Stephen Colbert has been an outspoken critic of President Trump’s administration, and he didn’t shy away from that stance during Sunday night’s Emmys. The first-time Emmy host peppered his opening monologue and various skits – including one great Westworld spoof – with jabs at Trump, including knocks at the President’s well-known frustration over his lack of an Emmy win for his reality series The Apprentice. But the awards ceremony included another political gag that didn’t go over well with many viewers.

Near the end of Colbert’s monologue, Sean Spicer joined the host onstage. The cameo from the former White House Press Secretary was such a surprise even Melissa McCarthy, who won an Emmy for her now-iconic SNL impression of Spicer, looked like she was beside herself. Spicer, spoofing McCarthy in an Inception-style parody, stood behind a rolling podium and made a joke about the Emmys’ audience ratings, a wink at his controversial and false statement about Trump’s inauguration crowd. So what’s the story behind Spicer’s appearance and why did Colbert and the producers go through with it?

A new piece from CNN reveals that Spicer’s cameo was a last-minute addition to the show just days before the ceremony. Colbert himself came up with the idea to invite Spicer and reportedly had one of his Late Show producers pitch it. The piece reveals that the Emmys producers knew there would be blowback (which there was), but went ahead anyway. Spicer had a private dress rehearsal before Sunday night’s broadcast and practiced his lines to an empty auditorium to ensure the surprise.

Interestingly, just days before the Emmys, Colbert dropped by Jimmy Kimmel Live!, where Spicer had appeared a few days earlier. The two late night hosts joked about Spicer’s height, then Colbert (lightly) criticized Spicer for failing to use the talk show appearance to publicly apologize for his time working at Trump’s White House. “He wants to be forgiven, but he won’t regret anything he did,” Colbert said on Kimmel. “And you’ve gotta regret something you did to be forgiven.” If Colbert, who said he’s always wanted to interview Spicer, was hoping for a Spicer apology, why then invite him on one of the biggest awards show broadcasts of the year to be in on the joke?

Spicer’s appearance raised plenty of questions. Was the former Press Secretary openly admitting to his lies? Was the TV Academy laughing at Spicer or with him? And if it’s the latter, putting him on national television comes dangerously close to normalizing a man who repeatedly lied to the American public. Sure, “it’s just a joke!” is what some may say, but a many journalists and celebrities who took issue with the cameo articulated the problem with his appearance on Twitter:

The Spicer controversy goes beyond his brief moment on stage; the former Press Secretary was supposedly the belle of the ball at the Emmys after parties. People reportedly flocked to Spicer at Netflix’s after party and “formed a crowd” around him, as Reuters reporter Lisa Richwine tweeted.

Colbert – and the Emmys – can’t have their anti-Trump cake and eat it too. The host may have fired some shots at Trump, but turning one of the President’s mouthpieces – a mouthpiece that repeatedly spread falsities – into someone embraced with humor diminishes the criticism. McCarthy’s famous impression turned Spicer into a pop culture sensation, but there is still a layer of removal between the real person and her version. But putting the real person on stage, and inviting him to laugh with us? That isn’t criticism, it’s an exoneration.

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