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

 

More articles by:

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

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

June 27, 2017
Jim Kavanagh
California Scheming: Democrats Betray Single-Payer Again
Jonathan Cook
Hersh’s New Syria Revelations Buried From View
Edward Hunt
Excessive and Avoidable Harm in Yemen
Howard Lisnoff
The Death of Democracy Both Here and Abroad and All Those Colorful Sneakers
Gary Leupp
Immanuel Kant on Electoral Interference
Kenneth Surin
Theresa May and the Tories are in Freefall
Slavoj Zizek
Get the Left
Robert Fisk
Saudi Arabia Wants to Reduce Qatar to a Vassal State
Ralph Nader
Driverless Cars: Hype, Hubris and Distractions
Rima Najjar
Palestinians Are Seeking Justice in Jerusalem – Not an Abusive Life-Long Mate
Norman Solomon
Is ‘Russiagate’ Collapsing as a Political Strategy?
Binoy Kampmark
In the Twitter Building: Tech Incubators and Altering Perceptions
Dean Baker
Uber’s Repudiation is the Moment for the U.S. to Finally Start Regulating the So-called Sharing Economy
Rob Seimetz
What I Saw From The Law
George Wuerthner
The Causes of Forest Fires: Climate vs. Logging
June 26, 2017
William Hawes – Jason Holland
Lies That Capitalists Tell Us
Chairman Brandon Sazue
Out of the Shadow of Custer: Zinke Proves He’s No “Champion” of Indian Country With his Grizzly Lies
Patrick Cockburn
Grenfell Tower: the Tragic Price of the Rolled-Back Stat
Joseph Mangano
Tritium: Toxic Tip of the Nuclear Iceberg
Ray McGovern
Hersh’s Big Scoop: Bad Intel Behind Trump’s Syria Attack
Roy Eidelson
Heart of Darkness: Observations on a Torture Notebook
Geoff Beckman
Why Democrats Lose: the Case of Jon Ossoff
Matthew Stevenson
Travels Around Trump’s America
David Macaray
Law Enforcement’s Dirty Little Secret
Colin Todhunter
Future Shock: Imagining India
Yoav Litvin
Animals at the Roger Waters Concert
Binoy Kampmark
Pride in San Francisco
Stansfield Smith
North Koreans in South Korea Face Imprisonment for Wanting to Return Home
Hamid Yazdan Panah
Remembering Native American Civil Rights Pioneer, Lehman Brightman
James Porteous
Seventeen-Year-Old Nabra Hassanen Was Murdered
Weekend Edition
June 23, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Democrats in the Dead Zone
Gary Leupp
Trump, Qatar and the Danger of Total Confusion
Andrew Levine
The “Democracies” We Deserve
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
The FBI’s “Operation Backfire” and the Case of Briana Waters
Rob Urie
Cannibal Corpse
Joseph G. Ramsey
Savage Calculations: On the Exoneration of Philando Castile’s Killer
John Wight
Trump’s Attack on Cuba
Dave Lindorff
We Need a Mass Movement to Demand Radical Progressive Change
Brian Cloughley
Moving Closer to Doom
David Rosen
The Sex Offender: the 21st Century Witch
John Feffer
All Signs Point to Trump’s Coming War With Iran
Jennifer L. Lieberman
What’s Really New About the Gig Economy?
Pete Dolack
Analyzing the Failures of Syriza
Vijay Prashad
The Russian Nexus
Mike Whitney
Putin Tries to Avoid a Wider War With the US
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail