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Samantha Bee hosted the Ad Council’s 64th annual public service awards dinner at the New York Hilton on Thursday night, addressing a crowd of more than 1,500 ad industry execs and social influencers who had gathered to honor the philanthropic side of their business.
While Bee joked that she was “honored to be the last late-night personality to be asked to host this event” (previous hosts include Jimmy Fallon, Tina Fey, Seth Meyers, Conan O’Brien and James Corden), Ad Council president and CEO Lisa Sherman laughed at the notion that Bee was anyone’s consolation prize. “Sam Bee is the ‘it’ girl of late-night TV,” said Sherman. “She’s funny, honest and always tapped into the cultural zeitgeist.”
To that end, Bee wasted no time in calling out the men in Hollywood who seem to be dropping like flies from sexual harassment charges. “If you don’t know my show, get acquainted with it,” she instructed a rapt audience. “It’s likely to be the only one that’s left standing.”
Her remarks were also peppered with overt stabs at Trump, calling him “the orange supremacist” and comparing his first Christmas in the White House to “Christmas in the house from Beetlejuice.” The first lady was fair game, too: “Melania’s been involved in every detail of the decorating — of course, she’s been busiest running around taking down all the mistletoe Donald’s been putting up,” said Bee to uproarious laughter. “Actually, while we’re at it, can someone get rid of all the mistletoe in Alabama? And in Hollywood? And in Matt Lauer’s old office?” — at which point there was an audible cringe.
Bee pointed out that the Ad Council’s work to further social change in this country goes back as far as the 1940s when they launched a campaign to sell WWII to the American people. “Back then, all you had to do was convince the country that we were better than the Nazis,” she observed. Then: “Might I suggest you refresh that campaign?”
In addition to recent work with stars like John Cena for their Emmy Award-winning Love Has No Labels campaign and Matthew McConaughey for a Hurricane Harvey Relief PSA, the Ad Council can claim a relationship with Hollywood that’s decades deep. One of their earliest and most recognizable campaigns was a movie partnership that paired Smokey Bear (voiced by Sam Elliott) with Disney’s Bambi to remind Americans that “only you can prevent forest fires.”
The evening’s recipient of the 2017 Public Service Award was Unilever CEO Paul Polman for his outstanding contributions to making sustainable living common. The gala was sponsored by Adobe, Facebook, Google, iHeartMedia and Clear Channel Outdoor as well as Unilever, and attended by industry VIPs, from big-name advertisers (“Like Pepsi,” observed Bee, “the company that bravely asked the question: Can a Jenner with a soda can be enough to make up for years of bigotry and inequality?”) and media giants including Turner, Viacom and NBCUniversal.
Pat Benatar and husband Neil Giraldo took the stage at the end to the delight of the older generation of attendees and closet karaoke-lovers, reprising Benatar’s iconic hits but with a softer edge. For her part, Bee gave a shout-out and issued a plea to David Levy, the president of her show’s parent company, Turner media: “David, Please give me the c-word back — I promise to use it responsibly.” Then she paused for a genuine moment of gratitude that elicited an ovation: “Thank you, David, for risking it all and letting a woman over 40 tell some jokes about the president.”
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