I've started and stopped writing this three times already; scribbling a few sentences out and deleting them as soon as I was finished typing them. Because, as the title suggests, I am going to talk about how bad Chris Rock was at the Oscars last night, and how bad the #OscarsSoWhite skits were — skits I assume he had a major hand in writing. But I love Chris Rock. He isn't just one of my favorite comedians. He might be my favorite celebrity, and I thought he was the perfect choice to satire, scold, and skewer Hollywood's pronounced and (arguably) intentional cluelessness in regards to race. And this, that he missed the mark so many times, is not something I anticipated writing and have much desire to write.
But he was bad. Shockingly, consistently, and disappointingly bad. So bad that I wished he hadn't hosted and just continued existing in his current state as a stand-up emeritus who occasionally appears on talk shows and in Vulture to provide pithy insights about Hollywood and tell White people about themselves.
Also, before I get into why last night was particularly bad, I want to establish that bad in this sense doesn't necessary mean "not funny." He wasn't bad because he was unfunny. Because he was funny. As were some of the skits. But, in this context, being funny isn't as vital as where the funny is mined from and who the funny is crafted for.
Anyway, Chris Rock began his approximately 10-minute-long monologue with a couple relatively tepid jokes about the Whiteness of the Oscars. (ht to Jezebel for the script to the monologue)
Well, I’m here at the Academy Awards. Otherwise known as the White People’s Choice Awards. You realize if they nominated hosts, I wouldn’t even get this job. Y’all be watching Neil Patrick Harris right now.
Which, I thought then, were great indicators of the direction he'd take. "Ok," I thought. "These are the warm-ups. He's building up to the stronger shit." And I was right. He did follow with stronger jokes. But they were all jokes on and about Black people.
Here's a dig that implies that the Black people asking him to boycott had no place to talk because they weren't invited anyway.
And people are like, Chris, you should boycott, Chris, you should quit, you should quit.
You know, how come it’s only unemployed people that tell you to quit something, you know? No one with a job ever tells you to quit.
It's followed with one about Kevin Hart's prolificness. Also, this was the first time I laughed.
And the last thing I need is to lose another job to Kevin Hart. Okay? I don’t need that. Kev — Kev right there. Kev make movies fast. Every month. Porno stars don’t make movies that fast
And then, we make it to the meat of the monologue, where Rock shares his true opinion about this all. It sucks that the Oscars aren't very inclusive. But, ultimately, it's not that big of a deal.
It’s the 88th Academy Awards. It’s the 88th Academy Awards, which means — this whole no black nominees thing has happened at least 71 other times. Okay? You got to figure that it happened in the ‘50s, in the ‘60s. You know, in the ‘60s, one of those years, Sidney didn’t put out a movie. I’m sure — I’m sure there were no black nominees, some of those years.
Say 62 or 63 and black people did not protest. Why? Because we have real things to protest at the time. You know? We have real things to protest. You know? Too busy being raped and lynched to care about who won Best Cinematographer. You know, when you — when your Grandmother’s swinging from a tree, it’s really hard to care about Best Documentary Foreign Short.
Now, nothing he's saying here is wrong. At least in terms of the degree of the danger Black Americans faced in the 50s and 60s compared to today, and how that can affect what we decided to devote our collective attention to.
But this is a point you make at happy hour. Or at the barbershop. Or at game night. Or in EBONY Magazine. Or here at VSB. You don't, however, stand in front of a room full of the exact people responsible for the lack of diversity, and let them off the hook by ultimately asserting this is much ado about nothing.
And to further the idea that we (Black people) just need to get over ourselves, he continues with another (admittedly good) joke about another Black person who isn't even there.
Jada got mad, Jada says she’s not coming, protesting, I’m like — doesn’t she have a TV show? Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited.
Again, this is a great barbershop joke. But context and situation matters. And it's surprisingly tone deaf be in a room full of the people responsible for the lack of representation and aim your strongest joke at a Black woman who's fighting for Black representation.
He followed with another great line that jabs at America and White American racism, but still leaves White Hollywood off the hook.
You know, this year, the Oscars, things are going to be a little different. Things are going to be a little different at the Oscars. This year, in the In Memorium package, it’s just going to be black people that were shot on their way to the movies. Yes. Yes. I said it. All right?
And then more jokes about Black people.
If you want black people every year at the Oscars, just have black categories, like Best Black Friend.
That’s right. “And the winner for the 18th year in a row is Wanda Sykes. This is Wanda’s 18th Black Oscar.”
And then, finally, he goes in on the type of White liberals who wield power in Hollywood.
Now, I remember one night I was at a fundraiser for President Obama, a lot of you were there, and, you know, it’s me and all of Hollywood. And all the, you know, it’s all of us there and there’s about four black people there, me, let’s see, Quincy Jones, Russell Simmons, Questlove, you know, the usual suspects, right? And every black actor that wasn’t working. Needless to say, Kevin Hart was not there, okay? So, at some point, you get to take a picture with the President.
And as they’re setting up the picture, you get a little moment with the president, I’m like, “Mr. President, you see all these writers and producers and actors? They don’t hire black people. And they’re the nicest white people on earth. They’re liberals.” CHEESE.
That’s right. Is Hollywood racist? You’re damn right Hollywood’s racist. But it isn’t the racist you’ve grown accustomed to. Hollywood is sorority racist. It’s like — “We like you, Rhonda, but you’re not a Kappa.” That’s how Hollywood is.
After listening to the first half the monologue, where the jokes had much more bite and were centered on Black people, this felt like a perfunctory finger-wag. A scold with intentionally lukewarm water. Which is how the rest of the night went. Yes, he did pepper the night with some legitimately pointed and witty race-based commentary. This line about Jamie Foxx toward the end of his monologue, for instance.
All you guys get great parts all the time.
But what about the black actors? Look at Jamie Foxx. Jamie Foxx, one of the best actors in the world, man. Jamie foxx — he is. Jamie Foxx was so good in Ray, that they went to the hospital and unplugged the real Ray Charles, like, we don’t need two of these. No, man.
But between his words and the skits — particularly the remarkably and terribly unfunny segment inserting Black comedians in this year's Oscar nominated movies and the funny but somewhat out of place man-on-the-street bit interviewing Black patrons at a Compton theater — the humor was more "allow the audience to laugh at the absurdity of Black people asked about or placed in 'White' movies" than "pick at, poke, and prod the audience." For a man who's made his career creating consistently insightful and painful "ouch" moments, this night was conspicuously devoid of them. It was the type of humor to make White Hollywood think "LOL…he's really giving it to us" instead of actually giving it to them.
And maybe Rock's White Hollywood specific jokes lacked so much bite because, at this point in his career, he's Hollywood too. He's as rich and famous as most of the people in that room last night. And while I think his heart was in the right place, I can imagine it being difficult to effectively skewer the establishment when you're a part of it.
Let me put this way: The 1996 Chris Rock would have known that bringing Stacey Dash on stage as the punchline for an extended joke would have had one of two reactions:
1. "I don't get it."
2. "Yeah, I get it, but it's not very funny."
The 2016 Chris Rock, however, thought it would be.
I spent much of the night shifting attention between the Oscars and the #JusticeForFlint live stream; MC-ed by professional giver of negative infinity fucks Hannibal Buress. And while Chris Rock is my favorite comedian of all-time, I couldn't help but wonder if Buress would have been a better choice right now, in 2016, for the type of commentary I anticipated. But he'd never, ever, ever, ever get invited to host the Oscars.
Which, I guess, is the point.