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The 69th annual Writers Guild Awards took place at simultaneous ceremonies in New York and L.A. on Sunday night.
Moonlight, Arrival, The Americans, Saturday Night Live, Last Week With John Oliver and Atlanta were among the projects taking home top awards, with Atlanta winning both best new series and best comedy series honors.
But it wouldn't be an awards show in 2017 if President Donald Trump wasn't the unseen star, with the new administration the target of numerous jokes and commentary from winners and presenters in New York and L.A.. In New York, host Lewis Black kicked the night off by praising writers for being able to handle more criticism and judgment than Trump could handle. Black also referenced Trump's wild, anti-media press conference on Thursday, saying that in watching it, his "brain froze for an hour and a half."
"Once again I was forced to realize we are living at the intersection of satire and reality," Black continued. "We are living in fictional times. … What the hell is fiction anymore when our reality comes off as fiction? Good luck with that one, f—ers."
Black said he was surprised that the writers in the room hadn't tried to imagine the reality Trump's administration has created. "Maybe we couldn't create the menagerie of characters he's surrounded himself with," Black suggested, then offered a brief critique of some of Trump's staffers.
"Kellyanne 'alternative facts' Conway," as Black described her. "She's not the person you hire when you need to explain what a crazy man meant. She's the person you need to get when you want to get rid of your daughter's cheerleading rival. Ben Carson: The first time I heard him speak I thought, 'Wow, I could've been a brain surgeon.' Rick Perry runs twice to be the president, second time with glasses, and says he wants to get rid of the Department of Energy but can't remember its name. Then he quits the race to join the cast of Dancing With the Stars. Trump sees him on the show and says, 'Wow, he's got a lot of energy, let's put him in charge of that department.' … Now he's in charge of our nuclear stockpile. This shit writes itself. Steve Bannon — look I don't care about Breitbart — you know why he scares me? Because he looks like how I feel when I have a hangover. And the big baby himself, Donald Trump — it's actually an insult to call him a baby because babies have more control over their colon than he has over his mouth. That's a hell of a movie and this is only the trailer."
Nevertheless, Black urged writers to continue to create better realities.
"All we can do is keep typing words into the universe. And I know at times it may not seem like much but what you all do, I believe this, is important. It's vital," he said. "You create realities. It's the bloodstream that carries thoughts and visions and makes us better in the end. For God's sakes, you're the people who give us something to do when we have the flu. Keep up the great work and f— 'em if they can't take a joke."
In Beverly Hills, it was also a night of anti-Trump feeling, but Oliver Stone brought the hilarity to a halt with a very sobering speech.
"I want to remind you," he said, in accepting the Laurel lifetime achievement award, "especially you younger writers, that you can be critical of your government and your society. You don't have to fit in. It's fashionable now to take shots at Republicans and Trump and all that, and ignore the Obamas and Clintons. But remember this: In the 13 wars we've started over the last 30 years and the $14 trillion we've spent, and the hundreds of thousands of lives that have perished from this earth, remember that it wasn't one leader, but a system, both Republican and Democrat. Call it what you will: the military industrial money media security complex. It's a system that has been perpetuated under the guise that these are just wars justifiable in the name of our flag that flies so proudly over our lives. Our country has become more prosperous for many but in the name of that wealth we cannot justify our system as a center for the world's values. But we continue to create such chaos and wars."
James Woods had presented Stone with the award, admitting ruefully, "If I and thousands of others hadn't voted for that motherf—er, this show could have been over in 15 minutes."
Until Stone's speech, it had been anti-Trump jibes all around. Host Patton Oswalt made sure everyone knew Woods' affiliation the moment the curtain went up. As Oswalt took the stage, he said he was cautious of mentioning Trump because, "I don't want to be kicked to death by James Woods backstage, which would be an honor by the way." Woods, sitting front row, then climbed onstage and ripped off one of Oswalt's less-than-fancy shoes, waved it at the crowd, pulled a face and shouted, "Look at this! And he's at an awards show!"
Amid the comedy hijinks, however, there was some more serious Trump-baiting. An introductory voiceover advertised a show called "Tiffany Loves Chachi" featuring Tiffany Trump, then went on to name Alfonso Cuaron and Shonda Rhimes, suggesting, "Maybe it's time to build a wall around Hollywood?"
Trump also made an appearance, in the form of comedian Anthony Atamanuik wearing orange makeup and an elaborate wig. As Trump, he said, "WGA: I thought it stood for White Guys Association and I can see from the crowd that is still mostly true." Atamanuik's Trump described sex with Melania Trump before saying, "Everyone here is a terrible biased garbage machine whose hands are even tinier than mine," and ending with, "God bless mother Russia and hail the Fourth Reich."
Trump was also a frequent target of New York ceremony presenter Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, returning to the stage in foul-mouthed puppet form, after creator Robert Smigel and the other writers behind Triumph's Primary Election Special won the award for best comedy/variety special.
As the show inched close to the two-and-a-half-hour mark, Triumph joked, "The only way this show could be longer and more awkward would be if Donald Trump were shaking its hand."
He continued, "What a renaissance of dramas. My favorite is The Americans, the story of Russian spies infiltrating the United States, or as the president calls it, the feel-good show of the year."
After that quip received a smattering of laughter, Triumph added, "It's OK, that joke wasn't funny but it was important. This is not the time to be funny! This is the time to be important. Because that's where the money is. We're going to out-important the shit out of the SAG Awards. … Because what we say on this stage … it will affect the opinions of dozens of Americans, who already agree with everything we say. After tonight they will go from hating Trump to haaaating Trump."
Triumph then presented two of the children's programming awards, getting in a couple of foul-mouthed jokes about Sesame Street ("I knew Snuffleupagus back when he was jerking off grouches behind Mr. Hooper's store") and Carmen Sandiego ("We dated and shot a spinoff of the show for adults, called Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego's G-Spot. Just like Carmen Sandiego, it proved quite elusive").
Back in L.A., honoree Richard Curtis brought some positivity to the evening. In receiving the Valentine Davies award from Jeff Goldblum, he said of Goldblum, "We did our first film together. He's almost the nicest actor I've ever worked with. If Hugh Grant had been anything like him I would have had such a happy life."
In discussing the current political climate, Curtis encouraged using writing skills to help others. Recalling the 20 minutes he'd spent writing a letter to J.K. Rowling asking her to sign some books to donate to a charity auction, he said, "She ended up writing pamphlets and one of those became Fantastic Beasts. … That little letter raised 28 million dollars."
Aaron Sorkin was honored with the Paddy Chayefsky Laurel award, presented by Jeff Daniels. In his acceptance speech, Sorkin also railed against Trump's presidency, saying, "If you think the only trustworthy news source is Fox & Friends, you're out of touch."
The importance of writers, particularly in the news industry, to speak truth to power, was a prominent theme at the East Coast ceremony, where a number of news and radio awards were accepted and those winners expressed their support for the first amendment.
In L.A., presenting the Paul Selvin award to Susannah Grant, Kerry Washington told the audience, "Every single person in Washington works for us."
And Kumail Nanjiani brought things full circle, saying of best adapted screenplay winner Arrival, "It would be horrible if now is when aliens found us! Guys! We're not usually like this. Give us four years. We forgot to pick up and put away the racism. Arrival is great but what we need is a linguist who helps Americans communicate with other Americans."
Additional WGA honorees included John Waters, Steve O'Donnell, Jelani Cobb, late Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami and Dan Wilcox.
A complete list of winners follows.
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