Taking to the stage to accept a prestigious award in front of your peers is no doubt an overwhelming experience. And if you haven’t prepared any words beforehand, then you’re even more likely to launch into the kind of blabbering stream-of-consciousness speech that you want to forget by the time you return to your seat.
Take James Cameron’s self-congratulatory “I’m the king of the world” line after picking up the Best Director Oscar for “Titanic” in 1998, for example. Or Björk’s baffling “I am grateful grapefruit” declaration on winning the Best International Female BRIT Award that very same year. Or when Brad Pitt celebrated winning the Golden Globe Best Supporting Actor gong by thanking a medication for anti-diarrhea.
But some celebs go beyond the smug, peculiar and embarrassing and into downright inappropriate when they find themselves at the podium. From political rants to misjudged jokes, here’s a look at 14 award show speeches that instantly had voters wishing they’d honored someone else.
Angelina Jolie gushed about her brother
Remember when respected director and notable humanitarian Angelina Jolie was a Hollywood tabloid darling who carried around then-husband Billy Bob Thornton’s blood in a vial around her neck? That was certainly the Jolie that turned up to the 2000 Academy Awards with her brother James Haven in tow.
After receiving the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her turn as Lisa Rowe in “Girl, Interrupted,” the star gave a shout-out to her sibling which many deemed to be supremely icky: “I’m in shock, and I’m so in love with my brother right now. He just held me and said he loved me, and I know he’s so happy for me. And, um, thank you for that.”
Jolie obviously didn’t read the room’s reaction, or perhaps more likely didn’t care, considering her behavior at the post-awards bash hosted by Vanity Fair — where she famously gave Haven a smooch right on the lips. However, both parties later denied that they’d done anything wrong. That same year, Jolie told Entertainment Weekly, “My parents really loved that moment, and that’s what will always matter.” And in 2007, Haven insisted to Daily Mail, “I did not give Angie a French kiss. It was something simple and lovely.”
Eric Cantona talked war and crime at UEFA ceremony
Former Manchester United playmaker Eric Cantona has always been one of the soccer world’s biggest and most baffling philosophers. “When the seagulls follow the trawler, it’s because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea,” he once remarked at a press conference to discuss, erm, his two-week prison sentence for assaulting a fan being quashed.
And the Frenchman certainly had everyone at the 2019 Champions League draw scratching their heads again with a mood-dampening speech which had nothing to do with the UEFA President’s Award he was accepting. “As flies to wanton boys, we are for the gods,” he began, paraphrasing a line from Shakespeare’s tragedy “King Lear.”
Things then got even weirder as Cantona continued: “They will kill us for the sport. Soon the science will not only be able to slow down the aging of the cells, soon the science will fix the cells to the state and so we will become eternal. Only accidents, crimes, wars, will still kill us but unfortunately, crimes, wars, will multiply.” After depressing the heck out of the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, the sportsman swiftly changed tone, wrapping up with, “I love football. Thank you.”
Tom Hanks outed his high school teacher
Tom Hanks no doubt believed he was paying things forward when he thanked two old high school acquaintances for inspiring his Best Actor Oscar-winning performance in “Philadelphia.” Unfortunately, his on-stage victory speech at the 1994 ceremony proved that even Hollywood’s nicest guy can sometimes put his foot in his mouth.
“Two of the finest gay Americans, two wonderful men that I had the good fortune to be associated with,” was how Hanks described old pal John Gilkerson, who’d died several years previously from AIDS, and his drama teacher Rawley Farnsworth in front of millions of people. The only problem was that the latter wasn’t as out as the actor’s glowing tribute suggested.
In fact, the ex-teacher had reportedly never actually told Hanks about his sexuality. Luckily, Farnsworth didn’t appear too offended by the incident: he later spoke fondly of the star at the American Film Institute Life Achievement Award: A Tribute to Tom Hanks event in 2009. The whole drama later inspired the film “In and Out,” in which Kevin Kline’s English literature teacher, much to his surprise, is celebrated as a gay man by an Academy Award-winning former student.
Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift's MTV VMAs speech
One of the most famous speeches in awards history wasn’t made by a tearful winner or wisecracking host but someone who wasn’t even supposed to be on stage at the time. In 2009, Taylor Swift was in the middle of saying her thank-yous after “You Belong with Me” received the Best Female Video at the MTV VMAs when a disgruntled celeb suddenly gatecrashed proceedings.
But this wasn’t one of the losing nominees. It was Kanye West, who’d taken umbrage with the fact that Beyoncé’s Bob Fosse-inspired video for “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” hadn’t walked away with the trophy. The rapper then swiped the microphone from Swift’s hands before uttering the immortal lines, “Yo, Taylor, I’m really happy for you, I’mma let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time! One of the best videos of all time!”
Even Queen Bey herself, sitting in the audience, appeared visibly embarrassed by West’s shocking interruption: she later invited Swift to finish her speech after “Single Ladies” emerged victorious in the Video of the Year category. West was later dubbed a “jackass” by President Barack Obama, and although the hitmaker has since apologized for his outburst, West’s feud with Swift has only continued to grow.
Oliver Stone protested about U.S. drug policy
It’s always risky territory whenever you bring politics into an entertainment awards speech, as Oliver Stone found out to his cost while accepting a Golden Globe in 1979. The filmmaker lived up to his troublemaking reputation after being honored for “Midnight Express” with a speech which rallied against the United States’ war on drugs (“Our film’s not just about Turkey … but our society. You know, we arrest people for drugs, and we throw them in jail … and we make heroes of the people who do that”).
To say this didn’t go down well with the star-studded crowd is something of an understatement. People magazine reports that after boos started to reverberate around the auditorium, Stone was advised by presenter Chevy Chase to wrap things up with a simple thank-you. But the Best Adapted Screenplay winner only stopped blasting the government when he was physically forced off the stage by security.
In his 2020 memoir “Chasing the Light,” Stone acknowledged that his “zonked” state at the time probably didn’t help matters: “My message was clearly lost. I was embarrassed when I walked back to our film’s table, which was, as I said, front and center. I was not uncomfortable with what I was trying to convey, and perhaps some had understood me, but they were silent as the awards pounded on to their conclusion.”
Cate Blanchett joked about Judy Garland
Although she’s more renowned for her dramatic roles, awards darling Cate Blanchett has proven she can handle comedy, too, in the likes of “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?” and “Bandits.” But her acceptance speech at the 2014 Golden Globes suggests she’s better off leaving the jokes to scriptwriters.
After picking up Best Actress in a Drama for her turn in “Blue Jasmine,” the Aussie surprised everyone with a misjudged quip about one of the most tragic stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age: “Thank you [to] my extraordinary agent … for not only plying me with vodka in the way that Judy Garland was probably plied with barbiturates.”
Judy Garland, of course, died from an accidental barbiturates overdose in 1969 at the age of just 47, and many viewers believed Blanchett was making light of this fact. The actress later admitted to The Telegraph that she couldn’t remember much about the ceremony because of the alcohol she took to steady her nerves, and hoped she hadn’t done “too many things [she’ll] regret.”
Tom Hiddleston trivializes a humanitarian crisis
A-listers always seem to love telling everyone about their charity efforts. And Tom Hiddleston proved once again that humility isn’t a strong point in Hollywood when he accepted the 2017 Golden Globe Award for Best Actor — Miniseries or Television Film.
Hiddleston, who’d been recognized for his leading performance in “The Night Manager,” recalled a visit to South Sudan as part of his efforts with UNICEF. Admirable work, for sure. But many viewers saw it as something of a humblebrag when he re-lived a conversation in which a group of Doctors Without Borders medics told him how much they loved his latest show.
The Brit didn’t help matters much either when he added how touched he was about “the idea that … we could provide some relief and entertainment for the people … who are fixing the world in the places where it is broken.” The bemused reaction in the star-studded crowd suggests that even many of his peers felt Hiddleston had gone a little overboard with the self-indulgence.
Catherine Zeta-Jones gets crass
Catherine Zeta-Jones is widely regarded as one of the most elegant and classiest women on Hollywood’s A-list. It’s why many were left surprised when she revealed a little TMI while accepting the Best Actress in a Musical Tony Award in 2010 for her star turn in “A Little Night Music.”
During her speech at the New York ceremony, the Welshwoman pointed to her husband Michael Douglas in the crowd before remarking, “That man over there, who’s a movie star, and I get to sleep with him every night.” To be fair to Zeta-Jones, she did apologize for her rather icky statement almost immediately, telling the Daily Mail (via Express), “I was so caught up in the moment I don’t think I knew what I was saying. I had no control over what was coming out of my mouth. What I said about Michael was heartfelt … although I can’t believe I said something like that. Just can’t believe I said something as crass as that.”
However, the actress also admitted that she could easily have gone even further: “Boy, I could have said something worse and then I’d really be in trouble. Mind you, the problem with saying that I get to sleep with Michael every night is that it was done on television and it’s on tape forever.”
James Corden's ungracious BAFTAs speech
Long before he became a staple of the US late-night talk show circuit, James Corden enjoyed success as a regular on British small screens. In 2008 he was rewarded for his talents with a Best Comedy Performance at the BAFTAs. Even better, the show he co-starred in, BBC sitcom “Gavin and Stacey,” was then given the Audience Award.
In his 2011 memoir “May I Have Your Attention, Please,” Corden claims he never expected the show he co-wrote with Ruth Jones to win. But his acceptance speech on the night suggested otherwise. In fact, the funnyman blasted organizers for failing to shower “Gavin and Stacey” with even more awards. He recalled, “Well, here’s how my question went: ‘How can what is apparently the best comedy performance and the television program of the year not even be nominated as a comedy?’ Instead of applause … I was met with silence, shock and disbelief.”
To his credit, Corden now acknowledges that his behavior on the night was “ungracious, ungrateful and brattish.” He continued, “Rather than using my speech to thank everyone who’d helped on the show, I’d ruined the moment and belittled myself in the process.”
George Clooney's self-congratulatory Oscars speech
The Hollywood elite always seems hellbent on convincing us all just how incredibly important their work is to mankind. Take George Clooney’s speech after winning the 2006 Best Supporting Oscar for his performance in “Syriana,” for example. The former “ER” star couldn’t stop gushing about how forward-thinking Tinseltown is compared to the rest of society:
“We’re the ones who talk about AIDS when it was just being whispered, and we talked about civil rights when it wasn’t really popular. And we, you know, we bring up subjects, we are the ones — this Academy, this group of people gave Hattie McDaniel an Oscar in 1939 when blacks were still sitting in the backs of theaters.” The latter comment came under particular scrutiny, with filmmaker Spike Lee perhaps the most vocal critic.
The “Malcolm X” director told BBC Radio (via Today), “To use that as an example of how progressive Hollywood is ridiculous. Hattie McDaniel played Mammy in ‘Gone With the Wind.’ That film was basically saying that the wrong side won the Civil War and that black people should still be enslaved. C’mon! I like George a lot. I’m not hating on him. But I don’t think he really thought it out.” Even a show that Clooney once worked on, “South Park,” couldn’t resist mocking his self-congratulatory message. In the season 10 episode “Smug Alert!,” Cartman and co.’s hometown comes under attack from a smug cloud emanating from Clooney’s speech.
Kids' show host Lara Catrin dropped the F-bomb
Dropping the F-bomb is pretty much frowned upon at any award ceremony. Melissa Leo was forced to apologize for her potty-mouthed speech after picking up the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for “The Fighter” in 2011, for example. But even more so at an event celebrating the best of kids’ TV — with kids in the audience.
According to NorthWalesLive, Lara Catrin appeared to get a little too excited when the Welsh children’s series she hosted, “Prosiect Z,” won Best Entertainment Show at the 2019 Children’s BAFTAs. After grabbing the mic from one of her colleagues, Catrin began gushing about her BFF: “So Aled Mels [sic] is one of those people who do not deserve anything in the world … he deserves everything in the world … right? He’s my best friend … I’m f***ed tonight … he is my best friend …”
In a statement from S4C, the home network of “Prosiect Z,”, a spokesperson revealed that Catrin later expressed remorse for her use of the F-word in front of several youngsters. A few months later the same show was crowned Best Children’s Programme at the Royal Television Society Awards. Thankfully on this occasion, others did the talking.
Kevin Spacey's ambiguous Oscars speech
“To my friends, for pointing out my worst qualities. I know you do it because you love me. And that’s why I loved playing Lester, because we got to see all of his worst qualities and we still grew to love him.” At the time, Kevin Spacey’s speech after winning the 2000 Best Actor Oscar for “American Beauty” seemed entirely innocuous. But considering what we now know about the disgraced star, some believe that his words had a much darker meaning.
In 2017, Anthony Rapp alleged that as a 14-year-old he’d been preyed upon by a then-26-year-old Spacey. In an official statement, the previously respected actor subsequently offered “the sincerest apology for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior.” But things then escalated when no fewer than 15 other men revealed that they’d suffered similar sexual abuse at the hands of Spacey, with several of the cases going to court.
That same year, Christopher Shinn, a playwright best known for his Pulitzer Prize-nominated drama “Dying City,” took to Twitter to claim that Kevin Spacey had essentially been hiding in plain sight when he took to the Academy Awards stage. According to The Telegraph, he wrote, “I always felt Kevin Spacey’s 2000 Oscar speech alluded to/minimized his misconduct. I bet it’ll be played a lot once more stories emerge.”
If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN’s National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
Daniel Kaluuya's embarrassed his mother during an Oscars speech
The speech that Daniel Kaluuya gave while accepting the Best Supporting Actor award for “Judas and the Black Messiah” was highly entertaining for the few of us who tuned into the 2021 ceremony. Less so for his mother, who was watching her son at a live screening at BFI’s headquarters in London.
The British actor proved that kids can be just as embarrassing as parents when he took to the stage for a speech that took an unexpected turn: “You got to celebrate life, man! We’re breathing, walking, it’s incredible. It’s incredible. Like, it’s incredible. My mom met dad, they had sex. It’s amazing.” Unsurprisingly, mom Damalie Namusoke quickly put her head in her hands before asking the daughter sitting alongside her, “What’s he talking about?”
Kaluuya, who was recognized for his portrayal of the late Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, later insisted that his mother would be fine with his rather awkward celebration of life while being interviewed in the press room: “Is that going to live on?” Kaluuya pondered aloud. “I think that’s pretty obvious that all our parents had sex, but maybe that’s me … She knows. She’s got a sense of humor. We give it to each other, so it’s cool.”
Elinor Burkett's passive-aggressive interruption
Just a year after the Kanye West and Taylor Swift debacle, the Academy Awards appeared to have an unexpected gatecrasher of its own. Roger Ross Williams was in the midst of his speech for winning Best Documentary Short for “Music by Prudence” when he was interrupted by a red-haired lady who seemed to have come from nowhere. “The man never lets the woman talk,” she said after grabbing the mic before launching into her own thank-yous. The passive-aggressiveness seemed highly inappropriate at the time, but there was more to this story than first met the eye.
In fact, the woman doing all the talking was the short film’s producer Elinor Burkett whose name had also been read out as a winner. But while Williams quickly sauntered from his seat to accept the award, his colleague took an eternity. Why didn’t Williams wait, you may ask? Well, apparently the pair had fallen out over creative differences and hadn’t spoken beforehand about who’d make the acceptance speech if “Music by Prudence” emerged victoriously.
Burkett later explained to Entertainment Weekly why she doesn’t deserve to be put in the same category as a certain motor-mouthed rapper: “I don’t know why everyone is acting like I didn’t have the right to be there … It’s really demeaning and denigrating to somebody who did all the work … There’s this assumption that [Roger] had more of a right to speak than I did. His Oscar is not bigger than my Oscar.”
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