This Sunday, February 28 is the 2016 Academy Awards Oscar ceremony. Comedian/actor/director Chris Rock is hosting and many are wondering what his comedic approach will be as he delivers his opening monologue and skewers celebrities in between awards announcements.
This year in particular seems to be a perfect storm for Rock and his comedic sensibilities. For some reason, the academy chose to offer zero nominations to African American or minority actors (despite there being numerous worthy choices), while also selecting America's most prominent and incendiary black comedian as its host (instead of offering it to Billy Crystal again). The lack of diversity in this year's Oscars has sparked a funny but enlightening twitter category #oscarssowhite, led a number of prominent Hollywood types to boycott the event, and has even caused Chris Rock to entirely revamp his routine for the night (instead of boycotting it). This has lead to speculation as to how exactly Rock is going to take on the current situation in the Academy.
As I see it, he has about 5 different options before him, all with varying levels of probability of actually happening:
1.) He could be funny, but play the game.
Chris Rock could tell typically middle of the road celebrity-based jokes all night. He could mock how self-important Hollywood is. He could poke at how much plastic surgery everyone has had. He can make insightful jokes about specific movies, like how crazy Leonardo DiCaprio had to get for The Revenant or about Matt Damon really being stranded on Mars (as if!). All in all though, he would play it safe. He would make some people feel mildly uncomfortable, but really he would only be fluffing the feathers of everyone's already large egos.
Probability: Highly unlikely. Has anyone ever seen Chris Rock do standup?
2.) He could be funny, but playfully mock the lack of diversity in the nominees.
In this scenario Rock definitely focuses on the race issue in Hollywood throughout the night, but only playfully so. His ammunition will be paintballs (or Nerf darts?) instead of actual pointed arrows (or bullets?). The jokes here will be funny but they will lack bite. Again, he will make a lot of people uncomfortable, but hey, we were all expecting Rock to talk about race and diversity and America's problems, right? If you pay for the Chris Rock brand that's what you'd expect to get! With this kind of comedy we will all laugh at ourselves, shake our heads, but walk away unwilling to change anything: "Man! There sure are a lot of problems in America between whites and blacks. I wonder who's going to do something about it?"
Probability: Unlikely. Chris Rock is not going to let us off the hook this easily.
3.) He could be funny by launching a scathing attack on the "lack of diversity" situation
In our most likely scenario, here we see Rock launching into issues of white privilege, the #blacklivesmatter movement, and how all of it relates to the state of Hollywood both past and present. He will seamlessly mix serious speechifying into his jokes. Some of it will be a bit preachy, but hey, the man has to say what's on his mind. Just how on-the-hook he will leave movie studio executives and academy members and how much anything will actually change in Hollywood remains to be seen, but at least Rock would use his platform to make a point.
Probability: Most likely. This seems most in line with what people expect Chris Rock would do.
4.) He can ruin the whole show by being as offensively funny as possible
Chris Rock knows how to be obscene and dirty. He could possibly turn a PG to PG-13 night and make it R or NC-17. He could either slide right up to the edge of acceptable network TV profanity and subject material or he could jump over the edge and bring the whole night to a halt. He could ruin everyone's plans and leave an incredibly sore spot on the pride of anyone who won an Oscar. Essentially, he would derail the evening through vulgarity.
Probability: Unlikely. As bold as Rock can be and as dirty as his mouth can be, Rock still has plenty of friends in the audience and still needs to be able to find work in the industry come Monday morning. This would be a ballsy move but it would also be the least intelligent move. Besides, what point would he actually prove by being intentionally sophomoric? This option would be just as productive as option #1, and honestly, much less interesting.
5.) He can ruin the whole show by being as intentionally unfunny as possible.
Chris Rock should show us all how untalented black people are. Call the academy's bluff. Make this the most boring Academy awards of all time by creating an utterly dull atmosphere. It will be 3 hours of drawn out pain. Deliver each joke in deadpan. Tell awful Goofy Uncle jokes. Make lame puns. Chris Rock, show us you have absolutely no talent, Because You Are Black. Show us you (and by default all black people) do not deserve to be on that stage. What would be a greater satirical sendup than for one of the funniest people alive, one of the most daring comedians of all time, to just bore everyone and look like a no talent hack. To make everyone uncomfortable not with hard hitting jokes, but for simply being lame. Through his very performance he could demonstrate just how unworthy black actors and filmmakers are to win Oscars. With an unflinching attempt at satirical performance art he could show the world that "Yep, black people don't deserve to win any awards. Just look at how boring and untalented we are." In my opinion, to sustain such a performance over the course of three hours would take more talent than any of the other options Chris Rock has before him. In this way Rock could "boycott" the Oscars by showing up and actually doing his job, but doing it in the worst way possible. He could bring trolling to an entirely new level.
Probability: Unlikely. This move also goes against Rock's nature, which is why I think it's the most brilliant one available to him. I can only hope.
My guess is Rock will go with option #3, the funny, straightforward, and scathing approach, and I am sure it will be plenty funny, and painfully so. Nonetheless, option #5 would be the most daring and counter-intuitive move he could make, something no one would expect, and could make an even larger point than any more direct joke he can make. Here's to hoping Chris Rock pulls off an historic comedic maneuver that actually brings about some change, no matter how he does it.
The Uncomfortable Envy of White Amnesiacs
The Uncomfortable Envy of White Amnesiacs