Revisiting Joe Pesci’s Brilliantly Brief Oscar Acceptance Speech

By Jack Beresford

March 02, 2018

Joe Pesci kept things short when accepting the Oscar for best supporting actor back at the 63rd Academy Awards in 1991.

Having landed the Oscar for his performance as the foul-mouthed, ill-tempered and frequently violent mobster Tommy DeVito in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, Pesci opted to play against type when it came to accepting the award.

Taking a moment to compose himself, Pesci took hold of the statuette before uttering just five words before departing: “It’s my privilege. Thank you.” 

Though Patty Duke holds the record for the shortest acceptance speech, having simply said “thank you” when taking home the Best Supporting Actress gong for The Miracle Worker, Pesci’s performance on the podium has lived long in the memory down the years.

Many have speculated on why Pesci kept it so short. Ultimately, the explanation behind it could boil down to several decisive factors. Nerves evidently played a part, given the pause he takes before speaking.

Pesci’s reputation as an intensely private person – something that went against his on-screen persona- would have also been a factor with the actor never known for showboating.

However, it may have also come down to the fact that Pesci simply didn’t want to be remembered as the Oscar winner that swore during his acceptance speech.

In films like Raging Bull, Goodfellas and Casino, Pesci was let off the leash, unleashing 21 f-bombs in one two-minute scene during the latter of those three films.

In fact, at one point, Casino actually held the record for the most uses of the f-word in a single movie – a record since broken by Scorsese, again, in The Wolf of Wall Street.

His habit for swearing even prompted Home Alone director Chris Columbus to come up with a unique solution when it came to filming the prank-laden, Tom & Jerry-esque family comedy.

Pesci’s Home Alone co-star Daniel Stern recalls, the pair worked out a trick whereby the Goodfellas actor would speak in mumbling rants when it pain, in order to ensure he never accidentally cussed – something that was evidently becoming a problem early in filming.

It’s entirely viable, therefore, that Pesci wanted to ensure that he didn’t end up swearing in what was an emotionally charged moment for the actor. 

Then again, he may simply have been eager to avoid the histrionics and ego-fluffing associated with these kinds of awards shows. He really is that sort of guy.

The good news is, at least, that after a near two decades of self-imposed retirement, Pesci is coming back to star in Scorsese’s next film The Irishman.

Hopefully he lands another Oscar nomination for it and drops multiple f-bombs when he wins it.