Unless you’re particularly invested in the Daytime Emmys (besides the riveting Best Talk-Show Host smackdown between Kelly Clarkson and Drew Barrymore). You get to exhale now, nerds. It’s summer break until the Emmys. You might have thought the season came to a close with the Tonys, which culminated in Michael R. Jackson’s triumphant win for A Strange Loop and Jennifer Hudson’s EGOT. These were both wonderful and gratifying, but the Tonys were only the penultimate event, the obscure guild precursor awards for what this year’s awards circuit has been building up to: The The Culturists Culture Awards. On Saturday, June 18, an audience of 2,500 culture appreciators gathered at Lincoln Center to honor the best and brightest in film, television, music, Housewives, comedy, travel, trends, gays, food, friendship, and the animal kingdom (both literal animals and the Disney theme park). In sum: all of culture.
The show was conceived and hosted by Matt Rogers and Bowen Yang to honor six years of their podcast, The Culturists, a time span that has seen the comedians go from Brooklyn comedy-scene favorites commenting on pop culture to honest-to-goodness pop-culture fixtures. Rogers has been a standout on one of the best comedies of the year, Showtime’s I Love That for You, while Yang has had his fair share of experience at lesser, but still notable, awards shows, presenting at the Tonys and Emmys and earning two nominations at the latter (one for writing, one for acting) for Saturday Night Live. And 2022 has been a landmark year for the The Culturists hosts. Last month, they celebrated the podcast’s 300th episode with a “Great Global Songbook” countdown, and earlier this June, Yang and Rogers co-starred in Hulu’s Fire Island alongside friend of the pod and screenwriter Joel Kim Booster. The Culture Awards concept has been in the works since April of last year, and the final production was a spectacular payoff for longtime listeners. Assembling a real rogue’s gallery of queer comedy names, the show was both a highly influential and valid awards ceremony in its own right and a sort of beautiful utopian vision of the heights other awards shows could reach if they stopped getting in their own way. For those who couldn’t attend, Vulture presents the first inaugural “Highs, Lows, and Whoas of the The Culturists Culture Awards. ”
Photo: Sachyn Mital
HIGH: “Cool for the Summer”
As with any awards show worth its salt, the Culture Awards began with a musical number, with Rogers and Yang giving a high-spirited performance of their “Global Songbook” No. 1 hit, Demi Lovato’s “Cool for the Summer,” backed by a live onstage band. Not only was this the first of many live musical performances, but it set up a recurring theme of the hosts coming down into the audience to sing and dance, like in Cats or those puppets in The Lion King.
LOW: Selling themselves short
In the opening monologue, Rogers said they hope to “install this as an awards show that’s taken at least as seriously as the Golden Globes.” We live in a post-Nanette world! No need for self-effacement.
LOW: The statuettes are too heavy for Miss Culturist, Patti Harrison
Just as the Golden Globes appoint a “Miss Golden Globes” to hand winners their hardware, so too did Rogers and Yang appoint Patti Harrison their Miss Culturista; she opened the show by complaining that the awards were “heavier than anyone told me they would ever be.” Partway through the show, Harrison revealed that she hasn’t had much muscle mass since “the accident” (we never learned what this was), and by the end of the night, she was dragging the award across the stage on a tarp. Prop comedy lives!
HIGH: Cole Escola accepts the award for Most Amazing Impact in Film on behalf of the category’s winner, Actors
Actors beat out fellow nominees Steven Spielberg and Music & Score in Film. Dressed not unlike the Morton Salt girl, Escola accepted on behalf of “every actor in the whole world, including the moon!”
Photo: Sachyn Mital
WHOA: Jan coming in on this bitch mad as hell
Rogers and Yang presented the Xtina Aguilera Award for Coming In on This Bitch Mad As Hell to Erin Brockovich When Fired by Ed Masry. This simply would not stand with fellow nominee Jan from RuPaul’s Drag Race, so she stormed the stage and performed a lip sync to “Beautiful,” ending, of course, with Xtina’s “Moves Like Jagger” verse. The hosts issued a correction and unsnubbed Jan. More awards shows should do this!
Photo: Sachyn Mital
HIGH: Julio Torres presents the Macarena
Why? I’m not sure. But Torres gave a speech “to honor the 1990s dance phenomenon,” then Rogers and Yang shaked their tushies and led the crowd in a mass Macarena. It was giving cult.
LOW: Lemon Spindrift wins Best Seltzer Flavor
I heard boos.
LOW: Katy Perry could not accept her award in person
Hannah Einbinder announced the Joy Behar Award for Stand-up Comedy recipient and rolled the losers’ pretaped acceptance speeches. Joel Kim Booster pointed to the heavens and thanked Behar, saying, “I miss you, and I can’t wait to die so I can -” (the rest was drowned out by audience laughter). Pat Regan followed with a reference to not being cast in Fire Island. At least they tied for the Funniest Gay Man award.
HIGH: C # 5
Jo Firestone introduced the next award of the evening, Best Note Ever Sung. All three nominees were performed by Bonnie Milligan and Natalie Walker, accompanied by the band, including the very high note known as C5. The deserving winner was “Look” From “Look to the Western Sky” From “Defying Gravity.” They gave a beautiful performance.
LOW: The alto part on “All I Want for Christmas Is You”
Nothing says Lincoln Center’s Summer for the City like a Christmas sing-along. Walker did her viral alto part, and she and Milligan closed the song with a kiss.
Photo: Sachyn Mital
HIGH: Aaron Jackson’s historic win
Jackson won the Best “I Don’t Think So, Honey” of All Time award and celebrated with a crowd recital of the text: “Going to Church on Sunday and Wednesday? ”
LOW: Whales snubbed
Fire Island hotties Conrad Ricamora, James Scully, and Zane Phillips presented the award for Best Animal in the Sea, a category that demanded Ricamora’s gravitas. The men were disappointed because their favorite creature of the deep is the whale, but the whale wasn’t nominated. The winner was Fish, Comma, All, accepted by Tomás Matos holding a bubble gun.
Photo: Sachyn Mital
LOW: In memory
A reel of “moments that slayed from 2021,” set to a remix of Wendy Williams saying “Death to all of them!” reminded us of bitter losses, beginning with Meghan McCain’s departure from The View.
WHOA: Four-part harmonies
Rogers and Yang began a duet of “drivers license,” which was already beautiful but went over the edge when Josh Sharp and Jackson emerged after the first chorus wearing capes and turned the whole thing into an Il Divo moment.
HIGH: Lisa Kudrow accepts the award for Best Friend
Mother sent a video!
WHOA: Taylor Swift filmed her acceptance speeches!
The audience was primed for a Katy Perry – JKB – style switcheroo when Swift won the Best Taylor Swift award for the Baking of Cookies and was delighted with a video of Swift addressing the hosts while taking cookies out of the oven. Then Swift sent another video to accept the Best Tayla Swiff award for Performance of “Wildest Dreams” in “Enchanted” Mash-up.
HIGH: Presenter banter
This is how all awards shows should be! They should all have delightful banter and original bits! They should all be dreamed up by queer Vulture-approved comedians! They should all have SNL writer Celeste Yim hand Aidy Bryant one-word note cards individually and have Bryant be totally taken by surprise by what’s on them.
WHOA: The audience knew the tune to “Drive Back,” by Candiace from RHOP
The final award of the night, Record of the Year, went to Candiace from The Real Housewives of Potomac for “Drive Back,” leading to the final sing-along in an evening full of them. (Album of the Year went to 2017’s Reputation.)
HIGH: Disney’s Animal Kingdom sweep
The winner of the night was unexpected. It wasn’t comedy (although it was also that). It wasn’t Wendy Williams (despite her many nominations and her Tina Turner Legend Award win). It was Orlando, Florida, which had a category sweep with eight wins, three of those for Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
-Biggest Flop: Seaworld
-Most Iconic Building or Structure: The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Disney’s Hollywood Studios
-Most Relaxing Destination: Disney’s Animal Kingdom
-Best Disney World Ride: Expedition Everest
-Best Universal Studios Orlando Ride: Revenge of the Mummy
-Six Flags Award for Worst Ride in Orlando: This is a show, but Hall of Presidents
-The National Park Award for Nature: The Tree of Life, Disney’s Animal Kingdom
-Best Neighborhood, Los Angeles: Universal CityWalk [Note: I know this isn’t Orlando, but it is Orlando in spirit, its sister city being Universal CityWalk Orlando. Best Neighborhood, New York, went to Fort Greene, by the way.]
HIGH: No one got played off by the band
Best Animal on the Farm went to Chickens of the Coop, Best Video-Game Moment went to When Bowser Arrives, and Best Flavor of Them All went to Tasty. More things should be silly in this very way.
Photo: Sachyn Mital
HIGH: The assemblage of talent!
The micro-generation of queer comedians who gathered for this show is really shaping culture for the better, the goofier, and the goopier, and it brings a tear to mine eye. This was like a big commencement ceremony for people you saw for the first time at the Bell House five years ago. And for one night, the Lincoln Center was elevated into something even greater: the clown square.