Top Ten Humorous Awards

February means the awards show season is in full swing, as accolades are handed out for the best movies, television shows, and records of the year. But this time of the year is also when a lot of the best joke awards come to pass. While the Oscars are busy honoring the best acting performances of the year, there are other ceremonies that honor the worst acting. And while every year the Nobel committee honors the geniuses and do-gooders of the world, there are other groups that seek to “reward” the stupidest and most malevolent nominees possible. The following is a list of some of the best and weirdest of these joke awards and competitions.

10. The Bad Sex in Fiction Award

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Before you start trying to publish that romance novel you’ve been working on, make sure you’ve put some real effort into writing your love scenes, because if you don’t, you might end up winning the “Bad Sex in Fiction Award.” Put out every year by the British magazine Literary Review, the prize jokingly awards the worst depictions of sex in literature. As the creators say, the award seeks “to draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel, and to discourage it.” The award isn’t just reserved for hack writers, either. Past winners have included such literary luminaries as Tom Wolfe and Norman Mailer, and many other famous novelists have been nominated. Winners are presented with a plaster foot each year in a ceremony in London. (Above: Courtney Love presenting a plaster foot to 2006 winner Iain Hollingshead, for his book Twentysomething.)

Most Famous Winner
This is a matter of opinion, but one of the most egregious offenders has got to be 1997’s winner Nicholas Royle, whose book The Matter of the Heart included such steamy one-liners as “she made a noise somewhere between a beached seal and a police siren.”

9. The Pigasus Award

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The Pigasus Award is handed out nearly every year by James Randi, a noted magician, skeptic, and debunker of “paranormal phenomena.” As he describes it, the award seeks to “honor” the worst of the charlatans and phonies who claim to have special psychic, magic, and paranormal abilities. Randi has unofficially given the awards out almost every year since 1982, and there are different categories to honor all varieties of fraud. These include the worst example of pseudoscience, the most fraudulent performer, the organization that funded the most useless study, and the media outlet that reported on the most outrageous instance of a paranormal phenomenon.  Past winners have included the Montel Williams Show, for continually having psychic Sylvia Browne as a guest, and Dr. Colin A. Ross, a Canadian psychiatrist who claimed he could shoot electromagnetic radiation from his eyes. Randi doesn’t officially give out the awards; instead, he claims to send them via telekinesis, saying that if the winners don’t receive the trophy then it must be due to a “lack of paranormal talent” on their part.

Most Famous Winner
The most notable winner of the Pigasus Award is surely Uri Geller, a UK-based psychic performer whom Randi has lambasted time and again for being a fraud. In fact, in its earliest incarnation the Pigasus Award was known as the “Uri Award.” Geller, who is known for bending spoons and performing other tricks with his supposed telepathic powers, has sued Randi repeatedly for slander and libel, with little success.

8. The Lanterne Rouge

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It’s typical to reward the winner of a race, but in cycling there is another more dubious honor called the “Lanterne Rouge,” which is handed out to the rider who finishes in last place. The French term is translated as “red lantern,” and is supposedly a reference to the light that is placed on the back of the caboose on a train. It has become most famously associated with the Tour de France, where it has been unofficially handed out every year since 1903. Ironically, the competition to become the Lanterne Rouge has often been as heated as the race for the win, the logic being that unlike those who finish in the middle of the pack, the last place rider will be remembered by the public. This has proven to be true, as the winner of the race for worst often becomes a cult hero among the fans and is able to make a good amount of money from public appearances. This became such a problem that in 1980, the Tour briefly instituted a rule that said the last place rider from each stage would be dropped from the competition. Naturally, riders just raced for second to last in each stage in order to make it to the final day and claim their honor as the best of the worst.

Most Famous Winner
The man who holds the record for most Lanterne Rouge wins is Wim Vansevenant, a Belgian cyclist who claimed last place three years in a row from 2006 to 2008. He retired after his last “win,” and has supposedly become a farmer (pictured above).

7. The Bulwer-Lytton and Little-Lytton Fiction Contests

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The Bulwer-Lytton award is handed out each year by the English department of San Jose State University. It’s a writing prize, but unlike the Pulitzer or the National Book Award, it seeks to honor the entrant who can provide the worst of all possible opening sentences to an imaginary novel. The contest is named after the nineteenth century novelist Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, whose book Paul Clifford opens with the now universally hated sentence “It was a dark and stormy night.” Today, there are tens of thousands of entries every year, each one more convoluted, purple, and hilarious than the next. There are now a number of different categories, and there are even several offshoots competitions of Bulwer-Lytton, like the Lyttle-Lytton contest, which restricts the contestants to 25 words or less. Lyttle-Lytton has since become its own phenomenon, and has given us such gems of so-bad-it’s-good prose as “Because they had not repented, the angel stabbed the unrepentant couple thirteen times, with its sword,” which was Graham Swanson’s winning entry from 2008.

Most Famous Winner
There’s too many great Bulwer-Lytton winners to choose just one, but a personal favorite would have to be Martha Simpson’s winning entry from 1985: “The countdown had stalled at T minus 69 seconds when Desiree, the first female ape to go up in space, winked at me slyly and pouted her thick, rubbery lips unmistakably—the first of many such advances during what would prove to be the longest, and most memorable, space voyage of my career.”

6. The Ernie Awards

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One of Australia’s most famously ironic accolades is the Ernie Award, a trophy handed out every year to the man judged to have made the most sexist remark in the media. The awards were first started in the early nineties by Australian politician Meredith Burgmann, and are handed out every year at a dinner attended by hundreds of women. The “winners” are decided by which nominee receives the loudest booing when their name and comment is read aloud to the group. The Ernies are broken up into different categories, so there are separate awards handed out for offenders in the realms of industry, politics, the legal system, the media, sports, and celebrities. There is even an award for the woman who’s made the most harmful remark of the year. Past winners of the “Golden Ernie,” the overall award, have included magistrates, private companies, and even the Prime Minister, while the “Silver Ernie” has been handed out to everyone from the father of tennis player Jelena Dokic to Tom Cruise.

Most Famous Winner
One of the most notable recent winners was 2008’s champion John Maloney, the mayor of the small Australian mining town of Mount Isa, who remarked that “beauty disadvantaged” women should move to his town because its mainly male population didn’t have very high standards.

5. The Big Brother Awards

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George Orwell’s famous novel 1984 describes a dystopian society where freedom and privacy are nonexistent and “Big Brother” is always watching. The Big Brother Awards, which are presented by the nonprofit watchdog group Privacy International, are inspired by Orwell’s cautionary view of the future and seek to “reward” the “government agencies, private companies and individuals who have excelled in the violation of our privacy.” Nearly every year, a jury of academics, journalists, and lawyers come together to judge who is the worst offender in the realm of surveillance, the illegal collection of data, and the invasion of privacy. The awards began in the UK in the late 90s, and since then they have spread around the world and are now held in as many as 18 different countries, including the United States. Winners have included everyone from Google, for its controversial policy of collecting information on users, to Vladimir Putin, for pretty much anything you can think of. In true tongue-in-cheek fashion, the winners receive a trophy depicting a golden boot stomping on a human head. No word yet on whether anyone has actually tried to collect.

Most Famous Winner
Most of the winners of the Big Brother Awards are the types of companies and individuals that tend to fly under the radar, but there have been some well-known recipients. One of the most famous from the UK ceremony was Tony Blair, described on the Big Brother Awards’ website as “the smiling puppeteer,” who received a “Lifetime Menace Award” in 2005.

4. The Stella Awards

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Sue-happy Americans have become notorious for filing frivolous lawsuits in order make a quick buck. The Stella Awards, which were started by journalist Randy Cassingham in 2002, seek to draw attention to the most absurd and egregious examples of people abusing the legal system. The awards are named after Stella Liebeck, a woman who won a $2.9 million lawsuit in 1992 when she sued after spilling a cup of McDonald’s coffee on herself. That might be one of the most famous frivolous lawsuits of all time, but it seems almost reasonable compared to most of the Stella Award winning lawsuits, which range from the greedy and disingenuous to the downright ridiculous. Some examples include an Oregon man who sued Michael Jordan because he claimed the NBA star looked too much like him, a woman who sued Mazda after getting injured in a car accident because they didn’t “provide instructions regarding the proper use of a seatbelt,” and a man who legally changed his name to “Jack Ass” and then sued the MTV show of the same name for plagiarism.

Most Famous Winner
It seems like the Stella Award winners just get more ridiculous with each passing year, but one of the most famous recipients has got to be Christopher Roller, who was 2005’s big winner. He sued the illusionists David Copperfield and David Blaine for millions, claiming that their magic tricks defied the laws of physics and that they must be wielding some kind of godlike powers. As if that wasn’t weird enough, Roller went on to claim that he was God himself, and that if the magicians were in possession of supernatural power, they must have somehow stolen it from him.

3. The Ig Nobel Prize

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While the Nobel Prize is busy rewarding its winners for breakthroughs in science, literature, and economics, its smaller, more irreverent cousin the Ig Nobel Prize honors people for inventing bras that can be turned into gas masks or extracting vanilla flavoring from cow dung. The awards are a play on “Nobel Prize” and the word “ignoble,” which means dishonorable or not of nobility. They are handed out every year by the magazine Annals of Improbable Research and seek to honor discoveries and achievements that “first make people laugh, and then make them think.” The Ig Nobel is known for honoring bizarre and seemingly inconsequential research, but the organizers insist that they are only trying to highlight imaginative work that will encourage public interest in science. This hasn’t stopped some from seeing the award as a backhanded compliment: in 1995, the science advisor to the British government asked that British scientists no longer be given the Ig Nobel, as it risked exposing legitimate research to undeserved ridicule. Still, despite any criticisms, the Ig Nobel continues to be one of the most popular, if least prestigious, awards in science.

Most Famous Winner
One of the most notable Ig Nobel Prize winners was the United States Air Force, which won the award for Peace in 2007 for its theoretical “Gay Bomb,” a device that would scatter female pheromones over enemy soldiers and cause them to become sexually attracted to one another.

2. The Darwin Awards

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You don’t necessarily want to win any of the awards on this list, but you definitely don’t want to be honored with the Darwin Award, a darkly comic accolade given out each year to the people who manage to die in the most idiotic ways possible. The awards began as a bizarre stories discussion group in the late 80s, but they grew with the rise of the Internet and now feature a popular website and a bestselling series of books written by Wendy Northcutt. The awards are named after the evolutionary theorist Charles Darwin, who popularized the phrase “survival of the fittest,” and they seek to honor the unfortunate people who “do a service to humanity by removing themselves from the gene pool,” most often in a “supremely idiotic fashion.” This can happen in a variety of ways, from the guy who thought it was a good idea to juggle live hand grenades, to the one who decided to use a lighter to look inside a fuel tank to see if there was any gas in it. In all cases, the winners must fit a few criteria: they must be rendered unable to reproduce (either through death or sterilization); the accident must be their fault; they must be of sound judgment; and the act itself must be notable for its stupidity. There is also a category of honorable mentions for candidates who didn’t die but suffered injuries because of their foolishness. One famous example occurred in 2001, when two burglars broke into the house of professional soccer player and notorious brawler Duncan “Disorderly” Ferguson. Ferguson caught the men in the act, and one of them ended up being hospitalized for three days.

Most Famous Winner
There might be no more classic example of a Darwin Award honoree than the lawyer who thought it was a good idea to test how strong the windows of his 24th floor office were by running into them at full speed. As you might imagine, they weren’t strong enough.

1. The Razzies

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Actors and filmmakers like to say that it’s an honor just to be nominated for the prestigious Academy Awards, but the same can’t be said about the Golden Raspberry Awards—also known as “the Razzies”—which precede the Oscars by a day and seek to reward the year’s worst achievements in film. While the Oscars are busy honoring No Country for Old Men and Meryl Streep, the Razzies are handing out accolades to The Love Guru and Paris Hilton for her turn in The Hottie and the Nottie. The Razzies were started in 1981 by John Wilson, a professional copywriter and movie buff who used to have guests at his Oscar party provide joke nominations for the worst films of the year. Today, as many as 650 judges vote on the worst achievements in cinema, and the awards have become so famous that some celebrities, including Bill Cosby and Tom Selleck, have even gone so far as to accept their “honor,” which comes in the form of a plastic trophy spray-painted gold. The Razzies have often overlapped with the mainstream awards shows in unusual ways. One notable example is the film Mamma Mia, which won several Razzies despite also being nominated at the Golden Globes. This year features another first, as Sandra Bullock has simultaneously been nominated for both an Oscar (for The Blind Side) and a Razzie (for All About Steve).

Most Famous Winner
The most famous Razzie Award Winner is undoubtedly Halle Berry, who won the 2004 Worst Actress trophy for Catwoman only two years after claiming the Best Actress Oscar for Monster’s Ball. In a legendary display of good sportsmanship, Berry appeared in person to accept her award and, while holding her Oscar statuette in her other hand, gave a speech where she thanked her director and manager for helping her deliver such a terrible performance.

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