Party Report: The 14th Annual Webby Awards

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If there’s a way to equalize the power in a room of high-powered celebrities, one way to do it is by giving everyone only five words to say what they have to say. And so it went at the 14th Annual Webby Awards, hosted by actor B.J. Novak, at which all award recipients from a group of crooning grade-schoolers to Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, were limited to five words for their acceptance speeches — brevity that puts Twitter’s 140 characters to shame. This tactic was aimed in part to speedily marshal the audience through the awards, which spanned over one hundred categories with such titles as “Online Guerilla & Innovation,” “Best Use of Animation or Motion Graphics,” “Integrated Mobile Experience” and “Weird.” And while it had the secondary effect of leveling the playing field by forcing a specific kind of creativity across the roster of winners, the individuality of the awarded came through clearly.

So, what did our illustrious webby winners do in five words? Some were socially and/or politically minded like Arianna Huffington’s “Goldman Sachs shorted my speech,” (Winner in Blog – Political) some were same with double entendre, like Isabella Rossellini’s “I say plug the hole” (Winner Best Individual Performance); others drew on historic quotes like Roger Ebert’s “Vieni vidi vici” (Webby Person of the Year); some were a combo poignant/witty like the New York Times‘s “All the news that’s fit” (Winner Best Copy/Writing); some were nostalgic like Pandora’s “Didn’t kill the radio star” (Winner for Music); some were expected like Twitter co-founder Biz Stone’s “Every character counts”; and some were just wacky, like when Gilbert Godfried carried a live duck on stage — the Aflac duck — and said “Who needs five words. Aflac.” (Winner Insurance); and Buzz Aldrin’s memorable words with parting piece signs held up to the audience, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

In the cavernous hall of Cipriani’s Wall Street restaurant, everyone gathered by the bar to sip Bellinis and nibble on blini with dollops of caviar or prosciutto-wrapped melon. And while the award-winners had already been announced many of the event’s judges were in attendance. Judges Alex Giordano (of Ninjalab.it) and Luca Magnoni (of Hydrogen-code.com), the Italian ambassadors for the Webbys, jetted in from Italy for the occasion. The backdrop behind the two men, along with all the illustrations for the event and the set design were created by street artist Shepard Fairey.

Ben and Emily Huh are the creators of Fail Blog, a site that won the People’s Voice award in the category “Weird.” This category embraces the type of oddball content that reflects a “fresh perspective in thought and action,” and is wildly popular on the internet. Selleck Waterfall Sandwich was the Webby Award winner in this category. (For each category, there was a Webby Award Winner and a People’s Voice Winner). Another one of the Huh’s sites, I Can Has Cheezburger?, which pairs photos of cats with witty captions, was also nominated for this award. The Huhs have come to the awards three times, and it has become a tradition to honor the Cheezburger with appropriate attire.

Eugene Mirman interviewed the award-winners, such as Ben Huh, on the red carpet prior to the ceremony.

In presenting the Best Actress award to Amy Poehler for her online series “Smart Girls at the Party,” a show which aims to inspire smart and passionate young girls, Jason Bateman and Will Arnett did a joint skit. Bateman “accidentally” read Arnett’s lines off the teleprompter revealing his desire for Poehler (Arnett’s very pregnant wife). While the skit was a little clunky, it’s clear the two former Arrested Development stars like sharing the stage.

Ben Folds, who has performed piano improvs to Chatroulette, serenaded the audience with an improv performance based on pictures of the audience that were projected on large screens around the room.

Seated around Arianna Huffington at a table centermost in the room was a tribe of loyal HuffPo folk.

Andreas Anderskou, whose site HelloMonday was a People’s Voice winner under the “Professional Services” category.

The biggest celebrity in the room next to Buzz Aldrin was legendary film critic Roger Ebert, who was presented with the Webby Person of the Year Award for his contribution to online writing and journalism. Jimmy Fallon gave a warm and funny introduction, noting how Ebert’s recent illness has had the effect of inspiring him to turn inward and express himself through the written word, including Twitter, more than he ever has before. “Man can this guy Tweet,” said Fallon. “He’s like a spambot. He’s like a spambot of awesomeness.”

BJ Novak, comedian and actor (The Office) was one of the few people not limited to five words, and we’re glad he wasn’t. Novak had the audience laughing from his introduction in which he thanked each of the sponsors as a slideshow of images from “Selleck Waterfall Sandwich” was presented. He talked about Facebook privacy issues, a hot topic these days, and noted that one cause of the problem might be that the “search” bar and the “what’s on your mind” bar are too close together and look so similar. He listed some “Classic Novak Posts” that resulted from the aforementioned problem: “BJ Novak best, BJ Novak worst, Natalie Portman single, Kendra Wilkinson free download.”

The afterparty at Hiro Ballroom at the Maritime Hotel, where Biz Markie spun good old tunes from a red-lighted corner as dancers disappeared into fake fog.

The SuperSonics’s (Winner for “Sports”) Gary Payton made an imposing entrance at the afterparty at Hiro and had some kind of playful stand-off with a fan in the crowd.