demanded that Carell give him his statue back in a live comedy bit. "Have you got it on you?" he asked. "I heard you carry it around with you to get in restaurants and stuff."

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