The Emmys ceremony this year was mostly a cringefest — a shame after the Television Academy pulled off the best show during last year’s awards season. If only the problem was just that it was corny.
The show was littered with goofy sketches with host Cedric the Entertainer, most of which fell pretty flat. That’s not really that big of a deal — these awards shows are always hit or miss — but there’s a difference between not being funny, and being actively annoying.
That sketch, in which Cedric on a radio with the fly that landed on Mike Pence’s head during the vice presidential debate in 2020, is the latter. And that’s before it ended with the fly shrieking “all flies matter” as it flew off, a joke on the “All Lives Matter” catch phrase conservatives who oppose “Black Lives Matter” use.
There are plenty of things to say about this joke — including some, ah, moral and ethical comments. But this is a sketch starring a Black actor, and I’m a white guy, so it’s not really my place to do any moral scolding about this. But as a person who discusses pop culture for a living, I can certainly point out that this sketch was a textbook example of not reading the room.
First off, this is joke is so old! It feels like we were over jokes about the fly that landed on Pence’s head years ago — yes it happened 10 months ago, but I think we can all agree that the chaos which followed that that oddball moment and lasted until January of this year, sort of overshadowed it. And now that the Trump era is behind us (for now) why would you want to dredge that up?
If this were a joke at Pence’s expense, that might be one thing. But it was really just an unfunny and apolitical, and I would argue, very outdated reference. Just a “haha remember when this thing happened” kind of joke. Which is not the sort of thing that most of us who watch the Emmys is looking for on this show.
And second: The “Black Lives Matter”/”All Lives Matter” thing isn’t great fodder for toothless jokes, because it’s a key part of America’s stark political divide. Joking about it in this non-political manner, without having anything to say all, is weird and uncomfortable. And the joke itself was a non-sequitur — nothing would have been lost if they’d cut it.
While there’s no way that the writers behind the Emmys knew who would win the awards, it didn’t help this sketch that, as many folks pointed out in the moment, every person who had given an acceptance speech up to that point was white — RuPaul was the first to break that streak when “RuPaul’s Drag Race” won for Outstanding Competition Program just before 7 p.m. PT, well after this “all flies matter” bit.
And well in the end, all 12 of the major acting awards went to white actors.