How to Write a Boring Acceptance Speech

Big Yawn, rabble, Flickr, (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Sunday night was the Emmy award show for television. I like TV, and I like award shows (I know, there’s something not right about me). But even for the usually predictable Emmys, the acceptance speeches this year were remarkably dull. Maybe because they were so formulaic.

I wrote about acceptance speeches after the Oscars in February, when the announcers screwed up the Best Picture winner and the folks behind La La Land gave a non-winning acceptance speech. When is an acceptance speech not an acceptance speech? When the speakers didn’t win.

But last night’s Emmys held no such surprises. In fact, the show held almost no surprises, as almost every winner was the expected one (go Julia Louis Dreyfuss! And oh yeah, The Handmaid’s Tale)

So the expected winners gave the expected acceptance speeches.

Here’s the acceptance speech formula, at least from last night, move by move:

1. Praise the amazing talent of all the others in your category, all those losers

2. Thank the person who has the most power over you — the cable network that aired the show, producer who hired you, director who made you look good, or novelist who came up with all the ideas, characters, plot lines, and dialogue that you stole, I mean bought, for your award-winning script

3. Thank your peers without whom you REALLY couldn’t have done it — fellow cast members, writers, and, if you’re especially conscientious, crew.

4. Throw in a thanks to your agent, if you like.

5. Thank the loved ones who are the ones who really matter and (if it’s a miniseries or one-off show) who you barely saw while making it

6. Throw in a political comment if you like, about how art matters even more in times like these or thank god for Winston Churchill showing us what real leadership is like

7. Be flustered by the music trying to play you off because you’ve gone on too long, as if you didn’t know it was coming

In most award shows, I can point to a particularly funny or awkward acceptance speech, somebody who goes off script for at least a word or two. Other than “Lizzy” Moss being bleeped a couple of times, I remember only two different moments.

One was Sterling K. Brown, who won Best Drama Actor, objecting to how loud the music was when it was playing him off and he kept talking anyway, even though he was right it really was loud and you couldn’t hear a word he was saying and then they went to commercial.

The other was Ann Dowd, because she made the genre visible. At the end of her quite nice and moving acceptance speech, she finished with, “My husband is here and I love him so. He’s Larry Arancio. And my children. I have some beautiful children and their names are Liam, Emily, and Trust, and I love them to pieces.” I heard it as a recognition that, oh yeah, that’s what people do at the end of their speeches. And I may not be thanking them for my own independent life and work, but I have family, too, don’t ya know.

Maybe I’m reading into it. But I noticed it. And I liked it.

So there you have the Emmy award show this year. There were also, of course, the announcements of the awards. The one off-script moment from that genre was probably the funniest line, other than Stephen Colbert’s opening monologue. Dave Chapelle was set to announce the nominees for an award, and he commented that he’d skipped rehearsal (and was clearly adlibbing). After which he said he’d start reading from the teleprompter, so “Shout out to DC Public Schools.”

Maybe all the winners should add a thanks to the teachers who taught them to read and write. But no, that would make the speeches go on waaaaaay too long, and the orchestra would have to bring in trumpets to drown them out, and I’d be way past ready for bed.

Writer, teacher, researcher, PhD, optimist. I explore language & everyday genres to help people see & choose the language & genres they use. www.amydevitt.com