Brain Chatter: A 3-Minute Masterclass in Humourous Speeches

January 10, 2017 Ron Tite, CEO of The Tite Group

On Sunday night, you may have tuned into the Golden Globes to see the parade of manly beards, Jimmy Fallon’s forgettable hosting, or even Meryl Streep’s wonderfully important acceptance speech for the Cecile B. DeMille Award. But lost in the La La Land triumph was one of the finest performances of the year: Steve Carell and Kristen Wiig’s introduction for Best Animated Film.

Normally, this type of presenter banter is really just a cheesy, writer-generated, teleprompter-driven preamble to the phrase, “And the nominees are…” but these two comedic geniuses delivered a perfect performance. It was a 3-minute Master Class on comedy and delivery.  Here’s why (in a second by second breakdown):


0-0:20: The Waves

This performance didn’t start when they got to the microphone.
It started the moment they stepped out on stage.

Immediately, they began waving to the crowd. The silence and the exaggerated gestures created intrigue and silenced a rowdy room. Silence creates tension. And everyone loves to stop and rubber neck. The result? The entire audience was focused on them. Secondly, they weren’t just waving. They were poking fun at the forced political candidate waves we put up with on the recent US campaign trail. It was a subtle parody but it worked. With an attentive and smiling room, they could start.

0:20-0:23: “Good evening peers and regular people.”

What an opening line. The silence and attention were rewarded immediately. 

0:23-0:27: “Steve and I play characters in the Despicable Me movies...”

With one quick phrase, they established credibility in the animation category, justified their presence, and established an inside perspective. Outsiders can offend. An insider has permission.

0:27-0:35: “Sometimes, we get our haircut together.”

Their playful banter created rapport. They showed they like each other.
Which gave us permission to like them, too.

0:37-0:41: “We are so happy to present Best Animated Film this evening.”

Instead of using a comedy bit in isolation, they wove the important part of their message right into the bit. The task wasn’t separated from the comedy, it was integrated into it.

0:41- “Everyone loves animated movies. Do you remember the first time you saw an animated movie?”

Who didn’t immediately search their memory for their first animated movie? I know I did. Suddenly, I was reliving my innocent, enjoyable youth. And before I knew it, so was Steve. We’re always more engaged when we’re asked to relive important moments in our lives.

0:45-0:59: “My dad took us to see Fantasia….”

Steve re-enforced the thoughts we already had by walking us down the road of his own childhood memory. We were smiling.

And then he hit us with the re-direct.

0:59-1:14: “There was my mom and that was the moment she told my dad she wanted a divorce.”

Steve not only delivered a great re-direct, but created a comedic contrast to the innocent picture he initially painted. Comedy is about surprise. And he surprised us. Brilliantly. While doing it, he also got into the emotional space that re-enforced the re-direct by removing his glasses, wiping his tears, and establishing the sad character for the rest of the bit.

1:21-1:25: “I never saw my father again after that day.”

When you continue to push a bit, you get a laugh on top of a laugh. It’s the most efficient laugh comedians and speakers can get because the it’s a continuation of the premise the audience has already bought into.

1:25: “Fantasia Day”

He summarized his whole story by branding it. Fantastic.

1:38: “What about you?”

Finishing his story, Steve brings back to the reality of the moment. By using a forced line of dialogue to re-engage his partner, we were back in the moment. It also set Kristen up for her part in the easiest way.

1:48: “Bambi”.

Who wasn’t immediately thinking, “Oh… where is she going to go with this?”
Now we’re engaged in her story simply to see how she would complement his.

1:51: “March 14, 1981”

Some people say, “The comedy is in the details.” She gave us some. The date established a clear time frame to create a picture in our head and helped set up a later joke.

1:55: “It was the same day we had to put our dogs down.”

Re-direct. Surprise. Laughter.

2:02: “Three of them. Little Jack, Janet, and Chrissy”

Paying off the 1981 date with a Three’s Company reference without overtly stating that it was a Three’s Company reference gave the audience credit that they would get the joke. Most did.

2:07: “My grandpa thought the movie would take our mind off it but you know… Bambi’s mom…”

Again, Wiig referenced Bambi’s mom dying without saying anything about the death itself.
She let us imagine the scene we had all seen as children so we could create our emotions which complemented hers.

2:23: “And also that was the last day I saw my Grandpa”

Extended the joke by making her own situation worse and got a laugh on top of the laugh.

2:33: “…and I didn’t speak for 2 years.”

…And another joke on the joke on the joke.
Same premise.
5 separate laughs.


They wrapped with 10 beautiful seconds of silence. They showed restraint, were incredibly patient, enjoyed the silence, and  stayed in their own individual emotional moments. They committed to the bit. They committed to the emotion. They enjoyed the silence. And 10 seconds later, they were rewarded for it with the biggest laugh and applause of their entire time on stage.

2:57: “And the nominees are…”

There was no other way to end this bit. This line once again brought us back to the reality of the moment and re-enforced why they were there. But like any great comedian, Carell stayed in the emotions of the moment to deliver it choked up.

Top to bottom, from the first second to last, this was a lesson for all of us.

Say what you want about Hollywood elites but when you see immortal talent like this, it’s clear that some of them deserve to be treated like the Gods they are. 

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