You may not know this, but over the last few decades I have made over three dozen acceptance speeches at the Oscars. Each has gone something like this: The Best Actor nominees are read, Scarlett Johansson opens the envelope and calls my name. As the orchestra plays my theme song, the audience at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood rises to its collective feet, refusing to sit down long after I have left the stage.
Panting heavily from mock surprise, I pause to acknowledge the upper balconies. Scarlett embraces me for longer than is necessary before wiping away tears and handing over the gold statue. As the second wave of ovations begins, the orchestra stops so the musicians can put down their instruments and applaud. Ushers are even coming from the lobby just to watch.
Without a single notecard or a single awkward stumble, I deliver an elegant, witty and perfectly-timed speech, thanking all the right people. The audience stands breathless for the entire thing. A-list celebrities in the front row shout for encores. Meryl Streep burns with envy.
And when the commercial break is over, I sit back down with my popcorn to watch the rest of the Oscars.
Just to clarify: I have never starred in a single movie. I have never even been an extra in a movie. But for years none of this has stopped me from delivering fantasy speeches in my living room during each annual Academy Awards broadcast. If I do say so myself, I get better every year. I am running out of room on my mantle for imaginary statues.
If only there were a competition for pretend Oscar speeches. After all, the International Air Guitar Championship is now in its 22nd year.
I am not kidding. In the exciting 2017 finals held last month in Finland, American champion Matt “Airistotle” Burns defended his title. Bounding onstage in a t-shirt and baseball cap — edgily turned backwards — the lanky New Yorker looked every inch the part. With his back turned to the audience as smoke and lights filled the stage, Matt began to move his angular hips to the strains of “I Will Survive.”
Lip-synching the Gloria Gaynor hit, “Airistotle” cradled a pretend electric guitar in his arms and rocked the stage, as a crowd of well over 22 people shivered with frostbite. It is very cold in Finland. But Matt Burns whipped the crowd into something almost approaching indifference as he jumped around, swinging his uncut bangs from side to side and closing his eyes in pure ecstasy. At one point, his Clark Kent glasses even fell off.
When he finished, the applause was audible. A panel of experts judged the performance in three categories: technical merit, stage presence and “airness.” The last criteria — just like those elusive air guitar strings — is difficult to put your finger on. But the judges know it when they see it. And they clearly saw it in Matt Burns, giving him his second consecutive Air Guitar Championship trophy. The prize is an actual guitar. Which he admits he cannot play.
Burns told NPR that he was inspired to pretend to pick up the imaginary instrument after watching Air Guitar Nation, a 2006 documentary. Yes, the Academy likes to honor short films that highlight war-torn countries and human rights and whatnot, but here is a documentary that is really changing lives.
As Burns put it so eloquently: “If everybody would just pick up an air guitar and put down the guns, then the climate would change, war would end and all good things would happen if everybody would just party and have fun.”
Bill and Ted would be proud. There’s nothing like winning a trophy for pretending to have talent and then unselfishly using that lack of talent to promote world peace.
In fact, I was so inspired that I started making plans to host the first annual Singing in the Shower Championships. But then I found out that had already been done. You may know them as the American Idol tryouts. So I guess I’ll just go back to “air dusting” my Oscars.