By the time the Writers Guild Awards show in New York ended with all the winners leaking out, the WGA Awards ceremony in Century City was completely deflated.
That is until Elaine May took the podium at the Hyatt Century City ballroom to accept the guild’s Laurel Award which was being presented to her by Chinatown screenwriter Robert Towne.
For a room that had scattered sleepy laughs throughout the evening, when May appeared, the crowd sprung to its feet and delivered a loud standing ovation. Certainly the highest point in the night for an awards show that buried its top awards for original screenplay (Spotlight) and adapted (The Big Short) in the first two acts of the show. May, who stars in the upcoming Woody Allen Amazon Prime series, proceeded to kill the crowd with her irreverent humor.
“When Bob Towne told me that I was going to receive an award, he said, ‘Oh, it’s just a writers’ award!'” quipped May who counts a WGA award win for her adapted screenplay of Heaven Can Wait as well as three WGA noms for A New Leaf, Primary Colors and The Birdcage.
“I thought this (awards show) was going to be in a restaurant with all the writers dressed in brown and complaining” cracked May. “And when it would be time for them to give me my award, they’d call to the guy at the end of the bar.”‘
“Then someone told me there’s going to be a red carpet,” set-up May and then punched, “Excuse me, no designer is going to give writers clothes!”
May told the room how someone showed her the red carpet from last year’s WGA awards show. “Someone asked the writers if make-up and costumes are important in a movie,” explained May, “but the one question they should ask on the red carpet is if a gun were pointed to your head, which Republican candidate would you vote for?”
May spoke about how the industry and media continues to overlook writers: Whenever a film is announced on TV, they reveal the stars, director and release date, but never the writers. “You writers are so lively,” May joked to the room, “writers don’t have a crew, an A.D., they adjust on their own. I feel they deserve a darker evening.”
May ended her acceptance speech with a story about Frank Capra and his screenwriter. “His writer sent Frank 120 blank pages with a note that said, ‘Here, put the Capra touch on this.’ For that writer and all writers, thank you so much.”
As she left the stage, WGA West host Patton Oswalt exploded, “God I love her! I f**king love her!”
Oswalt then reminded the ballroom about a vital part of May’s filmmaking career that was left out of her presentation’s sizzle reel.
“They didn’t show her movie Mikey and Nicky. For writers that’s Indiana Jones. She wrote and directed and shot that in 1972. She stole the print from the studio, hid it in her garage like a punk-f**king rocker and stared the studio down to put out the version she wanted,” the stand-up reminded the crowd.
Oswalt then yelled: “Avert your gaze as she passes by! That’s Elaine May, god dammit!”