Oscars Foul-Up: Lessons From Notable Event Embarrassments

You might not have an embarrassment on your hands as big as the Best Picture disaster that the Academy Awards had last night, but there are plenty of lessons to take away from that incident, along with a few other notable disasters over the years.

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has a lot of explaining to do this week.

During Sunday night’s Academy Awards, presenter Warren Beatty was accidentally handed the envelope for Best Actress, rather than Best Picture. Beatty was caught flat-footed, not knowing what to do, leading to an incident in which the creators of La La Land went up to pick up their award—rather than those of the rightful winner, Moonlight.

That led to this very awkward scene:

PwC, which handles the accounting and distribution of the awards for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, has taken the blame for the incident, though Beatty has taken some bumps as well.

“They had a pretty simple job to do and messed it up spectacularly,” branding expert Nigel Currie said of PwC in comments to the Los Angeles Times. “They will be in deep crisis talks on how to deal with it.”

If there’s a takeaway here, it should be to follow the example of La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz. He took control of the situation, helping to mitigate the chaos, and graciously offered the award to Moonlight. (His actions have been widely praised.)

How do you recover from an incident of chaos similar to this one, or mitigate its impact? Read on for a few notable event disasters, and how they were dealt with at the time.

An Unexpected Performer

When Bob Dylan performs, he’s generally not down for having shirtless dancers wiggling in the background, especially not with an apparent non sequitur written on their chest.

But that’s what music fans got during the 1998 Grammy Awards, when performance artist Michael Portnoy jumped on the stage in what he described as “an act of pure revolution.”

Dylan, ever the showman, kept playing, while Portnoy was physically removed from the stage by Grammy producers.

The takeaway? If a distraction appears, attempt to maintain normalcy as much as possible, so as not to let the situation get out of control.

When Shoes Start Flying

In the days before she became a 2016 presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton had been making the rounds at a variety of association events as a keynote speaker.

At one of those events, the 2014 Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) annual meeting, a shoe was thrown at the former first lady’s head.

Clinton responded deftly: “My goodness, I didn’t know that solid waste management was so controversial,” she said immediately after the throw. “Thank goodness she didn’t play softball like I did.”

Behind the scenes, ISRI stopped the assailant, who was not a member and was later arrested.

The takeaway? For presenters, a well-placed joke is a pretty good salve for a moment of unexpected weirdness. (Or if that doesn’t work, as George W. Bush famously learned in 2008, duck.)

Falling, Fast

During the 2008 Oscars, performers Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, the non-actor musicians who starred in the music-driven movie Once, won big—fittingly, for the original song “Falling Slowly.”

But while Hansard was allowed to speak, Irglová was cut off without getting a chance to say anything.

Host Jon Stewart, sensing the problem with this state of affairs, brought Irglová back on stage—something that made the speech much more memorable than it would have been otherwise.

The takeaway? If you make a mistake, correct the record. Quickly. People remember the mistakes more than the successes.

Dealing With Hecklers

(Laura Musselman Duffy/Flickr)

During a 2002 Ryan Adams concert at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, a heckler in the crowd started shouting for Adams to perform the song “Summer of ’69,” a tune by the similarly named Bryan Adams (the two, oddly enough, share a birthday).

The musician, in an effort to stop the drunken heckler, stepped off the stage, confronted the man, gave him $40 for taxi fare, and told him to head home to recover.

“Unlike a more seasoned comic or musician, I didn’t have the experience to ignore a situation like this, or to use wit to turn it around,” he recently recalled in a New York Times essay.

The damage, however, was already done to Adams’ reputation.

The takeaway? If at all possible, ensure that the person on the stage isn’t the one having to deal with the heckler. Your event’s crew should do the heavy lifting so the speaker or performer doesn’t have to.

"La La Land" producer Jordan Horowitz reveals to the 2017 Oscars audience that the Best Picture announcement had been flubbed. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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