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Jewish World Review
March 16, 2006
/ 16 Adar, 5766
Humorless Hollywood: A post-script on Jon Stewart at the Oscars
Did Jon Stewart actually get some negative reviews for his brilliant Oscar night performance? While I'm not normally a fan, I found
Stewart to be the funniest, smartest Academy Awards host since Bob Hope. Many were expecting a night of jokes ridiculing the
current administration in Washington, but Stewart went in precisely the opposite direction and turned the tables on Hollywood.
What we found out is that while Hollywood expects straight, white, middle-class Americans to laugh at themselves every time they
step into a theater, the glitterati couldn't even laugh at themselves for one night. When critics say Stewart's jokes fell flat, the blame
belongs with the not-so-sharp, humorless audience.
Steven Spielberg is probably considered among the more intelligent people in the Hollywood community, yet he couldn't even
appreciate Ben Stiller's self-effacing sarcasm when the latter came out as a disembodied head atop a not-so-special-effect green
suit and said, "This is blowing Spielberg's mind." Spielberg actually answered, "No, it's not." This didn't bode well for the rest of the
evening's far more intelligent humor from Stewart.
The first surprise political joke was: "The Oscars is really, I guess, the one night of the year where you could see all your favorite
stars without having to donate any money to the Democratic Party. And it's exciting for the stars as well. This is the first time many
of you have ever voted for a winner."
For Red Americans, this was not only refreshing, but jaw-dropping. Then Stewart hit us with "Capote addressed very similar themes
to 'Good Night, and Good Luck.' Both films are about determined journalists, defying obstacles in a relentless pursuit of the truth.
Needless to say, both are period pieces." He even got the journalists! Then back to the glitterati:
"A lot of people say this town is too liberal. Out of touch with mainstream America. An atheistic pleasure dome. A modern-day
beachfront Sodom and Gomorrah. A moral black hole. Where innocence is obliterated in an endless orgy of sexual gratification and
greed. I don't really have a joke here. I just thought you should know a lot of people are saying that."
Nor did Stewart shy away from broaching "the Jewish thing." First it came in a fun cultural context that the non-Jewish majority in
Hollywood isn't normally exposed to: "Now I know the Three 6 Mafia is gonna get into it with Itzhak Perlman's posse. I know it. And
then they have only one way to solve it: dreidel-off." Then came the dark humor: "Steven Spielberg is here. ...From the man who also
gave us Schindler's List. Schindler's List, and Munich. I think I speak for all Jews when I say I can't wait to see what happens to us
next! I'm thinking, 'Trilogy!'"
Despite the common wisdom that "Jews run Hollywood," these jokes qualify as risky because they actually "outed" Hollywood Jews,
who generally like to hide among the stunning gentiles and hip ethnics who stud their world yet still aren't too sure what a Jew is. (We're the one minority that doesn't quite fall under the politically correct protections that other minorities enjoy, since we're
perceived as privileged.) But since that stereotype isn't going anywhere, we might as well just own it. Let's not be wimpy, but more
like other minorities, who "Represent!"
And Stewart did. He also "represented" for comedians who still do their job as society's sages, reminding the country what "edgy"
sounds like. Because Hollywood lost its edge decades ago.
This year's Oscars host took risks -- something that Hollywood fancies itself as doing, but doesn't. Therein lay the lack of chemistry
in the room. For a crowd that prides itself on making average folks shift uncomfortably in their seats, they clearly didn't welcome
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