Awards Speeches Can Be Snoozers!

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New York Daily News –
Oscar winners, don’t
give loser speeches
Thursday, January 27th, 2005

Oscar nominations are out.
Congratulations to the talented nominees.

That’s your air kiss.

This is your assignment: Come up with something entertaining to say when you win.

Send your agent a fruit basket. Thank your manager at the after-party, not on national TV.

We just don’t care.

“Speeches today are all terrible,” says Bruce Vilanch, the consummate awards-show writer now starring in “Hairspray.” “Actors just reel off a list of names.”

Or, worse, read off a list of names during the allotted 45 seconds in the winner’s circle.

Gil Cates, producer of the Oscar show, admits that when he sees a winner pull a slip of paper out at the podium, he “wants to blow someone’s brains out.”

Guess whose.

“Mentioning 10 people’s names may make 10 people happy,” continues Cates, “but it makes millions of other people miserable.”

Even a decent acceptance speech can be deadly when read. This isn’t story time, people, this is the Academy Awards.

Last year, 73 million Americans watched the Oscars. That’s a lot of groaning and grabbing for the TV remote when the Post-it note with Mom’s name and the masseur’s name appears.

Vilanch, a Hollywood insider and Emmy winner, knows it’s nerve-racking to speak in front of famous people. But he also acknowledges that “it’s boring … to the audience to hear a list of names of people they don’t know.

“It’s boring to me,” he adds, “and I know who most of those people being thanked are.”

An awards-show speech – whether it’s the Oscars, Golden Globes, Grammys or something else – isn’t meant to be just a lame-o extended thank-you note to publicists, lawyers, accountants, beauticians, handlers and hair stylists.

We’re talking to you, Cher.

That’s what flower arrangements, cheese baskets and chocolates are for. Or ads in Variety.

The speech is a chance to say something heartfelt (“You like me, right now, you like me!”), pompous (“I’m the king of the world!”), funny, inspirational, even, gulp, political – whatever, just something memorable.

Every year, at the preshow luncheon for nominees, Cates begs them to say whatever they want in their 45 seconds – as long as it’s interesting.

“The laundry-list approach is just puking on the audience,” says Toastmasters world-champion speechmaker Darren LaCroix. “Winners are being honored, sure, but they need to honor the audience.”

The Massachusetts-based speaking coach suggests that nominees write down every key point they want to make, then relentlessly edit to include only the most important elements.

“Time is precious,” he says. “It’s okay to thank a couple of key people, but then it’s time to move on and say something memorable.”

Adds Vilanch, “If you say something interesting, thoughtful and funny, everyone gets thanked at once.”

Jodie Foster’s acceptance for “The Accused” is the gold standard.

“This is such a big deal, and my life is so simple,” she said. “There are very few things – there’s love, and work, and family. And this movie was so special to us, because it was all three of those things.

“I’d like to thank … my mother, Brandy, who taught me that all my finger paintings were Picassos … ”

“Perfect,” declares LaCroix. “That was not off the cuff.”

Some actors may be too humble or too superstitious to prepare – counting statuettes before they’ve hatched – but some homework is recommended.

Vilanch suggests they approach it like a day on the set.

“I’m not auditioning for the job,” he says, “but once you formulate what you want to say and have time to say, bounce it off someone you think is darn clever.”

The audience will thank you.