If you like this article, check out the other speech critiques:
What would a speech coach say?
Jim Carrey’s Commencement Address at the 2014 MIU Graduation
First, let me say that Jim Carrey is a movie star and not a professional speaker. He’s a celebrity brought in to give an inspiring commencement speech. For those graduates, that alone makes the event even more unforgettable. I think it is very cool that he delivered it.
Also, it is very easy for me or anyone to critique as an after the fact. I have no idea if Jim had a speech coach or not. He did have lots of writing and stage time. I have no idea how much he prepared, but I’d venture to guess he invested a considerable amount of time into preparing. I’m just watching along with the other 15 million viewers just like you. And, I am a huge fan of his. I felt it might be educational for you to see this speech critiqued.
I encourage you to open up a separate window and watch alongside me as I critique it. I will use the specific time code from this video. I will give the specific time code for each of my comments.
0:08 I love and don’t love that the introducer says, “The funniest man on earth.” In Jim’s case, it may very well be true, but that is pressure. I would have no idea if he had anything to do with the introducer or not.
You do when you speak. Know that the person who introduces you is often more nervous about their introduction than you are about your entire presentation. We must “set up” the listening.
In this situation, it is fine. Jim has an incredible amount of stage experience to overcome anything. And for a commencement speech, there is much more grace all the way around.
0:22 Now, I love this. The introducer goes much deeper into Jim’s contributions that he has given the world that many people may be unaware of. Perfect. I also love how brief the introduction is. This, too, is rare. Well done!
1:02 OK, it could be because of my admiration for Jim and his inspiring journey to success, but I love this improv line! He said, “What are you sitting down for? I was going to milk this for a while.” It is authentic, and it’s in the moment. Whenever we do this and are sincere, it connects us with our audience while being playful. He has not spoken for more than ten seconds, and he is already engaging. That is a pro who is loving what he does.
1:17 He thanks the introducer and the school and students. For this type of formal speech, it is on track. For other types of speeches, I’m not a fan of this right up front. I prefer thanking people after your opening. It is different. Then Jim says something that is obviously an inside joke. I’m not clear what he said, but it doesn’t matter. I don’t need to get it. The speech was for the graduates, not for us. They got it, loved it, and laughed. Their laughter then turned into applause. Well done.
Notice too that the custom inside joke was the third statement. If you have been to our Humor Boot Camp®, you know that we teach the Rule of Three joke writing exercises. Here is a perfect execution of that idea.
1:29 He says, “I brought one of my paintings to show you. I hope you guys are going to be able to see it, OK.” A big laugh comes because of the context and his delivery. The painting is enormous, and his playful sarcasm makes it funny.
1:34 After the laugh, he continues, “It’s not one of my bigger pieces. So, you may want to move down front to get a better look at it.” This is called a tagline. A tagline is a punch line, piggybacking on another punchline.
1:59 He said, “And all the dead baseball players coming out of the corn to be with us today.” I laughed. I looked it up, and the school is in Iowa. If you missed it, it was a reference to the movie Field of Dreams.
2:20 I love that after the laughter, he gets serious and clear on his purpose. To plant a seed, and he got to that within 2 minutes. Excellent. It is extra cool that he says right up front that he is there for more than entertainment purposes. Love that.
2:29 Then, he turns that serious statement into a setup for his next joke. That joke also makes a commercial statement. Wow. Well played. The audience went nuts!
3:04 He uses another inside joke, “I slept with my head to the north last night.” What I admire about these custom joke lines is how flawlessly he weaves them into his speech. That is world-class speech delivery.
3:21 There are more brilliant taglines, punchlines on punchlines. Brilliant, and Jim makes it look effortless.
3:46 He said, “Life doesn’t happen to you. It happens for you. How do I know this? I don’t.” I like this, and it sets up his next point.
4:01 “That’s why we are here. Reminding each other we are part of a larger self,” he said. I think this is a subtle and important message.
4:39 Nice! A poignant poem, well delivered. Bam!
4:55 I love that he said right after that, “You didn’t think I could be serious, did you?” It is a truth, and he acknowledged it, then he used the idea to set up his next point about having no limits. Touché. They cheered.
5:39 I love the reaction of one of the professors when he said, “I could not have asked for a sportier model.” Watch the joy on his face when the joke hits that professor. Love that. You can tell Jim is completely connected, and this is an unforgettable presentation.
5:50 I really like the point when he says that he realized even what’s outside of his body is a part of him. This is deep. By the way, I realized that I love this commencement speech, and it’s just getting started. Even though I am a Jim Carrey fan, I’d have a different critique if he was not serving his audience or using cliché lines, He is serving, and you can tell he loves it.
6:53 This, to me, is hysterical. Jim is very serious, deep, and then lightens it up. Perfect. The graduates can relate and love the joke. One thing I hope you see is that there are no extra words. His speech is incredibly tight, especially for a commencement speech. He is obviously well-prepared while tapping into his comedy writing and delivery abilities.
7:04 Note when he drinks the water. It is a comedy thing where you do that when laughter turns into applause. Perfect comedy timing.
Please note too that a canvas covers the painting. It adds to the curiosity. The longer it is up, the more we want to see what it looks like and how it ties into his speech. Notice how you feel when it is finally revealed.
7:51 Now, he acknowledges the parents. This is awesome in a commencement speech. The parents are there for their kids, but I bet they felt great when Jim honors them. It is very cool that he mentions the attention that they gave their kids. And Jim’s saying, “Beware of the unloved…” is very deep and concise.
8:47 Enjoyed him saying, “Crimes committed by people with self-esteem. Things parents can still be proud of.” It made me laugh out loud, and he continued his point. Good stuff.
9:06 “Congratulations to the class of 2017…minus three.” he said and continued, “You didn’t let me finish.” This is a great comedy technique. When you intentionally say something, knowing that the audience will want to correct you in their minds. It connects you.
Can you use this technique? In my early days of stand-up comedy, I used to say, “What do you expect for an eight-dollar cover charge?” I said this, knowing they paid ten. It helped set up my next punchline.
10:02 I love that he goes deep and then says, “Because that is why there is soft-serve ice cream,” which gets a laugh. He then tags it with, “With sprinkles.” And he gets another laugh.
10:34 ‘So many of our decisions are based on either love or fear,” he said. I like that he said this for two reasons. One because it is deep, and two, you don’t expect this depth from the person considered Jim to be. The class-clown. This is what makes this speech unforgettable. We wanted to be entertained. We were and got so much more.
10:58 He said, “I am the proof.” It is hard to argue with and makes you think.
11:28 Jim is very transparent about his dad here. Transparency connects you with your audience. He uses the example of his dad going for a safe job even though he wanted to be a comedian. Powerful lesson learned from his dad, Jim said, “You can fail at what you don’t want. So, you might as well take a chance doing what you love.” It is powerful for all of us and especially the graduates at this moment. The audience goes nuts!
12:17 He learned by watching his dad making people laugh and how it altered the world around him. He thought, “That’s what I want to do. That is something worth my time.” Wow. That is such a great truth for his personal journey. It is a transformational moment.
12:33 It is cool for the audience to see a glimpse into the childhood of a celebrity and see how it helped form who he is. Then he acts it out in slow motion as he did for guests.
13:05 Did you hear the audible, “Aweeee,” from the audience? That is a connecting moment when he said that his dad thought Jim’s career was his second chance. As you may have heard Michael Hauge say, “The goal of any story is to elicit emotion.” Jim just did at that moment.
13:26 The Church of Freedom from Concern. Love that. I had heard him mention this in a different form in his Netflix documentary where he played Andy Kaufman. It is such wisdom behind the power of laughter. He says this is his ministry, then he asks, “What’s yours?” I love that he uses a deep, short specific example, and then he asks a you-focused question to bring it to their life. Brilliant. I wish, as a speaker coach, that he paused longer and let that settle more deeply. I’m picky here because it is deep. Just think it would be absorbed deeper with a longer pause.
13:55 Love the line when he says, “The effect on others is the most valuable currency there is.” Wisdom and the perfect time to deliver it, in a commencement speech. If you are reading this right now, know that this is doubly meaningful for you. As a presenter, you have an amazing responsibility every time you are on stage or behind a lens.
14:43 “I did something that made people present their best selves to me wherever I go.” Wow, this is deep too. I like that he set this up by admitting that he gets emotional about the subject he was about to talk about. It allows him to be emotional while also allowing the audience to be free from concern.
If you have a place where this happens for you, it is helpful to your audience to know this ahead of time. They’ll appreciate it.
15:36 He said that you are ahead of the game because they already know who they are. I wonder if some of the graduates don’t know who they are. Maybe they say they do on the outside, but do they all on the inside. It can be dangerous when we give a universal statement. Some may feel left out and unwilling to admit it. It can be more inclusive if we say, “You may feel.”
15:54 “To find real peace, you have to let the armor go,” he said. Wow! Coming from Jim, this powerful. I love that he took his opportunity to influence seriously.
16:12 “Risk being seen in all of your glory,” he said. Then he points to his painting, and it is revealed. As he explains each character in his painting, we see even more of the depth of its meaning.
18:18 Then he turns the blacklights on. Another reveal. Very cool. When we can surprise the audience in a meaningful way, it draws us in.
19:28 “I wish people could realize all of their wealth and fame so they could see that it’s not where you are going to find your sense of completion,” he said. When Jim says it, people are more likely to listen. That is more powerful than when a teacher or relative tells us this. The person who says something like this matters.
19:43 “When someone smarter than myself, made me realize there is nothing bigger than myself,” he said. He just keeps dropping wisdom. The graduates seem to get it and love it.
20:42 I like the idea of having a reset button. He says he uses it constantly. I love this but wish he used a story example from his life to help us see how he uses it.
21:12 “Fear is writing that script, and the working title is, I’ll Never Be Enough,” he said. I appreciate that he acknowledges self-doubt. He gets more applause. He mentions the voice of the ego and says that if you listen to it, there will always be someone who is doing better than you. Ain’t that the truth.
22:30 I like the story of his substitute teacher. I had heard this before in another program. I wish he went a bit deeper here. I do like that he is specific when telling the story. Specifically, about the exact bicycle and how he found out he got it.
24:15 “I’m just making a conscious choice perceive challenges as something beneficial so that I can deal with them in the most productive way,” he said. That is a new, refreshing perspective.
24:33 “Why not take a chance on faith as well,” he said. He must obviously have faith and believe. I just like that he mentions it and reveals more about himself and his success.
24:49 “Hope walks through the fire, and faith leaps over it,” he said, another great visual and new perspective. They loved it, and it turned into applause.
OK, I admit I set out to critique this speech, and it turns out I just highlighted his brilliance. It was solid through and through. He dropped much wisdom. I was picky in some places because I had to be. It was good, tight, funny, and poignant.
Of the three speeches I critiqued, this was the strongest one, in my opinion. The one thing that could have helped was a couple more well-placed stories or examples that could have made some of his wisdom even stickier.
Keep in mind that Jim also had much more stage time than Denzel and Matthew. I sincerely hope you gained some insight from following along with me. It was an inspired thought I had one afternoon. I just followed through on what I thought I was supposed to do. Did it serve you?
Here are the others again:
- Matthew McConaughey: https://darrenlacroix.com/be-a-sponge-matthew-mcconaughey-commencement-speech-critique/
- Denzel Washington: https://darrenlacroix.com/be-a-sponge-denzels-commencement-speech-critique/