Webby Awards: Issa Rae, Michael Douglas Accept Special Honors

Issa Rae and Michael Douglas - Webby Awards - Getty - H - 2019
Gary Gershoff/Noam Galai

A ceremony honoring this year's previously announced recipients, required to stick to five-word acceptance speeches, was held in New York on Monday night.

Although it was a dark year on the World Wide Web, the Webby Awards shined a light on the internet’s humor, community and social activism at the 23rd annual awards on Monday night in New York. 

"This year was a pretty difficult time for the internet, but we are celebrating a whole load of different projects that are inspiring and making change," Webby Awards executive director Claire Graves told The Hollywood Reporter

Jenny Slate hosted the ceremony, and in her opening speech, she made some great dad jokes and went off script. 

"I’m a natural fit for tonight’s event because I’m terrified of computers and the internet and I refuse to engage with them in anyway," said Slate, whose web cartoon Marcel the Shell With Shoes On is a viral internet favorite. 

"I don’t know if you remember Y2K, but nothing happened. All the dads were really worried," Slate said. "I wish they had worried more about patriarchy."

All of the winners were announced before the ceremony, and each recipient had to prepare a five-word acceptance speech. When Issa Rae received the Webby video person of the year award, she said, "Stop believing stupid people. Shit."

When Michael Douglas accepted the Webby special achievement for his work on Netflix’s The Kominsky Method, he said, "My kids think it’s hilarious."

Hasan Minhaj accepted the first award of the evening for special achievement for Patriot Act, and he opted for humor with his speech, "This is going on eBay."

"The fact that it’s resonating on the internet and it represents internet culture means a lot to me because that’s where our generation operates and learns about the world and hopefully leaves a positive impact," Minhaj told THR backstage. 

Tierra Whack received Webby artist of the year, and her speech was "Weird hype and creative kids," which is what w-h-a-c-k stands for. Her album Whack World went viral, with its one-minute Instagram music videos for each track. 

"Telling kids it’s okay to be yourself. We’re weird and we’re hype but we’re also creative. We’re ourselves and we have so much to offer to the world," Whack told THR, adding that she knew she was breaking new ground with her music. "It felt good but it felt right. Once it was done, I felt complete."

Tracy Morgan presented Desus and Mero with the Webby Special, and he compared the duo — who went from YouTube stars to having their own show on Showtime — to famous comedy teams such as Abbott and Costello and TV's Lucy and Ethel. 

"It's dope to be recognized as far as pushing the envelope as far as internet and new media," Mero told THR on the red carpet. "It’s wild because other executives, who I’m not going to mention, have been like, ‘This internet stuff is like meh, we don’t have to put stuff on YouTube and blah blah blah.’ And then look what happens. We have been pushing the envelope ever since we got on TV, and we’re going to continue to do so. I think that this is a testament to that."

The internet is also celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and co-founder Vint Cerf, who attended to mark the occasion, said he’s encouraged by the positive work people are doing in online communities.

"We had hopes because when we did the original design of the internet in 1973, we knew it had to be global because we were designing it for the Defense Department and they operate all around the world," Cerf told THR. However, they had to up the number of web addresses to 340 trillion trillion trillion in 2011 to keep up with the rapid growth. 

"That should last for a while, at least until after I’m dead," Cerf said. "Then it’s somebody else’s problem."