In His New Memoir, Henry Winkler Shares Why His 43-Year Journey to a Primetime Emmy Felt Like “Sweet Redemption”
The only time I ever get tired of award ceremonies—the red carpet, the interviews, the salmon dinner, the long, long speeches, the suspense about when the band is going to start playing the person off for babbling on and on—the only time I ever get tired of all that is when I don’t win something.
And I’m positive that every other nominee feels exactly the same.
The 2018 Emmys were held on September 18, at the Microsoft Theater in downtown LA: a huge auditorium, and totally packed for the occasion. The nominees get to sit down in front. Stacey (my wife) was next to me, and we were holding hands: Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series was to be the first award of the evening.
Michael Che and Colin Jost, those two very funny guys whom I look forward to watching every week on Saturday Night Live, announced the nominees: Tituss Burgess, for Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt; Louie Anderson, for Baskets; Brian Tyree Henry, for Atlanta; Tony Shalhoub, for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel; Alec Baldwin, for his stinging Trump imitation on Saturday Night Live; Kenan Thompson, for being the rock of Saturday Night Live. Heady company. And me.
The Crown’s Matt Smith and Claire Foy, handsome and beautiful and elegant, came out onstage to present. “We are thrilled to present the first award of the night,” Matt said. Claire: “And if we don’t sound thrilled, that’s just because we’re very, very British.”
And then she opened that big blue envelope and, with a sweet and genuine smile, said my name.
What the fuck? I thought.
And a millisecond after, Oh my God, I won an Emmy.
I embraced my ecstatic wife. I stood. I gripped my heart for a second; it was pounding at a hundred miles an hour. I could barely breathe. I saw Bill and Alec jump to their feet—and dear Kenan Thompson. Thank you, Kenan! And then everyone else in the theater. The sound of applause was oceanic. Standing ovations aren’t rare at award ceremonies, but this one felt very, very special to me. And different, somehow. I think I can honestly say, without blowing my own horn too much, that I felt the same kind of sweetness emanating from this audience as I had seen on Claire Foy’s face: it felt like they knew there was some kind of justice to this.
Matt handed me the statuette. I immediately started telling him and Claire how much Stacey and I loved the second season of The Crown. They looked at me in shock. Claire stage-whispered, “You have a speech.”
I whirled to the mike. “I only have thirty-nine seconds,” I said. “I wrote this forty-three years ago. Can I just say, Skip Brittenham said to me a long time ago, ‘If you stay at the table long enough, the chips come to you.’ And tonight, I got to clear the table. If you get a chance to work with Bill Hader or Alec Berg, run, don’t walk. Thank you for producing us, for creating us, for directing us; and Bill, for acting with us, and all of our wonderful writers . . .”—I thanked Sherry Thomas and Sharon Bialy and my extraordinary publicist Sheri Goldberg; I thanked Cliff and Eryn and Chris—“Almost for the first time, I feel represented. I can’t stop yet. My wife, Stacey—oh my God, my cast and crew. And the kids, Jed, Zoe, and Max—you can go to bed now, Daddy won!”
Now, in a certain way, this wasn’t my first rodeo. It was my third Emmy—there was the one in the daytime category for voicing Norville in Clifford’s Puppy Days in 2005; twenty years before that I won my first daytime award for directing an after-school special.
But primetime is something else. I’d started out in primetime, and stayed there for eleven seasons. I’d been Emmy-nominated three times for Happy Days, but never won.
I wrote this forty-three years ago...
And then came my long, long in-between. Very often working with wonderful people, in very worthy movies and shows, but—
But. When you have the kind of success I had right out of the gate, it’s very hard to think that it might never come again. And so this Emmy was a validation, not only of the kind of work I could do, but of the kind of work I could do at seventy-two.
If you stay at the table long enough... It’s a nice thought, and it sometimes comes true. But not always. Not always. People who do great work don’t always get rewarded for it. But may I just say, this felt like sweet redemption.
Henry Winkler is an Emmy-award winning actor, author, comedian, producer, and director. His deeply thoughtful memoir of the lifelong effects of stardom and his struggle to become whole, Being Henry: The Fonz . . . and Beyond is available now.