“’I used to like Chris Rock, until he bashed Bush at the Oscars.’” 

Not me. Them.  

Before producer Gil Cates formally announced that the controversial stand-up comic would host this year’s (late Feb.) Academy Awards, critics came out of the woodwork to dissuade him, publicly and privately. 

A few, anonymous members of the Academy allegedly had reservations, going so far as to urge Cates and his people to rethink the choice to someone better suited to give Oscar its respectful, dignified (read: stuffy) due. That someone would never be Chris Rock, who’s made a name for himself on HBO as a loud, crass, brutally outspoken commentator on society, race relations and politics. 

He’s also young, hip, hot and doesn’t care what anybody, least of all fellow celebrities, thinks of his in-your-face style. As evidenced by his hosting of the 1999 Video Music awards, Rock will insult any public figure, in attendance or watching on TV. 

So when Cates did indeed announce that he wanted Rock to be the host of the much-older audience of the Oscars, tongues wagged, jaws dropped and brows sweated. Pundits presumed Cates wanted Rock to attract a younger, hipper, urban audience, and believed Rock would adhere to a stringent list of dos and don’ts. Do still be funny, make ‘em laugh. Don’t curse, be scatological, refer to anything sexual, or political


After Chris Rock did his thing, the critics and several of the more conservative-minded of the viewers went on the warpath, in print and radio. Talk Radio, especially, burst at the seams with conservative shock jocks and their phone-in minions dying to put a hurt on the comedian for simply…being himself. 

I’ve been a Chris Rock fan since he wowed me as an actor in the bit part of the hit 1991 movie, New Jack City. He played a junkie-turned-informant, struggling to stay clean, but failing. His scenes of addiction, withdrawal, temptation and surrender were some of the most convincing I’d seen since Halle Berry turned in a stunningly real performance as a crackhead in Spike Lee’s, Jungle Fever

Only later on, did I discover his funny bones. He tackled subjects that his predecessors already laid bare, and that some people today assumed he invented. Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, even Eddie Murphy – Rock’s idol – explored the comedic truths and idiocies of a world gone mad with sex, drugs, racism and rock ‘n roll. 

Most importantly, the man made me laugh like no other…even when I disagreed with him on the basic concepts of the subject matter, as I had with his decidedly liberal (if you really listen to his stand-up routines, he’s not that liberal) views on politics, or much later, when I cringed at his disregard for the feelings of the musical stars in the audience of his hosting the music awards. 

Like me, Chris Rock can come off as a heartless, mean prick in the commentaries that specifically call individuals out for questionable, stupid or just plain bad behavior. He does not suffer fools, hacks or mediocrity gladly, least of all with himself and his own. He’s been known to draw fire from the more sensitive in the black community for his use of the “N” word and the perpetuation of black stereotypes, especially the black man. 

So when I eventually heard that the Oscars would play host to Chris Rock, after having failed to attract much of a (younger) crowd in years past, I couldn’t help but smile in anticipation for both the furor and the entertainment to come. 

It was the first time I enjoyed myself throughout most of the telecast. I even rewound some parts – Rock interviewing regular black folks at a nearby L.A. theatre who’ve never heard of the Oscar picks is classic – and I never did that, not even for Johnny Carson. 

I really didn’t want Rock’s opening monologue – where he puts down actor Jude Law for being a bit too ubiquitous last year, actress Nicole Kidman for putting on her best fake-happy face after losing out to Halle Berry another year, President Bush of course for his (thoughtless) actions in the Iraq War – to ever end. And try as they might to beat him down for being inappropriate for the Oscars in the first place, admirers, critics and detractors all just could not stop yammering about Rock’s every word, every move, every inflection. 

That is a sure sign of genius, success in the face of hostility, against the odds of the milque-toast masses unable to laugh for their entrenched, self-important beliefs. 

Look, I believe in President Bush myself. But even a conservative-Republican like me could take his jokes, without fearing the cancellation of my political affiliation. It wasn’t a presidential debate, it was the Oscars, where people dressed up way too much, drank way too much, dissed each other’s fashion statements way too much, and expected to have way too much fun. 

Loosen up the tie and lighten up. 

Whether any of us admit it or not, a lot of what Rock said aloud is what a lot of us are saying in private to ourselves or amongst trusted family and friends. The gay remark Rock uttered before hosting, big deal, maybe some of it’s based in reality. No straight guy I know watches the Oscars, unless he’s forced to by his wife, or there’s nothing else on. 

The other remark, about the Oscars’ growing irrelevance to a growing society, ain’t that off the mark either. I haven’t really paid attention to the Oscar pre-shows and paparazzi-bled brouhaha, much less the Oscars itself, in decades. I think the last known ceremony in which I cared about the outcome happened in 1986/87, with the Oscar win of lead actress Marlee Matlin for Children Of A Lesser God, and only then because I had the hots for lead actor William Hurt; it intrigued me that she and Hurt had this hot fling because of the movie. 

But whether Chris Rock speaks truth or not, I found it quite disturbing, typical but disturbing, that many conservative radio listeners made pretty much the same excuse as to why he sucked in their view: It’s because he disagreed with their politics and dared say so in the context of hosting duties, hence, that annoyingly cliché line, “I used to love him until he bashed…” … which could apply to any genre where an outspoken person is speaking his/her mind. 

I’ve read it applied to myself countless times, since taking on (thankless, voluntary) duties as a soap opera commentator. As a former message board poster, too, Lord knows. 

Here’s how it works: They love you to death. Worship you. Until you say something out of line, meaning, something that opposes what they believe, and then, you’re history, everything you’ve written about previously that they loved has then been summarily dismissed and discarded. 

Maurice Benard (Sonny, GH) is the best actor in daytime.

Oh, you’re a goddess! Listen to her! 

Maurice Benard (Sonny, GH) is starting to phone it in.

You’re a hack! I used to read you religiously. Now, I never will! 

Funny how that works.



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