Scanning the just-released Emmy ballots reveals a lot of odd facts for awards nuts, but none any stranger than this: Amy Schumer, the star of her own sketch show titled Inside Amy Schumer, has been submitted…as Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy.
Browse through to find several examples of this strange phenomenon. Scott Aukerman, host of Comedy Bang! Bang!, is in just about every scene of the sketch show but is submitted as a Supporting Actor alongside his bandleader Reggie Watts. Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, who appear in basically every Portlandia sketch together, are both supporting players too. Same for Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele of Key & Peele.
This is not a totally new phenomenon—Schumer and the Portlandia and Key & Peele folks submitted as supporting last year, along with Anthony Jeselnik (who hosted a now-cancelled talk show named after him). But it’s an unusual by-product of the Emmy Awards abandoning the “Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program” category in 2008.
The Emmys’ reasoning for dumping that category made sense. It was a bizarre catch-all of performers, from late night hosts like David Letterman and Jon Stewart, to filmed one-man shows from stand-up comics and hoary old singers. Stephen Colbert made a lot of hay out of his 2006 loss to Barry Manilow; by then, the category was breathing its last breath, and Saturday Night Live performers were allowed to submit as regular old supporting actors, which the entire cast now does.
In the Individual Variety category, it was rare for a regular SNL performer to get an Emmy nod, although it did occasionally happen—Will Ferrell, Molly Shannon, Mike Myers and Phil Hartman each got one nod in the ‘90s and early ‘00s, and Dana Carvey won a trophy. But once they shifted to the regular Comedy category, SNL performers got nods left and right—Amy Poehler, Kristen Wiig, and Bill Hader all racked up multiple nominations. The entire ensemble submitted in the Supporting category this year, but that makes sense, since there’s no definitive lead actor in the SNL world.
But Schumer, Aukerman, Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein, Key and Peele—these are lead actors. The Emmys, like the Oscars, have plenty of category fraud going on, but if Armisen or Schumer got a nod, there would be at least some outcry over the ridiculous optics.
There’s likely two reasons not to submit in lead. The first is that if you’re in a sketch show, you’re not really playing one character, you’re playing a whole ensemble of little characters. So while Schumer is all over Inside Amy Schumer, it’s in a ton of small roles. So you…could kinda argue…that it’s supporting? This is a reach, but it follows the SNL model. It’s tougher with an actor like Aukerman, who really just plays one character, a heightened version of himself, on Comedy Bang! Bang!
The real reason, of course, is to get out of the way of the big Lead Acting candidates and have a little more of a shot, since voters will ostensibly take a chance on longer shots in the supporting category. That’s fine, and there’s plenty of tactical submitting in the Emmys that either works (Aaron Paul’s many Supporting trophies for Breaking Bad, where he’s really a co-lead) or doesn’t (Rob Lowe’s continuous efforts to get a Lead Actor nomination for Parks & Recreation, because he’s…more famous than everyone else?).
The real fix is something Aukerman already suggested in a Hollywood Reporter op-ed: create a separate category for sketch/variety television. There’s no doubt this category is booming right now—all the aforementioned shows, plus critical hits like Kroll Show, The Birthday Boys and Nathan For You would be in the mix. Aukerman’s argument is that it’s ridiculous for a topical talk show like The Daily Show to go up against more anarchic and silly sketch comedy; the common ground the two genres share is much smaller than what separates them.
Creating a best sketch comedy category, and a performer category to go with it, would lead to ridiculously stacked battles for trophies (especially when you consider Saturday Night Live and its huge ensemble would be in the running). Even if you split the acting categories by gender there’d be a wealth of talent to choose from. Whether the Emmys have the guts to create even more award categories remains to be seen, but this could help avoid some very embarrassing nominations, and it’d open up to a pool of comedians that deserve, but rarely get, awards attention.
UPDATE: It turns out that there is a specific and unsurprisingly ridiculous reason all of these actors are submitted as supporting performers. According to Emmy rules, if your show is submitted in the Variety Series category (which goes for all of these sketch programs) performers are barred from submitting their performances as leads. Crazy! No doubt the rule was instituted more with the SNL cast in mind, but as the variety/sketch world expands, all the more reason to create a new awards category or at the very least do away with this rule.