“Greetings from Dollywood, Hollywood,” squealed a characteristically sunny Dolly Parton as she took the stage Sunday to a standing ovation at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. She was there to present her friend, actress Lily Tomlin, the Lifetime Achievement Award.
The two women starred together in the 1980 comedy classic “9 to 5,” and have been friends ever since. (Because once given the opportunity to start, why would one ever stop being friends with either Dolly or Lily?) Combined, the two performers were on stage for less than 10 minutes of the broadcast. But in that time, they offered a memorable model for gracious, entertaining, funny acceptance speeches with an appropriate amount of social awareness.
Parton kicked it off with her staple—boob jokes:
“I almost didn’t get in. They kept holding me backstage. They wanted to see my ID – or maybe it was double D’s. I wanted to get that off my chest,” she said, also referring to her other “two famous girlfriends” when acknowledging the third member of their trio, Jane Fonda, who couldn’t make the event due to illness. She briefly teased a “9 to 5” sequel, but suggested they get working fast or they’ll have to call it “95.”
“Lily’s getting an award I’ve spent my life trying to avoid: sag,” she added, before mentioning the actresses’ favorite causes: the homeless and LQBTQ community.
Unlike so many awards-show pairings of presenters, which leave the room cold and normally capable performers shuffling their feet as jokes thud, Parton and Tomlin’s obvious warmth and chemistry left the audience wishing they’d hang out longer.
Tomlin accepted her award with a six-minute wry, self-deprecating speech that was full of laughs and wisdom, and totally bereft of self-righteousness. She offered advice to young actors: “Along with telling them to wear sunscreen, I suggest a few other things I think you may find helpful. Don’t leave your house when you’re drunk,” she said as the director, who must be commended for his comic timing, cut to a handful of young starlets.
“If you’re already out, you must learn to tell when you’ve had too much to drink. Listen to your friends. When they stop talking to you and start talking about you, saying things like, ‘Did she have a purse?’ Don’t be anxious when you miss an opportunity. Behind every failure is an opportunity someone wishes they had missed.”
“Live your life so that when you are being honored for your achievements, the people being called upon to make laudatory remarks can feel reasonably honest about their comments,” she said. “Otherwise in these times, all their words might be perceived as alternative facts, or worse yet, fake news.”
Her speech was not entirely without political issues. Near the end she mentioned issues close to her heart: “What sign should I make for the next march? There’s so much to do— global warming, Standing Rock, LGBT issues, Chinese missiles, immigration,” she said. “We could all go out and really change things.”
Three weeks earlier, Meryl Streep had offered an acceptance speech for her lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes with a strictly-politics lament about President Donald Trump and his policies and behavior. Her prerogative. But I have a feeling Streep’s style of speech is the Roman candle of acceptance speeches: burning brightly in the social media firmament for a moment, but rarely seen again except when people who already agreed with her say, “remember that time Meryl really gave it to ol’ Donald.”
After her line about opportunity and failures, Tomlin quipped: “Meryl is laughing at this and there’s absolutely no time she’s had a failure.”
Her self-deprecation is what makes her great, but Streep and others could learn a thing or two from Tomlin.