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 How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

February 21, 2017
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Finance as Warfare: the IMF Lent to Greece Knowing It Could Never Pay Back Debt
CJ Hopkins
Goose-stepping Our Way Toward Pink Revolution
John Wight
Firestarter: the Unwelcome Return of Tony Blair
Roger Harris
Lenin Wins: Pink Tide Surges in Ecuador…For Now
Shepherd Bliss
Japanese American Internment Remembered, as Trump Rounds Up Immigrants
Boris Kagarlitsky
Trump and the Contradictions of Capitalism
Robert Fisk
The Perils of Trump Addiction
Deepak Tripathi
Theresa May: Walking the Kingdom Down a Dark Alley
Sarah Anderson
To Save Main Street, Tax Wall Street
Howard Lisnoff
Those Who Plan and Enjoy Murder
Franklin Lamb
The Life and Death Struggle of the Children of Syria
Binoy Kampmark
A Tale of Two Realities: Trump and Israel
Kim C. Domenico
Body and Soul: Becoming Men & Women in a Post-Gender Age
Mel Gurtov
Trump, Europe, and Chaos
Stephen Cooper
Steinbeck’s Road Map For Resisting Donald Trump
February 20, 2017
Bruce E. Levine
Humiliation Porn: Trump’s Gift to His Faithful…and Now the Blowback
Melvin Goodman
“Wag the Dog,” Revisited
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima: a Lurking Global Catastrophe?
David Smith-Ferri
Resistance and Resolve in Russia: Memorial HRC
Kenneth Surin
Global India?
Norman Pollack
Fascistization Crashing Down: Driving the Cleaver into Social Welfare
Patrick Cockburn
Trump v. the Media: a Fight to the Death
Susan Babbitt
Shooting Arrows at Heaven: Why is There Debate About Battle Imagery in Health?
Matt Peppe
New York Times Openly Promotes Formal Apartheid Regime By Israel
David Swanson
Understanding Robert E. Lee Supporters
Michael Brenner
The Narcissism of Donald Trump
Martin Billheimer
Capital of Pain
Thomas Knapp
Florida’s Shenanigans Make a Great Case for (Re-)Separation of Ballot and State
Jordan Flaherty
Best Films of 2016: Black Excellence Versus White Mediocrity
Weekend Edition
February 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
David Price
Rogue Elephant Rising: The CIA as Kingslayer
Matthew Stevenson
Is Trump the Worst President Ever?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Flynn?
John Wight
Brexit and Trump: Why Right is Not the New Left
Diana Johnstone
France: Another Ghastly Presidential Election Campaign; the Deep State Rises to the Surface
Neve Gordon
Trump’s One-State Option
Roger Harris
Emperor Trump Has No Clothes: Time to Organize!
Joan Roelofs
What Else is Wrong with Globalization
Andrew Levine
Why Trump’s Muslim Travel Ban?
Mike Whitney
Blood in the Water: the Trump Revolution Ends in a Whimper
Vijay Prashad
Trump, Turmoil and Resistance
Ron Jacobs
U.S. Imperial War Personified
David Swanson
Can the Climate Survive Adherence to War and Partisanship?
Andre Vltchek
Governor of Jakarta: Get Re-elected or Die!
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Destruction of Mosul
Norman Pollack
Self-Devouring Reaction: Governmental Impasse
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail