How the Webby Awards Enlisted Michelle Obama and More Details Behind the Virtual Ceremony

Michelle Obama, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Miley Cyrus and Tom Hanks were just a few of the stars to participate in the re-imagined virtual Webby Awards, dubbed “WFH: Webbys From Home” on Tuesday.

But unlike most live-streamed ceremonies, the 2020 Webbys created a “customized award show” for each winner, allowing them to record their five-word acceptance speech before tuning into host Patton Oswalt’s opening monologue. Audiences were also given the ability to pick and choose which speech they wanted to watch first, or they could play a stream of the featured moments. So how did the Webbys pull it off?

“When we realized we were going to have an internet celebration instead of a live event, we briefed ourselves with giving the winners the same feeling that they would have if they came to the Webby Awards,” executive director Claire Graves told Variety, detailing how the organizers adapted amid the coronavirus pandemic. “At the very same time the world went on lockdown, we’ve had the entire Webby team working since that moment on creating an experience for the winners.”

Oswalt returned as host of the event for a fourth year, telling jokes about drinking “Pinot Bleach-io” and suggesting he beat out Ricky Gervais for the hosting job because he had a stronger WiFi connection.

“If any of you genius coders are watching, could you control-alt-delete the f— out of 2020, please?” Oswalt quipped.

Obama appeared during the ceremony to present the Artist of the Year honor to Derrick Jones, better known as #ClubQuarantine originator DJ D-Nice.

“I am so thrilled to celebrate someone whose enormous talent and even bigger heart has brought us all a little more joy during these difficult days,” Obama said. “Derrick has created a space where folks can come together from living rooms and basements, all over the world to let off steam, dance that out, and just enjoy each other’s company. And in this time of social distancing, that is a true gift.”

For his acceptance speech, Jones asked, “So this isn’t a prank?” But the DJ added a few more words of thanks while performing during the official Webbys after-party on Instagram Live later in the evening, saying “What a wonderful surprise. Thank you, Michelle Obama.”

Overall, the 2020 winners’ hallmark 5-word speeches ranged from silly to sentimental — like Kristen Bell admitting “I actually f—ing hate sloths,” (referencing her viral video), James Corden thanking frontline medical workers and “Some Good News” host John Krasinski telling audiences “You are the good news.” Demi Lovato introduced special achievement honoree Cyrus, who told viewers, “Stay lit in dark times.”

The first speech to be submitted to the organizers came from 17-year-old Webby Person of the Year winner Avi Schiffmann. The teen was honored for launching ncov2019.live to track the spread of COVID-19 around the world. Dr. Anthony Fauci presented him the award.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to shine some light on one of the many young people who have stepped up and helped us throughout this difficult time,” Facui said, praising Schiffmann’s website. “It sounded the alarm on the virus and its spread, notably calling attention to its severity before it was broadly recognized, at a time when the spread of misinformation can be so detrimental to our efforts.”

Schiffmann’s speech was simple but poignant, and also perfectly summed up the ultimate goal of the virtual event: “You can learn anything online.”

“With the Webby Awards, what we’re doing is we’re marking the moment, the year in history,” Graves said. “The pandemic has reminded us of the power of the Internet. We’re all online at the moment, we’re connecting through the Internet. People are cooking with each other, they’re drinking with each other — all online.…I think that magic is something that we’ve forgotten about over the last couple of years.”

All of the winners’ acceptance speeches and more information on the Webbys’ partnership with Vote.org can be found at https://webbysfromhome.com/.