If the show had been televised, the 2016 WGA Awards ceremony in Los Angeles would almost certainly be nominated itself as best comedy/variety special.
Rarely has an awards show that honors excellence in film and television — much of it very serious or dramatic in nature — been filled with the amount of humor, wit and irony that was brought to the table during ceremonies focused on the craft of writing.
(Ceremonies were also held in New York City and hosted by Michael Ian Black.)
As the show got under way at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza’s California Ballroom on Feb. 13, the tone for the evening was set with a fake television promo that ran on the monitors with the tagline “On the Golf Channel, because truTV and IFC turned us down.”
Host Patton Oswalt, who called himself a fatter Jonah Hill, then proceeded to crack a joke referencing Antonin Scalia — with the word of the Supreme Court justice’s sudden death having just broken. Too soon? Oswalt then promised the night would be a “frosty Ferris wheel of fuckery.”
That was evidenced by the introduction of Mr. and Mrs. WGA Awards — the folks who hand the trophies to the presenters and then escort the winners offstage — who were dressed as inmates from “Orange is the New Black” in orange jumpsuits.
Another running gag throughout the ceremonies was a spoof on the seriousness of the Screen Actors Guild Awards, where various people in the audience introduce themselves and then intone, “… and I’m an actor.”
The WGA’s version featured a plethora of writers, including Vince Gilligan and Matthew Weiner along with lesser-known scribes, who related anecdotes about their careers that concluded with their names and “I’m a writer.” Several writers told stories about teachers who told them that they couldn’t write and ended with an expletive-filled shout-out to said educator.
Another running joke featured the never-ending quandary of what to order for lunch in the writers room.
In nearly every category — from best original and adapted screenplay to best comedy and drama series and best writing for new media and videogames — the nominees were featured in funny video clips that kept the crowd in stitches.
None of this took away from the winners’ thrills about taking home a trophy, or the presentation of the honorary awards, which went to Arthur Sellers, John McNamara, John August, Marta Kauffman and David Crane and the legendary Elaine May.
Robert Towne presented the WGAW’s Screen Laurel Award for Screenwriting Achievement to Academy Award-nominated and WGA-winning screenwriter-director-actress May, who began her career with Mike Nichols in the 1950s and will appear in Woody Allen’s new series for Amazon Studios. May regaled the crowd with a story about how she thought the presentation to her — “just a writer’s award,” she called it — would be in a restaurant with a few people and her trophy set out at the end of the bar.
“Friends” co-stars Courteney Cox and Matt LeBlanc presented WGAW’s Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television Writing Achievement to Crane and Kauffman, who in her acceptance speech told a 5th-grade teacher where to shove it — and also lauded her long collaboration with Crane, saying the angriest word they ever said to each other was “fine.”
It was a big night for both “Spotlight” and “The Big Short,” which won the best original and adapted screenplay honors, respectively, categories in which they are also both front-runners for the Academy Awards.
Josh Singer, who co-wrote “Spotlight” with Tom McCarthy, acknowledged the victims of child sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests and The Boston Globe journalists who brought the story to front pages around the world.
“The Big Short’s” Charles Randolph and Adam McKay also referenced the scandal their movie is based around, the global economic meltdown of 2007-08.
“Millions of people lost their homes,” McKay said. “Millions of people lost their savings. That’s really what this was about. In the end, we really just want people to take a look at how the banks have taken control of our government.”
USA Network’s “Mr. Robot” added more hardware to its recent awards haul by taking the win for best new series, topping a field that included “Better Call Saul,” “Bloodline,” “The Last Man on Earth” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”
Another awards magnet, HBO’s “Veep,” took the prize for comedy series, beating out “Broad City,” “Silicon Valley,” “Transparent” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”
At the end of the evening, more than three hours in, AMC’s “Mad Men” scored a final hurrah for its final season, as best drama. “It’s an amazing dream we got to share,” said Weiner, as he took the stage with some of the show’s writers, who included Towne. “It’s a pleasure to have it be as a record from this era of great television.”