Watch Stephen Colbert’s Emmys opening number.

Stephen Colbert Opened the Emmys With a Razzling, Dazzling, Sarcastic Salute to Nihilism

Stephen Colbert Opened the Emmys With a Razzling, Dazzling, Sarcastic Salute to Nihilism

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
Sept. 17 2017 9:39 PM

Stephen Colbert and Chance the Rapper Opened the Emmys With a Razzling, Dazzling, Sarcastic Salute to Nihilism

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Stephen Colbert dances onstage during the 69th Emmy Awards in Los Angeles.

Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

This year’s Emmys began with a big, star-studded opening number, as is traditional. This year’s year, on the other hand, opened with the inauguration of Donald J. Trump, as is decidedly not traditional. Navigating that gap was probably an impossible task, but host Stephen Colbert gave it his best shot with a musical number that employs a classic writer’s trick: when there’s a structural or narrative problem you can’t solve—like, say, you’re hosting an awards show about television shows while the world outside turns into an immense pile of filth—hang a lantern on the problem, make your number about the problem, and suddenly you’re no longer holding a black tie salute to TV while the world burns: You’re meta. It’s a tribute to Colbert’s talents as a comedian that he almost pulls this off, even if he doesn’t quite make the case that watching television is the best way you could be spending 2017.

With the help of Chance the Rapper, Stranger Things’ Millie Bobbie Brown, Allison Janney, Anthony Anderson, and a chorus line of Handmaids, Colbert sang a cheerful song about the way watching television numbs us to the unceasing horror that surrounds us at all times. Chance the Rapper goes far enough to suggest that we might consider DVRing our favorite shows so that we can participate in protests, while naming Trump’s ban on transgender soldiers and the continuing ability of the police to murder citizens with impunity as specific things that suck right now. But Colbert’s verses have a sunnier take, even if it’s a sarcastic one: We don’t have to worry about anything unpleasant, as long as we can escape into high-quality television. Or even Iron Fist!

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Here are the complete lyrics to Colbert’s opening number:

STEPHEN COLBERT: Dear friends, the next time the world’s problems make you feel the blues,
Turn on any channel—well, except the news!
’Cause troubles ain’t so troublin’ when you see them in HD,
The world’s a little better on TV!

So don’t you worry ’bout global warming or the Middle East,
Walk on the bright side with the recently deceased.
My HBO Go password is “SEXBOT123,”
Everything is better on TV!

When the world’s so scary you close your door and hide,
Open up, let Archer slip inside.
Watch This is Us, you’ll learn it feels so good to feel so sad,
With Randall, Kevin, Kate—she probably killed her dad!
Stranger Things is much stranger than our reality,
Everything is better on TV!

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I’d like to vote for Selina Meyers,

TONY HALE: She’s pretty foxy!

JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS: Imagine if your president was not beloved by Nazis!

STEPHEN COLBERT: The Americans has hotter spies than the Russian inquiry,
Even treason’s better on TV!
You don’t have to take it from my song and dance,
It’s time to give this thing a chance:

CHANCE THE RAPPER: Yo, Stephen, what a beautiful segue,
Let me take over, I can make us some headway.
I love television, it’s a pleasant distraction,
But just imagine taking action.
I like Brooklyn Nine-Nine, in fact I’m addicted,
But where’s the cop show where one gets convicted?
I miss the classics, I still think M*A*S*H rocks,
But if Hawkeye can be a soldier, why not Laverne Cox?
Bob’s Burgers make you smile, but please don’t ignore,
The decline of the independent, family-run store.
I get it, them finales, they got you focused,
Just record the show and try to show up at the protest, ya heard?

STEPHEN COLBERT: The nightly news might fill you with fears and phobias,
Calm yourself by watching this dystopia!
Look on the bright side, handmaids, at least your healthcare’s free,
And our future’s always brighter on TV! Let’s go!

So, friends, I know that the world may be the worst we’ve ever seen,
But it’s never been better on your TV screen.
’Cause even though old Kimmy agrees we’re up Schmidt creek,
You can just whip out your smartphone and stream shows while you pee,
You can binge until your muscles start to atrophy,
’Til you can’t tell the difference between fact and fantasy,
Then everything is better on TV,
Yes, everything is better on TV!