The Oscars: An Evening of Awards and Comedy

Seth MacFarlane Oscars Screenshot

Oscars Guy: A critical look at Seth Macfarlane as the choice to host the 85th Academy Awards.

Recently Oscars host Seth MacFarlane took to the stage alongside Hollywood starlet Emma Stone to reveal the nominations for the fast-approaching 85th Academy Awards. MacFarlane is the first host of the prestigious ceremony to also reveal the nominees since Charlton Heston in 1972. Using the opportunity as a dry run for ceremony night the comedy writer abandoned the traditionally serious approach of merely reading from a list and instead opted for announcing the nominations with a sense of humour. While no one is discouraging a refreshing approach, many commentators were left dismayed by his attitude, annoyed by the “personal attacks” within his material and debating whether he would be a good Oscars host at all.

So will Seth MacFarlane be a good host? In order to answer this question its best to look at how the acclaimed awards ceremony has been presented in the past. The Oscars is an event that is no stranger to comedy, even though it has always disregarded the medium within its awards. Many comedians and comedy actors have made appearances to brilliant effect, who can forget Will Ferrell and Jack Black singing their “Where Are the Comedians?” song that bemoans the lack of recognition for the comedy genre, Billy Crystal’s slick one-liners (“nothing can take the sting out of economic problems like watching millionaires present gold statues to each other”) and Ben Stiller presenting the Oscar for Best Make-Up adorned in full Na’vi make-up? These comedians make the job of presenting more exciting than just reading names from an envelope.

With a comedic undertone rooted within the ceremony, it’s no shock that most hosts have arrived from comedy backgrounds. Leading funny men such as Bob Hope, Johnny Carson and Billy Crystal have been selected as host on several occasions. Dressed in their finest attire and displaying their impeccable charm and gleaming smiles these Academy Award legends, their material was unquestionably funny, but their jokes are comparably tame. Though it is certainly not new to have a comedy host there has definitely been a shift within the type of jokes they are making.

Comedy is a constantly evolving medium and comedic personalities continue to push the boundaries of tradition and have more recently strayed into more “insulting” forms of comedy. Obviously what the contemporary comedians are doing isn’t a new thing, comedy icons such as Bob Saget and Bill Hicks became legends because of their dark humour and offensive jokes. The difference between the comedians of old and those of new is that modern comics are tied to the mainstream celebrity culture; directly involved within television and therefore the subject of the public eye. With such popularity and celebrity status surrounding them, it’s no surprise that these talented, highly opinionated and crude individuals would be selected to host events and present shows. The praise these comedians receive is only outmatched by the immense levels of criticism they receive for their jokes – Ricky Gervais’ hosting of the Golden Globes is a prime example of this.

The British comedian created uproar within the US media for his insulting comments, startling personal attacks and offensive one-liners. Despite an overall feeling that the whole nation was disgusted with a foreigner aiming jokes at their beloved country, he was invited back to host again the following year; even after he publicly announced that he would not be holding back on his material. The resulting routine, mainly his opening monologue, was much the same as the first and became an instant hit on YouTube. Audiences returned to see the edgy comic deliver his rude remarks without any regard as to whether the people he was offending were in the room or not. People tuned in, debates again erupted and the topic circulated conversations, the media and social networks long after the ceremony had come to a close. After all, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

However, when the crude comedians push the boundaries are pushed too far they collapse and there is an influx of criticism that becomes a dangerous opponent to these modern day jesters. The Brand-Ross saga caused public outrage and disgracing of these over-excited comedians caught in the heat of the moment, which cost them their jobs. Admittedly, these examples are more closely related to the UK, but Frankie Boyle’s rise and fall supports this. Initially his edgy comedy was well received; even his harshest of comments directed at Princess Diana, Richard Hammond and most frequently Kerry Katona were followed by genuine laughter. Eventually Boyle found the boundary, but showed no signs of toning down as his material grew even more insulting and appeared to venture into bullying. Controversies surrounded the Scot and he was axed from the BBC and removed himself from stand-up comedy.

MacFarlane’s stand-up material is hardly comparable to Boyle’s, despite the comedy within his television cartoon series continuing to push the boundaries of decency. When announcing the nominations, his material was more jovial than insulting. Within his nominations skit MacFarlane mentioned his female co-host, acclaimed Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and even alluded to Adolf Hitler within his risqué material. But he also targeted people within the room and that’s where many people thought he went too far. His statement that directors were merely people who sat in chairs and watched other people make a movie has been taken far more seriously than he intended; many seem to have forgotten that he is recently a feature director himself, so this comment is of self-deprecation rather than mocking the talents that surround him. He also targeted nominees for best adapted screenplays, claiming that they were people who copy and paste from Word to Final Draft. But how many times has Family Guy been criticised for copying jokes that The Simpsons made ten years ago? MacFarlane’s routine was not insulting, bullying or even bad. Full of witty remarks, clever one-liners and best of all the look on his face when his own film Ted was nominated for a soundtrack award. MacFarlane gave audiences a hint of what can be expected on ceremony night.

Seth MacFarlane’s approach shouldn’t be discouraged and in fact should be embraced. The comedy writer is sure to bring another sharp-witted skit full of magnificently clever remarks and perhaps if we’re lucky even a song and dance; if his vocal talents within his television cartoons are anything to go by. Last year Billy Crystal received criticism from the new generation of audiences towards his outdated material and throughout the event “#whoisbillycrystal” was trending on Twitter. The great success of MacFarlane’s television cartoons has made him one of the names at the focus of the new generation and it’s about time the prestigious company took comedy at a higher regard and embraced the younger audiences who watch the event. MacFarlane may not be the host the Oscars wants, but he’s certainly the host they need right now.

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4 thoughts on “The Oscars: An Evening of Awards and Comedy”

  1. I agree with everything you said. He obviously won’t be as “edgy” as Gervais but for the Oscars it’s a huge step. I’m sure since Gervais wasn’t the host of the Globes this year the Academy Awards producers were looking to steal some of the thunder and attention the Golden Globes have enjoyed while Gervais was host. The Academy is behind with the times and their stuffy self-important attitude they’ve branded for themselves the past 85 years is so out of sync with the world around them.

    They obviously attempted to change that when they had James Franco and Ann Hathaway host which scared them back to one of their former more traditional hosts Billy Crystal and that failed too. I think this year will probably be the best Academy Awards presentation show in decades.

  2. I’m tuning in to the oscars for macfarlane primarily. Otherwise, i’d just read the list the next morning. Humanising, levelling, genuinely funny, otherwise it’s a procession of egos and ‘your speech is too long’ music…

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