Everyone has a different idea of what makes a great acceptance speech, but if there’s a generally agreed-upon Rule No. 1, that would be “Keep it brief.” And brevity was the name of the game at the 71st Emmy Awards, as the hostless show wrapped things up promptly at the three-hour mark and most of the winners were off the stage quickly. Nevertheless, there was still time for a handful of standout acceptance speeches, with at least a couple ascending to the pantheon of the All-Time Greats. (Welcome to the club, Michelle Williams and Billy Porter.) Read on for our picks for the best speeches of the 2019 Emmys.
Alex Borstein (Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel)
Borstein’s speech became an early fan favorite for best of the night with a brief but powerful story about her grandmother, a Holocaust survivor. But that story was representative of her speech as a whole, a master class in how to say a lot with a little time. Winning immediately after her costar Tony Shalhoub, Borstein began by quipping, “Ibid? I don’t know,” then added, “I know a lot of people were upset last year because I wasn’t wearing a bra, so I want to apologize because tonight I’m not wearing any underwear. So you’re just going to want to just throw out that chair or clean it pretty good.”
Dedicating her award “to the strength of a woman,” she then added: “My grandmother turned to a guard, she was in line to be shot into a pit, and she said, ‘What happens if I step out of line?’ and he said, ‘I don’t have the heart to shoot you, but somebody will.’ And she stepped out of line, and for that I am here, and my children are here, so step out of line, ladies. Step out of line.” As the second winner of the night, Borstein set the tone for many a charged, empowering speech to follow.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series, Fleabag)
The Fleabag mastermind took the stage multiple times during the ceremony, but nothing could top her delightful first speech of the night. “I find writing really, really hard and really painful. But I’d like to say, just honestly from the bottom of my heart, that the reason that I do it is this,” she said, hefting the award and scoring a big laugh from the audience. “So it’s made it all really worth it, guys,” she added, going on to thank “the Fleabag family” and closing with a classically Waller-Bridge line: “It’s just really wonderful to know that a dirty, pervy, angry, messed-up woman can make it to the Emmys.”
Patricia Arquette (Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie, The Act)
Arquette’s impassioned speech harkened back to her 2015 Oscar win, when she used her time on stage to draw attention to wage inequality and women’s rights. This time, she spoke out for transgender rights on behalf of her sister, Alexis, who transitioned in the mid-2000s and died of cardiac arrest in 2016. “I am in mourning every day of my life, Alexis, and I will be the rest of my life for you, until we change the world so that trans people are not persecuted,” Arquette said, before calling out the producers and directors in the room: “Give them jobs. They’re human beings, let’s give them jobs. Let’s get rid of this bias that we have everywhere.”
Jharrel Jerome (Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie, When They See Us)
Jerome took the stage to a standing ovation from the crowd and black power salutes from some of the Exonerated Five, the subjects of Netflix’s miniseries, to whom the actor dedicated his historic win. “I feel like I should just be in the Bronx right now, chilling, waiting for my mom’s cooking or something,” Jerome said. “But I’m here in front of my inspirations, I’m here in front of people who I’m so motivated by, and the reason I’m here is because of actors like the people I was in the category with.” He also thanked his mom and dad — in English and Spanish — and When They See Us director Ava DuVernay, and took a moment to joyfully bask in the glory before departing the stage.
Michelle Williams (Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie, Fosse/Verdon)
Williams did Gwen Verdon proud with her powerful, thoughtful speech, calling her win “an acknowledgement of what is possible when a woman is trusted to discern her own needs, feel safe enough to voice them, and respected enough that they’ll be heard.”
“My bosses never presumed to know better than I did about what I needed in order to do my job and honor Gwen Verdon,” she went on, thanking the show’s producers “for supporting me completely and for paying me equally, because they understood that when you put value into a person, it empowers that person to get in touch with their own inherent value. And then where do they put that value? They put it into their work.”
She wrapped up the speech with a passionate argument for equal pay: “The next time a woman, and especially a woman of color — because she stands to make 52 cents on the dollar compared to her white male counterpart — tells you what she needs in order to do her job, listen to her, believe her. Because one day she might stand in front of you and say thank you for allowing her to succeed because of her workplace environment and not in spite of it.”
Lorne Michaels (Outstanding Variety Sketch Series, Saturday Night Live)
It’s not often that Saturday Night Live moves people to tears, and Lorne Michaels knows it, which is perhaps why he chose to share a touching story of such an instance during his acceptance speech. As the SNL creator explained, Adam Sandler performed a tribute to his late fellow cast member Chris Farley during his May hosting stint, and “most of [the crew] worked there when Chris Farley and Adam Sandler were young men.”
He added, “It’s rare that you see a cameraman tear up or a boom crew crying, but it was a very, very chilling moment and very powerful. And it’s those kinds of moments which is why we’re going into our 45th season.”
Billy Porter (Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, Pose)
This is why we watch awards shows. Porter’s speech was simply great television, as he exuberantly took the stage, dance-ran to presenter Kerry Washington, then proclaimed, “The category is love, y’all, love!” The Pose star, the first openly gay actor to win this particular award, continued, “I am so overwhelmed and I am so overjoyed to have lived long enough to see this day. James Baldwin said, ‘It took many years of vomiting up all the filth that I had been taught about myself and halfway believed before I could walk around this earth like I had the right to be here.’ I have the right. You have the right. We all have the right!”
He then thanked his “exquisitely talented” fellow nominees (“It is such an honor to be up here breathing the same air that y’all breathe”), his mom (“there is no stronger, more resilient woman who has graced this earth”), sister, husband, and more, before closing with a plea to his fellow creatives: “We as artists are the people that get to change the molecular structure of the hearts and minds of the people who live on this planet. Please don’t ever stop doing that.” If we could bestow an Emmy for Outstanding Emmys Speech, we’d give it to Porter.
Jodie Comer (Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, Killing Eve)
The Killing Eve star’s speech stood out mainly for one moment toward the end: Comer, a first-time winner, thanked her parents, “who are in Liverpool, who I didn’t invite, because I didn’t think that this was gonna be my time. One, I’m sorry, two, I love you, I’m gonna bring it home,” she promised. Another beautiful impromptu moment for which we watch these things.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Harry Bradbeer (Outstanding Comedy Series, Fleabag)
“This is just getting ridiculous,” Waller-Bridge quipped as she accepted one of the night’s top prizes for Fleabag. She recalled the series’ origins as a one-woman stage show and said a special thank-you to Andrew Scott, who will now be forever known as the Hot Priest. “Season 2 would not have happened or exploded in the way that it did if it was not for Andrew Scott, who came into our Fleabag world like a whirlwind and gave a performance of such depth and complexity that just elevated the whole thing,” she said. Fleabag director Harry Bradbeer, who won the Directing for a Comedy award, also took the opportunity to thank his wife and kids after forgetting to do so earlier in the night. What a capper to an extraordinary season of television.