Comedy·OSCARS

10 ways to find the humour in Hollywood's big night

Comedian Paul Beer offers his take on how to enjoy the Oscars.

On Sunday February 9th the 92nd annual Academy Awards will be handed out at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. It will be the earliest the Oscars have been held in the year ever, and I will be where I've been for the past eight years: onstage at Comedy Bar in Toronto, joined by some of the best comedians in the city providing commentary and analysis and wondering exactly how much longer it will go on for. Here's what I suggest to keep the laughs coming.

1. Be your own host

For the second year in a row, the Oscars will be without a host. For decades, hosting the Academy Awards was seen as the ultimate gig for a comedian: no other stage was as big, and for the opening monologue, it belonged solely to one person. 

But as the audience for the broadcast eroded and online scrutiny increased, the job increasingly did not appear worth the headache, and after Kevin Hart bowed out under pressure in the wake of some problematic tweets, the Academy couldn't seem to attract the seasoned A-listers they were accustomed to.

As it turns out, the Oscars did just fine without a host. The show moved faster and ratings were actually up. So here's your chance. Prepare a musical medley of all the nominees like Billy Crystal, have some Bruce Vilanch-style zingers ready, and mortify your friends and family while you hold the Oscar party hostage with your own Jimmy Kimmel routine.

2. Make up the plots of the shorts

The good news: the nominated live action and animated short films have never been more available. Many of them are streaming for free on YouTube or iTunes, and they can be dazzling glimpses of emerging talent both in front of and behind the camera (Taika Waititi, nominated this year for the screenplay of JoJo Rabbit, was previously nominated for a live action short in 2005).

The bad news: you're still probably not going to see any of them. So take a moment to speculate as to what the title of Walk Run Cha-Cha refers to, or what a Kitbull could possibly be, or what exactly is going on through The Neighbor's Window (nothing good, I'm guessing).

3. Original Song karaoke

The Oscars have a mixed relationship with musical performances. On one hand, they opened the show with Queen playing We Will Rock You last year, and had Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga bring the house down with Shallow. On the other hand, they once had Robin Williams sing Blame Canada from the South Park movie.

Well, they're going all-in this year, with all five nominated songs being performed. The show will see performances by Elton John, Idina Menzel (AKA "The wickedly talented Adele Dazeem") and Randy Newman. All the lyrics are online, so what are you waiting for? Learn Into The Unknown from Frozen and serenade those aforementioned horrified friends and family.

4. Play 'Can This Winner Dunk?'

As the tearful winners make their way up to the Oscars stage, experiencing the absolute pinnacle of their professional lives, seeing years or decades of laser-focused dedication rewarded before an audience of tens of millions, ask yourself: 'Can this person dunk a basketball on a regulation-height rim?'

The answer will almost certainly be no. Most people can't, and actors are a notoriously short group. However: Adam Driver, nominated for his searing performance in Marriage Story is 6'2", has big hands and appears to be in good shape. Could he throw it down? Leonardo DiCaprio starred in The Basketball Diaries and is allegedly 6 feet tall. Can Leo dunk? Both Charlize Theron, nominated for best actress and Laura Dern, favourite to win Best Supporting Actress, are listed at 5'10". Let's get a rim out there onstage, settle this once and for all.

5. Explain the difference between sound editing and sound mixing

Quick! What's the difference? This only gets more complicated due to the ever-shifting names of these categories: They have alternately been known as Best Sound Effects, Sound Effects Editing, or simply Best Sound. I bet even 21-time nominated and one-time winning sound mixer Kevin O'Connell couldn't explain the difference.

6. Spot who really wants this

Look: They all really want this. The Oscars are your company's annual performance review turned up to a billion and on television. 

But there are degrees. Despite already having an Oscar, I suspect Renée Zellweger really wants this. Anthony Hopkins? I do not think Tony cares. 

In the acting categories at least, these are all rich, famous and profoundly successful people at their most publicly vulnerable: squirming in their seat, waiting for their name to be called or not. It's oddly comforting to suddenly identify that holy cow, Jonathan Pryce REALLY WANTS THIS.

7. MONTAGE WATCH

The Academy always doth protest too much. Inevitably, a Robert Redford comes out and solemnly declares that movies have the power to bring us together. We are then treated to a montage of rousing moments from film history. Look: We're two and a half hours into this thing. We all like movies. 

8. Bet heavily on the technical Oscars 

Okay, I have to admit something: they are apparently not handing out the Scientific and Technical Oscars, where advancements in filmmaking technology are celebrated, until June. We will then be denied the pleasure of seeing Margot Robbie during the Oscars ceremony talk about how honoured she was to host the Sci-Tech dinner and reward someone for inventing some new blue-screen technique. That just gives you more time to bet big on who will win the Gordon E. Sawyer Technological Contribution Oscar.

9. Spot the Canadian

As Canadians, we are bound to promptly and loudly identify whenever someone on television is Canadian, and this year features a number of home-grown nominees.

  • Sami Khan - Best Documentary Short - St. Louis Superman
  • Dean DeBlois - Best Animated Feature - How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
  • Paul Massey - Best Sound Mixing - Ford v Ferrari
  • Dennis Gassner - Best Production Design - 1917
  • Meryam Joobeur - Best Live Action Short - Brotherhood

10. Enjoy the ride

One thing I've learned having watched virtually every second of the Oscars for the past eight years is this: It's the peripheral things that last. The nominees and winners go into a list, but it's the strange moments that come with a three-plus hour live broadcast that simply can't be predicted. The La La Land/Moonlight mix-up. Three Six Mafia winning an Oscar. Olivia Coleman's surprise win and heartfelt speech.

It's a highly manicured production filled with highly manicured people that nonetheless produces some truly spontaneous and hilarious results. I'm ready.

About the Author

Paul Beer is a Toronto-based comedian, actor and writer.