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Unlike other awards shows where winners can ramble on until they’re played off by music, The Webby Awards makes its winners limit their speeches to only five words. The winners of this year’s awards, honoring the Internet’s best in a multitude of categories, were announced three weeks ago, giving honorees plenty of time to craft their best five-word expression of gratitude.
When they took the stage at the Webby Awards ceremony in New York Monday night, some of the 2015 winners went for earnest and inspiring, while others went for funny. Still, host Hannibal Buress was amazed that this year’s winners so consistently adhered to the restriction and that even the lifetime achievement winners were only permitted five words.
“This is the only awards show where the description of the awards is longer than the speeches,” Buress said at one point.
Still, there was at least one person who broke the rules. Rob Cantor, who won the online film and video Webby for comedy: individual short or episode for Shia LaBeouf Live, which he created, delivered a six-word speech, saying “I never learned how to count.”
“I guess I thought it would be funny if I gave a six-word speech that was self-explanatory,” Cantor told The Hollywood Reporter backstage, “But it didn’t get a big laugh, so it wasn’t that funny in the end.”
Indeed, Webby Award veterans the Gregory Brothers talked to THR before the show about the dangers of straying from exactly five words.
“The Internet doesn’t like ambiguity, especially when it comes to things they can count,” Michael Gregory said, after the group recalled that when they accepted their first Webby they used a hyphenated word, “which caused legions of disputes in the comments in YouTube.” They explained that they thought they just needed to stay under five words, but they were relieved they didn’t use a hyphenated word as one of their five words.
“Then there really would have been a hailstorm, because a lot of people would have argued we’d done six,” Evan Gregory said. “In this case, people were just like, you could’ve made your speech 25 percent more insightful and awesome.”
To make your speech the most “insightful and awesome,” Webbys executive director David-Michel Davies advised, “context is everything.”
“The really great speeches are the ones that somehow are only referencing something bigger, because you only have five words,” Davies explained, citing Al Gore‘s 2005 lifetime achievement award speech (“Please don’t recount this vote”) as an example. “It’s referencing some bigger thing that everyone knows about. Those are always really great. There’s always ones that are stopping short, like ‘I would like to thank…’, which is OK. Sometimes those can be really great if they’re smartly done.”
Check out which speeches THR thought were among this year’s best, and read the stories behind the top two.
ALS Ice Bucket Challenge co-founder Pat Quinn, accepting the challenge’s special achievement award: “Every August until a cure.”
ALS Ice Bucket Challenge co-founder Quinn ended the evening with his moving speech, receiving a standing ovation as he took the stage to accept a special achievement award for the challenge’s role in launching an international viral phenomenon of charitable giving. As for his speech, Quinn said he solicited suggestions via social media but ultimately went for a serious statement.
“I knew in my head it was about promoting doing it again and letting people know we have to do it again, but five words isn’t easy,” he told THR. “And the funny stuff we thought would be great for the room, but we were really trying to make some longevity with this statement.”
Indeed, Quinn said he hopes to make the Ice Bucket Challenge an annual event every August, similar to annual charity campaigns like Movember.
“ALS hasn’t really had much change since Lou Gehrig gave his farewell speech to baseball,” Quinn said. “The fact that nothing’s changed really is unfair, and people need to know that. The more we do events like the ice bucket challenge, the more people will know and the more people will understand how difficult it is. I would say the more support we build, the more funding we get, we can actually make a change.”
Outstanding comedic performance award winner Chelsea Peretti, recognized for her Netflix special, One of the Greats: “The Internet must be stopped.”
“I think it every day, all day long,” Peretti said of her speech. “[The Internet’s] just so addictive and I think I’m of a generation that remembers a pre-Internet life, and it’s very bittersweet. Because there’s amazing stuff that you can do, like get Ubers and all this different stuff that we can do, and in some ways it brings us together, but I definitely miss the old ways. In some ways, it’s like, I can’t keep up. It feels like you’re on a treadmill that just keeps speeding up, which is literally my worst nightmare anyway, if you want to talk about the practical world.”
She added that she felt the environment was right for her speech. “I’ve done enough comedy shows that when you’re doing a night where there’s two hours of people saying really short jokes, it’s kind of hard to win,” she said. “But I did feel that contextually it kind of seemed like a funny time to express that desire.”
In all seriousness, though, Peretti said she was “genuinely touched” that the Webbys recognized her special. “I was genuinely thankful that people connected with it,” she added. “Honestly, that’s what I do it for.”
Morgan Spurlock, accepting the online film and video Webby for news and politics: series for his We the Economy short films: “Webby, check. Next stop: EGOT“
Best actress winner Ellie Kemper: “So excited! Livestreaming my pants!”
Shaina Holtz, accepting the agency of the year Webby for Leo Burnett Toronto’s #LikeAGirl campaign, which won 11 awards: “Create change, like a girl.”
Metropolitan Museum of Art social media manager Taylor Newby, accepting the Webby for best photography and graphics in social: “Bitch better have my Monet.”
HuffPost Live president Roy Sekoff, accepting the online film and video Webby for news and information: channel: “Sold stock pre-Verizon. F—.”
Lifetime achievement award winners, Wired co-founders Louis Rossetto and Jane Metcalfe: “Remember, it’s all just prelude.”
Freelancer.com CEO Matt Barrie, accepting the Webby for professional services and employment in websites: “Even this speech was outsourced.”
Circul8 founder Alana Stocks and account director Alice Mansell, accepting the Webby for online guerilla and innovation in advertising and media: “Speaking for women who can’t.”
The 2015 Webby Awards, sponsored by Grey Goose, are now streaming here.
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