Last Sunday night, Academy Awards host Seth MacFarlane began the show, “Welcome to the Oscars. And the quest to make Tommy Lee Jones laugh begins now.” The camera panned to Tommy Lee Jones laughing, and with that, the night of hilarity began. The Oscar producers chose MacFarlane to pace the night with his caustic humor and song and dance performances to add to the musical motif of the ceremony. Even though his jokes were relatively tame compared with his Family Guy material, MacFarlane’s sense of humor quickly polarized media pundits and worldwide viewers alike.
Some critics slammed him for racism, misogyny and insensitivity. At the same time, many viewers lauded MacFarlane for a hilarious and entertaining routine. Most importantly though, it is clear that from the minute MacFarlane cracked his first joke about Tommy Lee Jones, no one turned off the TV.
Oscar viewership increased by over one million during last weekend’s show.
MacFarlane can take credit for that influx, though he managed to effectively offend blacks, women and Jews, and still kept viewers invested in the night. His animated comedy series Family Guy is filled with many more offensive jokes about an even greater variety of different types of people. The show stays on air because cartoon characters portray all of the insensitivity that truly exists in our world. It seems silly to blame a caricature. On Oscar night, instead of using cartoons to steer clear of a potentially chastising audience, Seth MacFarlane used his A-list celebrity good looks and pearly-white grin to shed some of the blame. By striking a balance between a handsome, charming celebrity and an insensitive, inappropriate comedian, MacFarlane transformed himself into an unstoppable host.
His sense of humor also hooked in the younger viewers that Oscars producers crave. The eighteen to thirty-four year old male viewership increased by thirty-four percent. Family Guy markets so well to this same exact age and gender category. Throughout the night, MacFarlane somewhat filtered his absolutely candid writing that has characterized Family Guy and maintained respect for the overall structure of the night.
Controversy still surrounds the joke in which MacFarlane claims that Chris Brown and Rihanna view the particularly violent Django Unchained as a ‘date movie.’ Many viewers tried to express disapproval at these seemingly insensitive jokes, but often could not help themselves from laughing. MacFarlane seems to know exactly what everyone thinks about controversial topics, their limits and what to say to evoke laughter from the majority of his audience.
At the same time, MacFarlane would have had a more consistently funny act if he included fewer musical performances. He is undoubtedly talented and in another life, could have made a career on Broadway. However, except for the Bond songs, the Oscars could have shed the excess of show tunes. MacFarlane is funnier and more entertaining when he is sedentary, facing the audience and dishing out one-liners and insulting other celebrities. His line poking fun at Daniel Day-Lewis, “I would argue, though, the actor who really got inside Lincoln’s head was John Wilkes Booth,” perfectly embodies MacFarlane’s uncanny ability to go past the realm of the acceptable, but still make everyone laugh and smile. Of course, the line did elicit groans from the live audience, but he quickly chimed in, “Really? 150 years and it’s still too soon?” During this piece of his routine, MacFarlane performed with a smile on his face and even laughed at his own jokes.
Overall, MacFarlane’s performance kept the audience invested. Some people were hooked in because they wanted to see his next performance gaffe, while others stayed tuned in to witness a comedic genius. Detractors of MacFarlane are excited to hear that he has already denied the hosting position of the Oscars for next year.
His supporters are disappointed that they will not get to witness his charm and humor on stage any time soon. Even so, the Oscars did itself a service by asking him to host this year. He may have polarized the crowd, but he also entertained in his own unique way. And let’s be honest, he wasn’t nearly as bad as James Franco.