FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Oscars

by DAVID MACARAY

So Ellen Degeneres is set to host the 86th annual Academy Awards next month  (March 2).  Nothing against Ellen or, for that matter, Billy Crystal (who hosted nine telecasts), Whoopi Goldberg (who hosted four) or Steve Martin (who did three), but when was it decided that the most glamorous awards show on the planet needed to be funny in order to sustain an audience?

After all, it’s not as if comedy so dominates the nominations that only a professional comedian is worthy of hosting it.  In fact, the opposite is true.  Rarely has a comedy even been nominated for Best Picture, much less won.  Not counting the hybrid “Shakespeare in Love” (1998), the last genuine comedy to win Best Picture was Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall,” way back in 1977.

And isn’t it bizarre that a tribute to the movies would require people like Johnny Carson (who hosted 5 times), David Letterman (he hosted once) and Ellen Degeneres (her first), talk show hosts associated almost exclusively with television?  The motion picture industry asking TV people to host the Oscars is a bit like baseball’s Hall of Fame asking Peyton Manning to handle its induction ceremony.

I’m not saying we can’t have levity, or that Bruce Vilanch and his fellow writers don’t do a splendid job supplying the hosts and presenters with bushels of funny material.  It’s just that scripted comedy seems superfluous here.  For crying out loud, it’s an awards show, not a celebrity roast.  What’s the Academy afraid of—that the audience won’t stick around to see who wins if the show isn’t funny enough?

How did this modest trophy presentation, begun as a radio broadcast in 1926, evolve into its present day joke-fest?  There are two theories.  The first suggests that once audiences responded positively to professional comedians as hosts, no one was willing to risk changing the format.  No one wanted to be remembered as the guy who booked Max Von Sydow when Jerry Lewis (he hosted three telecasts) was available.

But the Oscars weren’t always funny.  Indeed, the early shows were subdued, dignified affairs (Douglas Fairbanks and Cecil B. DeMille hosted the first one), almost parochial in tone.  It wasn’t until the 1940 debut of Bob Hope that they shifted gears.  During Hope’s 18 radio and TV appearances (the last in 1978), he single-handedly transformed the ceremony into an evening of self-effacing humor and wicked zingers.  Loath to tinker with success, subsequent producers not only preserved the format, they sanctified it.

The second theory might be called the “mirthification principle,” defined as the desire to punctuate all discourse with snappy punchlines, clever put-downs, ironic quips, and witty comebacks, and evidence that we have mutated into a nation of laughter-addicts.  If the trend continues, one day we’ll see professional mimes at state funerals, laugh-track machines at the Dept. of Motor Vehicles, and Jim Carrey in Stockholm, hired to “punch up” the Nobel Prize ceremony.

As an unrepentant movie buff who hasn’t missed an Oscar telecast since 1983, I’ve always regarded the Academy Awards as part competition, part pageantry, and part infatuation, an opportunity for us incurable movie romantics to immerse ourselves, for one glorious evening, in Hollywood’s legendary wretched excess.

Which is why it’s so puzzling.  With all these movies stars, with all the glamour, the drama, the surprises, the introductions, the speeches, the wonderful musical and dance numbers—with this sparkling array of wall-to-wall Hollywood royalty—it’s mind-boggling that we’re unable to watch a three-hour presentation without the additional stimuli of scripted jokes.

That said, I can appreciate the “loyal opposition.”  I can respect people who denounce the Academy Awards—who denounce not only the presentation itself, but the needy, self-congratulatory impulse that spawned it.  To them, the whole spectacle reeks of vain people wallowing in self-importance.  I have friends who feel that way.  Fine, I say.  That’s how I feel about “Meet the Press.”  Then don’t watch it.

The Academy needs to return to a more stately, dignified format.  Save the gags for their proper venues: cable TV, YouTube, late night talk shows, and the comedy clubs.  No, this doesn’t mean the host has to be Alan Greenspan.  But what would the objection be to, say, Meryl Streep or Anthony Hopkins?

David Macaray is an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor”).  dmacaray@earthlink.net

 

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is “Nightshift: 270 Factory Stories.” He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
Stavros Mavroudeas
Blatant Hypocrisy: the Latest Late-Night Bailout of Greece
Arun Gupta
A War of All Against All
Dan Kovalik
NPR, Yemen & the Downplaying of U.S. War Crimes
Murray Dobbin
Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End of Globalization?
Daniel Falcone
Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen, an Interview with David Hilfiker
Gloria Jimenez
In Honduras, USAID Honduras Was in Bed with Berta Cáceres’ Accused Killers
Kent Paterson
The Old Braceros Fight On
Randy Blazak
Thugs, Bullies, and Donald J. Trump: The Perils of Wounded Masculinity
Lawrence Reichard
The Seemingly Endless Indignities of Air Travel: Report from the Losing Side of Class Warfare
Peter Berllios
Bernie and Utopia
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
Indonesia’s Unnatural Mud Disaster Turns Ten
Linda Pentz Gunter
Obama in Hiroshima: Time to Say “Sorry” and “Ban the Bomb”
George Souvlis
How the West Came to Rule: an Interview with Alexander Anievas
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sandes Must Demand Answers
Dmitry Mickiewicz
Barbarous Deforestation in Western Ukraine
Gilbert Mercier
Donald Trump: Caligula of the Lowest Common Denominator Empire?
Patrick Bond
Imperialism’s Junior Partners
Mark Hand
The Trouble with Fracking Fiction
Priti Gulati Cox
Broken Green: Two Years of Modi
Marc Levy
Sitrep: Hometown Unwelcomes Vietnam Vets
Robert Dodge
On President Obama’s Hiroshima Visit
Andrew Moss
Bridge to Wellbeing?
Ed Kemmick
New Book Full of Amazing Montana Women
Michael Dickinson
Bye Bye Legal High in Backwards Britain
Missy Comley Beattie
Wanted: Daddy or Mommy in Chief
Charles R. Larson
Russian Women, Then and Now
May 26, 2016
Paul Craig Roberts
The Looting Stage of Capitalism: Germany’s Assault on the IMF
Pepe Escobar
Hillary Clinton: A Major Gold-Digging Liability
Sam Pizzigati
America’s Cosmic Tax Gap
Ramzy Baroud
Time to End the ‘Hasbara’: Palestinian Media and the Search for a Common Story
José L. Flores
Wall Street’s New Man in Brazil: The Forces Behind Dilma Rousseff’s Impeachment
Patrick Cockburn
The Battle of Fallujah: ISIS Unleashes Its Death Squads
John Feffer
The Coming Drone Blowback
Alex Ray
The Death Toll in Syria: What Do the Numbers Really Say?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail