For Jimmy Kimmel, simply being unfunny is much too easy. He accomplished that goal very early in his monologue, when he zeroed in on Mel Gibson: “hey Mel, you look good—the Scientology is really working out!” Hilarious, because it means absolutely nothing—Gibson did look good, and he’s not into Scientology, so…but why suffer through more of Kimmel’s 2000-pound one-liners, each one thudding and echoing in the excruciating silence like a massive hammerblow of dullness? He’s hardly the first host to carpet-bomb the Academy like a Curtis LeMay of comedy. Nor is he the first host to find any human name more unique than Bob or Joan to be inherently comical—remember when his idol, David Letterman, died miserably on that very same stage by mocking the sound of “Uma” Thurman and “Oprah” Winfrey? In Kimmel’s case, it was the name “Mahershala” Ali that we were supposed to find so delightfully amusing. “Mahershala!” Man, I’m still laffin’! As Jerry Seinfeld might say, “what is up with black people’s names?” Which leads me to the crux of my argument, i.e. the utter dickishness of this smug Jimmy Kimmel.
Kimmel ported over to the Oscar broadcast a favored shtick from his nightly show, which is the “pranking” of everyday slobs. Vile enough in its nightly incarnation, this mockery of uncool out-of-towners reached a zenith of Creepy last night when he arranged for a busful of tourists to be led into the auditorium unawares, so that they suddenly found themselves onstage at the Academy Awards. I give this “prank” full points for surrealist invention; there is a certain cruel, tedious genius to it. But the point of this kind of joke is always the same one: there are two classes of people, the puppeteers and the puppets, and we in show business—the men, specifically, the ones who wear the tuxedos–are always the ones whose fingers will make you dance. The fact that these “tourists”—ha! they sign up for organized tours! they come from places like Oshkosh and Utica! they don’t dress good like us!—responded to the prank with good humor did nothing to mitigate the ugliness of it.
And, of course, to cap it all off, Kimmel ordered the Academy members to throw a shock into the tourists as they entered the hall by shouting—in unison—“Mahershala!” And with that, he married his two endlessly-battered themes—the intrinsic hilarity of “foreign-sounding” names and the goofy cloddishness of the everyday American—into one huge condescending punchline.
I work in this business, and I have seen up close the utter contempt that many people in it have for the audience they purport to entertain. But nothing embodies it more clearly than that smirk on Jimmy Kimmel’s face as those everyday, hardworking Americans—you know, the idiots—were paraded offstage, past the uncomfortable movie-stars, back to their meaningless and unglamorous lives.