The hottest talent in television gathered in Los Angeles Sunday night for the 68th annual Emmy Awards, where perennial HBO juggernaut Game of Thrones and FX true-crime crowd-pleaser The People vs. O.J. Simpson won big — but the night’s biggest star arguably was Donald Trump, as presenters and winners seemingly couldn’t stop talking about the Republican presidential candidate.
Host Jimmy Kimmel got the ball rolling early, blaming Apprentice producer Mark Burnett for allowing Trump to rise to prominence on national TV.
“If it wasn’t for television, would Donald Trump be running for president? No, he would be at home right now quietly rubbing up against Malaria while she pretends to be asleep,” Kimmel joked, apparently intentionally mispronouncing Melania Trump’s name.
“Thanks to Mark Burnett, we don’t have to watch reality television shows anymore, because we’re living in one,” he added. “I’m going on the record right now, he’s responsible. If Donald Trump gets elected, and he builds that wall, the first person we’re throwing over is Mark Burnett.”
Kimmel wasn’t the only celebrity to reference Trump’s proposed wall on the U.S.-Mexico border; While accepting the Emmy for Best Actress in a Comedy Series, Veep star Julia Louis-Dreyfus took time to personally apologize “for the current political climate.”
“I think that Veep has torn down the wall between comedy and politics,” she said wryly. “Our show started out as a political satire, but it now feels more like a sobering documentary. So I certainly do promise to rebuild that wall and make Mexico pay for it.”
Meanwhile, Transparent creator Jill Soloway, onstage to accept the award for Best Directing for a Comedy Series, ended her speech by triumphantly shouting “Topple the patriarchy!” and then let loose on Trump in a backstage interview.
“He needs to be called out at every chance he gets for being one of the most dangerous monsters to ever approach our lifetimes,” Soloway told reporters backstage. “He’s a complete dangerous monster, and any moment that I have to call Trump out for being an inheritor to Hitler, I will.”
Master of None showrunner-star and vocal Trump critic Aziz Ansari got in his own shots at the Republican candidate as he mockingly suggested he had decided to endorse him in this year’s race.
“Which is why I’m also recommending we get rid of all Muslim and Hispanic nominees from the ceremony immediately,” Ansari, who took home the award for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series, joked.
— Brent Baker (@BrentHBaker) September 19, 2016
Even failed presidential candidate Jeb Bush got in on the action, appearing as an Uber driver in an early skit and taking a not-so-subtle dig at Trump (and apparently announcing his candidacy for the 2020 race).
But even when not explicitly discussing Trump, the upcoming election wasn’t far from everyone’s minds: Courtney B. Vance, who won for his portrayal of Johnny Cochrane in The People vs. O.J. Simpson, ended his brief acceptance speech by exclaiming, “Obama out! Hillary in!” and Saturday Night Live star Kate McKinnon, who has played Clinton on the NBC show during this election season and won for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, thanked the candidate in her acceptance speech (and Clinton thanked her back on Twitter).
Congratulations on your Emmy, Kate! Big fan of yours, too. pic.twitter.com/w00QO1GwyH
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) September 19, 2016
Despite the relentless politicking, Sunday night’s show was eminently more watchable than last year’s ratings-disaster broadcast on Fox with Andy Samberg at the helm.
With its second consecutive win for Outstanding Drama Series, HBO’s Game of Thrones became the most-honored scripted series in Emmy history with 38 total wins (beating previous record-holder Frasier, which had 37).
The lead actor and actress in drama categories both went to first-time winners: Rami Malek won Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series for his role as a hallucination-suffering computer hacker in Mr. Robot, while Tatiana Maslany won Best Actress for BBC America’s Orphan Black.
Meanwhile, Beyoncé fans took to Twitter to vent their frustration after the singer’s Black Lives Matter-inspired visual album Lemonade lost out to Grease! Live‘s Thomas Kail for Outstanding Directing for a Variety Special.
Elsewhere, there were several big upsets in some of the Drama categories; Ben Mendelsohn took home Outstanding Supporting Actor for the just-cancelled Netflix series Bloodline, while Maggie Smith won Outstanding Supporting Actress for the final season of Downton Abbey (beating out Game of Thrones‘s Maisie Williams, Lena Headey and Emilia Clarke, who were all nominated in the category).
Check out the full winners list here.
Follow Daniel Nussbaum on Twitter: @dznuzzbaum