Hannah Einbinder, Samantha Bee, John Leguizamo and More Deliver Laughs and a Few Tears for Variety’s Power of Comedy at SXSW

Hannah Einbinder, Samantha Bee, John Leguizamo and More Deliver Laughs and a Few Tears for Variety’s Power of Comedy at SXSW
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Hannah Einbinder was moved to tears. Nick Thune was moved to sing. John Leguizamo shared hard truths. Samantha Bee rallied the crowd on behalf of womens rights. And everyone who took part in Variety’s Power of Comedy Awards on Friday made fun of the awards themselves, now in their second year at SXSW in Austin, Texas.

“Nothing is more show business-y than an award that says ‘We love that you’re here’ two years after network executives have said ‘We need you to be gone,’ ” Bee told the packed house at the famed ACL Theater, a nod to the demise in 2022 of her TBS series “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.”

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Bee, who was honored by presenter Brooke Shields with the Comedy Innovator award for being one of very few women to host a late-night comedy series, noted that the event coincided with International Woman’s Day.

“There’s no better way to celebrate women than to be surrounded by hordes of dudes who talk and dress exactly like Scooter Braun,” Bee quipped. She and others noted that the Lone Star state has taken a disturbing turn of late on laws that restrict women’s reproduction rights.

“Technically international women’s day is just what they call ‘The Purge’ in Texas. So watch out, ladies, you’re not safe,” Bee said. “Abortion is healthcare,” she said after receiving her kudo from presenter Brooke Shields.

A joint appearance by the stars of “Hacks” drew major applause. Jean Smart charmed the crowd in a hotel bathrobe before handing the Comedy Actress award to Hannah Einbinder. In her trademark deadpan style, Einbinder confessed that she got interested in comedy for the same reason that most comedians embrace performing: “It started out as an excessive pursuit of external validation to fill a gaping hole in my heart,” Einbinder said. But with true sincerity, she spoke of how being part of the community of comedians has buoyed her spirit in hard times. She name-checked her co-star Smart and “Hacks” creators Jen Statsky, Paul W. Downs and Lucia Aniello, thanking them for having “made the gaping hole in my heart much, much smaller.”

The evening was hosted by Michael Schneider, Variety’s executive editor of television. He set the tone by poking fun at the awards (“How many of you actually know what the f— you’re at?”). Wells Fargo and Liquid Death were key sponsors.

Actors Andrew Rannells and Nick Kroll were feted with the Comedy Duo award, celebrating a partnership that was mostly news to them. Presenter Morgan Spector hailed the two as “wildly accomplished funny people,” both separate and apart.

“We’re very honored to be receiving the comedy duo award. We’ve been a duo since the beginning of this award. It means that much more to us to be honored now as a duo,” Kroll said.

Actor Sophia Bush did the honors for Lilly Singh, who earned the kudo for Comedy Crossover. The former YouTube star and NBC late-night host has branched out into feature films and production. Her production banner is behind the indie comedy “Doin’ It,” which bows at SXSW. “She’s fearless in her storytelling,” Bush said. “She doesn’t shy away from truth but manages to make it funny.”

Singh made a joke at the expense of the kudos and the stereotype of immigrant families having high expectations for their children.

“This is going to mean nothing to my parents,” Singh joked. At the same time, she observed that humor “is the best vehicle to deliver a message that is otherwise awkward or taboo,” she said. “It truly has been my savior.” In the same breath she also coudn’t help but observe: “My late-night show and my ex behaved exactly the same way. They both lasted for a very short amount of time.”

Nick Thune presented the Comedy Actor award to John Leguizamo, noting his range goes all the way back to Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet” — well, Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 version.

“I’ve never been afraid of an easy laugh or a hard laugh,” Leguizamo said, after clarifying he was not a working actor in the 1600s. “There are a lot of people who deny comedy the right to be serious or meaningful and actually think it’s wrong for laughter to mix with heavy themes. I’ve always felt comedy could do heavier lifting, and be more lofty than American comedy allowed.”

Leguizamo continued: “As a Latinxer, our comedy is visceral, it’s emotional, dangerous because that’s our daily experience in America. When I started writing, I wanted to show the world the beauty of my culture, the great characters in our lives, the hilarious personalities that populate our world that never got the chance to be seen in movies, TV shows, plays or novels. I was desperate to fill that vacuum. I wanted to be the antidote to our invisibility.”

“King of the Hill” creator Mike Judge presented his on-screen son Pamela Adlon with the Comedy Director award, using his iconic Hank Hill voice to introduce Adlon, who followed him by using her equally iconic Bobby Hill voice to thank him.

“There have been many seminal moments in my life,” the “Better Things” creator said. “If you guys think about it like this, there’s windows of opportunity and you’ve got to look at that and think about your life in kind of a five-year plan, or do something that you really want to do. Because it will work out eventually. Like Mike said, at 50, I pulled all these new muscles that I never knew I would have.”

Adlon also said, “women need to be brothers to each other” in Hollywood — and don’t correct her, she knows what she said.

Diablo Cody took the stage to present the Comedy Breakthrough Artist award to Cazzie David, who first accepted her status as a “nepo baby” to parents Larry David and Laurie David. “There had to be one here tonight,” David, who is premiering her directorial debut “I Love You Forever” at SXSW, said.

“In many respects I’m an extremely lucky person,” she added. “I’ve also inherited every possible human trait that goes into making a person miserable. I didn’t miss a single one. The only upside to this horrible disposition is comedy. At least I really hope so because it’d be terrible to be this way for nothing.”

Thune returned to the podium to hand out the Comedy Connoisseur award to Jaboukie Young-White, which the comedian called “maybe the gayest award I’ve ever gotten in my life.”

“Comedy connoisseur kinda sounds like I’m watching ‘The Crown’ and they’re trying to describe someone having a tickling fetish,” Young-White said. But more seriously, he said he was honored to receive the title because “taste is so central to this medium,” with what’s “funny” being entirely subjective.

Variety co-editor-in-chief Cynthia Littleton presented the Comedy Champion award to Robbie Praw, Netflix’s vice president of standup and comedy formats, highlighting him as the name that came up the most when asking around town for the exec “making the biggest difference, taking the biggest swings and writing the biggest checks.”

When Praw accepted the honor, which he received in part for the record-breaking live-streamed standup comedy special Netflix did with Chris Rock last year, he revealed he had been made fun of all week by the comedians he works with — and also his wife and kids, who “laughed in my face” when they sent the “champ” off to Austin.

(Pictured: “Hacks” stars Hannah Einbinder and Jean Smart at Variety’s Power of Comedy Awards)

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