Emmys: Will Host Stephen Colbert Go Lighter on Trump Jokes?

Trump and Colbert split - H 2015
Mark J. Terrill/AP; Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

THR's critic says Colbert is a barbed contrast to recent hosts Jimmy Fallon and Andy Samberg, but it'll be unlikely to see the comedian give another Nazi salute on the Microsoft Theater stage.

Like it or not, Stephen Colbert has been one of entertainment's biggest beneficiaries of the "Trump bump," enjoying a significant ratings boost thanks to his relentless and hilarious bashing of the president — most notoriously describing him as a carrying case for a particular part of Vladimir Putin's anatomy.

But will Colbert bring his anti-Trump shtick to TV's big party? And if so, how will it play beyond decidedly liberal Hollywood? The anti-Trumpers in the room will be laughing hysterically and the pro-Trumpers (if any) will probably pretend to. But what about all those people in the red states who've made NCIS TV's top-rated drama? The president still enjoys the support of more than a third of the electorate, and that translates to a lot of viewers. And even among liberals, a certain amount of Trump fatigue may be setting in. Not to mention that it's far easier to stay light-hearted mocking crowd sizes and tweets than the threat of nuclear war and the expulsion of hard-working immigrants.

To be sure, political statements have long been a factor in awards shows. The most emotional moment of this year’s Golden Globes was Meryl Streep's powerful condemnation of Trump, whom she pointedly declined to name, for mocking a disabled reporter. And while widely controversial at the time, some of the most memorable incidents from past Oscar broadcasts saw Marlon Brando sending Sacheen Littlefeather in his place to protest the treatment of Native Americans, Vanessa Redgrave denouncing "Zionist hoodlums" who were picketing her appearance, and Michael Moore denouncing a "fictitious president" for "sending us to war for fictitious reasons."

Colbert represents a marked contrast to such relatively benign recent Emmy hosts as Jimmy Fallon, Andy Samberg and Neil Patrick Harris. It's a safe bet that he'll lob plenty of zingers at Trump while not neglecting to lampoon the likes of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Game of Thrones and Dancing With the Stars. You can also count on one of the biggest cheers of the evening for presenter (and probable winner) Alec Baldwin, who, like Colbert, has seen a career rejuvenation courtesy of Trump.

Not since the days of Nixon and the Vietnam War has there been such a cultural divide in the country. Back then, Hollywood had plenty of gung-ho conservatives who supported the president — I'm talking about the likes of John Wayne, not Scott Baio.

But things feel different now. A former reality television star, one who sang the Green Acres theme song onstage at the Emmy Awards 11 years ago, is now commander in chief. Trump used to be very much in on the joke. Now the joke is on him, and it's getting harder and harder to find it funny. Colbert, who previously displayed his fearlessness by unmercifully ragging President George W. Bush to his face at the White House Correspondents' Dinner, will surely thread a sharp needle deftly here.

A version of this story first appeared in the Sept. 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.