Watchmen Writer Cord Jefferson on His Emmys Speech, Therapy, and Your Thirst Tweets


Cord Jefferson, who took home an Emmy Sunday night for co-penning episode six of HBO’s Watchmen with Damon Lindelof, made a big splash online with his brief but effusive speech. While many winners made sure to express gratitude to their families and their teams, Jefferson was the only person to give a shoutout to their therapist. “Therapy should be free in America,” he added, correctly. The writer, who previously worked on The Good Place, Master of None, and Succession, ended his speech with a callback to his nostalgia-filled episode, saying “this country neglects and forgets its own history at its own peril often.” He spoke to ELLE.com about remembering and working through the past, his big night, and, of course, people’s tweets about him.

Congratulations on your win. The episode and the series are incredible. One of the things that I’ve been wondering is what happens after a socially distanced Emmys. Did you have a house party?

So, everybody got rapid COVID tests on Saturday afternoon; we all tested negative. And then we were all watching at Damon’s house. So [after the Emmys] we hung out in Damon’s backyard and ate pizza and drank some champagne. That was about it. It was lovely. All of us haven’t been together for over a year now, since we wrapped the room, so it was nice to all be together and celebrate.

That seems really cozy. Was this your first Emmys?

It is the first one.

Jefferson, right, accepts his Emmy with Damon Lindelof.

ABCGetty Images

Congratulations again. I’m sure the next ones will be very different. So, I have to ask: During the broadcast you got a lot of response online from people when they saw your acceptance speech. A lot of people were very taken by what you said and by your shoutout to therapy, but also by your attire, your whole aesthetic.

[Laughs]

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Are you aware that there’s a proliferation of thirst tweets about you?

I was not aware that that’s happening until the publicist told me this morning, but, you know, very much appreciate it.

For instance, author Brandon Taylor, who is short-listed for this year’s Booker prize, tweeted—and I am going to quote here—“Cord Jefferson is hotter than the sun.”

[Laughs]

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So the thirst is literary.

Amazing! He wrote Real Life, right?

He did.

That book is on my list. So, I’m a fan of his as well. Well, I mean, I haven’t read the book yet, but I’ve heard amazing things. So, I’m very honored.

He’s expressing, again, in a Booker-nominated way, the way that it seems a lot of people were feeling online. Is that something that you ever anticipated as you were preparing to show up on camera?

No. No. When that episode premiered, I talked to my manager the day after and he said, “You should get your tuxedo ready for the Emmys.” And I said, “I’ll get a tuxedo, but if I’m not nominated, then you’d have to pay for it.” That was our deal. So, I ended up paying for it myself, but we won. I was like, I have this tuxedo, it’s going to be in my boss’s backyard but I should wear the tuxedo, just because I went to the trouble of getting it. So I wore it anyway. I wanted to look nice and presentable. I had no idea we were going to win, but I’m happy that I was wearing it. I’m happy I looked my best.

I’d be remiss in my job if I didn’t ask you who were you wearing.

It’s an Australian menswear brand called P. Johnson. I believe their only store in America is in New York, but they have outlets in Sydney and I think Europe, maybe London also, but they do trunk shows occasionally here in L.A. So I’ve had a couple of suits made by them before.

So I have a very serious question. As a writer, you’re largely behind the scenes, you’ve written for The Good Place and Succession, and of course Watchmen, among many other things. You’re usually in a writer’s room and not on camera. And so last night was very different. How does it feel to come out as hot on national TV?

[Laughs extremely hard] You know, it feels great. I’m a writer for a reason. It’s because I like to be alone in my room with the computer and just working by myself. I’ve never been prepared for the spotlight. It makes me incredibly nervous. So, something that people couldn’t see, thankfully because of the tuxedo, is how much my armpits were sweating as I was standing up there and reading and giving the speech. So, it is not my forte, we’ll say, but I do appreciate you saying that I’m hot. That’s very kind of you.

You’re welcome! So, I really want to talk about the substance of what you said. You know, one of the things that excited people was that you’re a very intelligent and talented person who was also talking about the positive effects of therapy. Do you feel like therapy has helped your artistic practice?

Oh God. Absolutely. I meant what I said: Therapy has changed my life. Very frequently Black people and other people of color in this country are taught that they need to be stoic and keep a stiff upper lip and not let anything affect you, or at least, you shouldn’t show emotion if something affects you. And I tried to live my life like that for many, many years. It really wore me down. I felt this hollowing out of myself. Being able to lean into my emotions and understand why I’m doing things that I’m doing and understand things from my history that perhaps shaped my behaviors nowadays has helped me artistically, it’s helped me personally and professionally. It’s been huge for me.

Your episode begins with Agent Laurie Blake saying, “You shouldn’t take your grandfather’s nostalgia,” which is a really loaded phrase. And I wonder if you find that a therapeutic process can help you to have a better relationship with the past and putting nostalgia in its right place.

Absolutely. You know, the thing that we wanted to portray in that episode is that nostalgia is very toxic when you’re not a straight white man in this country. Nostalgia for the past doesn’t really exist. Looking back in the 1930s, that was a much worse time to be alive for everybody that wasn’t a straight white man. If you’re a woman, if you’re a person of color, if you’re queer, the 1930s were terrible. And so this longing for the past is not something that exists for people who look like me. But whereas therapy is concerned, it’s helped me negotiate details from my past and helped me navigate the world better based on unearthing trauma and discussing that trauma and trying to move past it in the best way possible. We’re products of our past and we’re products of the people who raised us and the situations that raised us. So sifting through the details and understanding why we do the things that we do and trying to move past, it’s made all the difference for me.

I wonder what you are taking with you from this point in your personal history and in our time, but particularly in light of your great night last night and what you’ve got coming up. What are you taking with you into the future?

Oh man, just a ton of gratitude. My father was with me last night. He was my date to the ceremony and he is 78 years old. My grandfather was a butler and my grandmother was a maid at a rich white person’s estate in Ohio and they had middle school educations. They worked hard their entire lives to give my father a better life. And my father worked hard his entire life to give me a better life. And so being able to be at this award ceremony with him was a true honor. I was already incredibly grateful to work on Watchmen so the winning was the cherry on top. I just have incredible gratitude for everything.

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