By now, you’re already well aware of the big winners from last night’s Academy Awards. You’ve heard about The Hurt Locker‘s semi-sweep and Kathryn Bigelow shattering of the glass ceiling. You know that Sandra Bullock cries and the Dude abides and blah, blah, blah. But what about the evening’s less predictable race? Namely, who won the coveted title of 2010’s best Oscar host?
What, you didn’t think including two hosts was a random choice, did you? If the Academy Awards are about nothing else, they’re about segregating multiple things of more or less equal quality and declaring one of them a winner. Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin weren’t just co-hosts. In true Oscar tradition, it was Alec versus Steve. And who brought home the nonexistent trophy? Let’s take a closer look….
We’re The Best of Friends (The Worst of Enemies)
All classic comedy duos are essentially about friendship driven by rivalry—”I love you, but you must be destroyed”—and the Martin/Baldwin Oscar partnership didn’t disappoint. Martin came out strong in the opening minutes; after Baldwin introduced his partner as “one of the most enduring entertainers of all time,” Martin returned the compliment by saying “And this is Alec Baldwin.” Zing! Later, in a hilarious pre-taped parody of Paranormal Activity, Martin (presumably sleepwalking) bitch-slapped Baldwin with Ike Turner enthusiasm. And then, as the icing on the abuse cake, Martin lured Baldwin into a discussion of his nomination for The Cooler—”one of the greatest days in my life,” Baldwin admitted—before cutting him off with a derisive laugh. Surprisingly, given his voicemail history and 30 Rock cred, Baldwin never rose to the bait and proved that he, too, could be a self-important ass with a sense of self-righteous entitlement.
Hollywood Actors Are Stupid and Egotistical Douches
When in doubt, you can’t go wrong with a little self-deprecation. And nobody does it better than Steve Martin. Some of his bits missed the mark—like that “What’s five times two?” punchline, which apparently had something to do with the ten nominations for Best Picture and how actors can’t do math—but otherwise, it was like watching Babe Ruth point at the stands and announce the destination of his next home run. Whether he was introducing Queen Latifah by saying that working with her on Bringing Down the House “was the highlight of her entire life,” or confusing “whores” and “horses” (“I don’t think the plural of whores is whoreses,” he sniffed at Baldwin), or pointing out Helen Mirren as “That damn Helen Mirren,” completely misunderstanding her royal title, he hit all the right notes. Baldwin, however, never really got his footing. The closest he got to making himself the butt of a joke was shamelessly complimenting Tina Fey, and then adding “I’m not just saying that because she revived my career.” Not so much funny as, well, kinda true.
It’s Funny Because It’s True
Baldwin’s grateful-for-Tina-Fey’s-generosity gag would’ve worked if it wasn’t such an obvious ploy to keep his day job. The other truth-in-comedy jokes were a little more on target, especially when they alluded to those awkward truisms that everybody in the audience agreed on but nobody wanted to say out loud. And once again, Baldwin came up short. When Martin introduced presenters Amanda Seyfried and Miley Cyrus as “two young actresses who have no idea who we are,” or confessed that Sandra Bullock was “just okay in Miss Congeniality 2“, or spoke for all humanity when he noticed that Sarah Jessica Parker weighs “a single pound”, it was impossible not to nod in nervous agreement. Baldwin wasn’t as nearly on satiric target. When he suggested that Woody Harrelson, sitting in the audience with a dazed expression reminiscent of a Cheech & Chong movie, was in all likelihood stoned out of his gourd, it was like making a joke about former President Bush being functionally retarded. Hey Alec, do you hear that? It’s the sound of Tina Fey cringing in comedy sympathy. Please, just… just don’t, okay?
The Obligatory Jokes About Avatar
Poking fun at James Cameron’s epic about blue space cats, the favorite to win just about everything on Oscar night, should’ve been a no-brainer. But Martin and Baldwin delivered gags that seemed like afterthoughts at best. Putting on 3-D glasses to look at Cameron in the audience? Pointing out that Avatar made a crapload at the box office? (“Did you know that cutaway of James Cameron has already earned $3 million?” Baldwin asked.) Killing wood sprites from Avatar‘s tree of souls with bug spray? Really? That’s all you’ve got? Comedy of that caliber probably took them up to minutes to come up with. It’s a sad day in Oscarville when Ben Stiller has the best Avatar joke of the night, showing up in Na’vi blueface and mocking his own sci-fi nerdiness.
Hey, Everybody! Meryl Streep!
Next to Avatar, Meryl Streep was the most anticipated running joke of the evening. Martin got in early, pointing out that Streep not only had the most nominations in Oscar history, but also the “most losses.” It was the harmless ribbing we’d expect from an Oscar host, and as such, adorably softball. But as the evening wore on, it became apparent that this was just a warm-up. Martin and Baldwin eventually brought up It’s Complicated, the innocuous romantic romp that they’d co-starred in with Streep, and then filled our brains with disturbing and completely unnecessary imagery. “What a memorable threesome,” Baldwin remarked, and then bumped fists with Martin. And just like that, we were all forced to imagine the two hosts and Streep engaged in a devil’s threeway. That is something you don’t easily forget. Touché, Alec Baldwin. Touché.
Hey, Everybody! Black People!
With Precious being one of the big award contenders of the night, it was only a matter of time before somebody made a joke about race that walked the tightrope between funny and racist. Martin hit a softball, remarking that he and Precious star Gabourey Sidibe had something in common: “We were both born a poor black child in our first movies.” It seemed dangerous for a nanosecond, until you realized that he was basically saying, “Remember The Jerk? You loved me in that movie, right?” Leave it to Baldwin to bring some uncomfortable racial awkwardness to the festivities. While discussing the Oscar-nominated Invictus, Baldwin insisted that the movie was Martin’s favorite, as it combined his two favorite passions: “Rugby and tensions between blacks and whites.” There’s really no way to come back from a line like that. Steve Martin, consider yourself served.
When In Doubt, Mention Nazis
Given that nobody—seriously, nobody—thought that Inglourious Basterds had a chance in hell of winning anything, making jokes about Nazis was a curious choice. But somehow, Martin and Baldwin pulled it off. Martin’s first Nazi gag came at the expense of best supporting actor-winner Christoph Waltz. After observing that Waltz’s character in Inglourious Basterds was obsessed with finding Jews, Martin suggested, while gesturing towards the crowd, that he’d stumbled upon “the mother lode.” While insinuating that the Kodak Theater audience contained enough Jews for a mini-Holocaust was certainly borderline inappropriate (and therefore hilarious), it didn’t hold a candle to his watershed, possibly Oscar-host-winning performance of the night, in which Martin announced, remarkably straight-faced, the following line: “Everyone who’s ever worked with Meryl Streep says the same thing. Can that woman act, and what’s up with all the Hitler memorabilia?” Wow. What? It’s a brilliant gag for so many reasons. For one, only roughly 90 percent of Oscar audiences realized it was a joke. As you read this, the person next to you is probably Googling “Meryl Streep” and “Hitler Memorabilia” to find out what the hell Martin was talking about. And even those of us who understood the absurdist irony are having a difficult time hearing the name “Meryl Streep” anymore without imaging her in a room full of Hitler porcelain dolls. And for that mental image alone, Martin deserves the gold.
And the Oscar goes to…
Seriously? You have to ask? 30 Rock made Alec Baldwin hip again, but as the Oscars proved beyond a shadow of a doubt, Steve Martin will always be our comedy laureate.