The day after pretty much every Oscars telecast, everyone writes about how crappy the show was and what needs to be done to fix it. One suggestion that’s always popular is replacing Bruce Vilanch, probably because no one really knows exactly what he does other than wear dumb t-shirts, so it’s easy to blame all the bad jokes on him. However, Bruce isn’t one to let such assertions go unchallenged, as he proved this year when he responded to ThePlaylist calling for his replacement by logging in to point out that he wasn’t even involved with this year’s telecast. Which does make blaming him for how bad it was seem a little unfair (a little).
It turns out, it wasn’t the first time. Shortly after my last Vilanch post, reader Kyle sent me a link to a review he’d written of last year’s show in the University of Maryland newspaper, along with an email he received from Bruce Vilanch about it. Here’s an excerpt from Kyle’s piece:
What they’re looking for is a charismatic version of Bruce Vilanch, the man who has been head writer for the Oscars every year since 2000. Vilanch is exactly what the Academy wants in that he is not offensive, worships the Academy and really isn’t that funny. He takes no chances, not because he doesn’t have the talent, but because when you take chances, you’re attacked like Gervais has been.
As terrible as they are, at least MTV’s Video Music Awards and Movie Awards can be fun because, to some extent, MTV lets the show get a little crazy. People can swear and be a little drunk and it won’t be an embarrassment. It’s what’s expected.
And the following is the response he got from Bruce Vilanch (well, we don’t know for certain it’s Bruce Vilanch, but based on the email address, it seems extremely likely).
Subject: from bruce vilanch — you think i don’t have google alert?
i am wildly charismatic, ask anyone who’s slept with me, and there are
thousands. ok, not charlie sheen-charismatic, but then i no longer
have the chemical assistance.
your very interesting column hurled up on my computer. it never
ceases to amaze me that although there are 12 writers credited with
this year’s show, i wind up getting all the blame, even though i am
not the head writer, there is no head writer. i’ve also been working
on the show since l989, not 2000. it also never ceases to amaze me
how people on the blogosphere do very little homework.
since i am blamed whenever people don’t like it, but never praised
when they do, and since most critics forget that they liked or hated
something two years ago and cite it as a strength or weakness two
years later, i’ve come to be philosophical about the show. if people
don’t like the comic who hosts, they hate the show. if no comic
hosts, they hate the show and demand that a comic be summoned. when
he’s edgier, like chris rock, we get slammed. when he’s bland, like
ellen, we get slammed. but a few things are clear. this is the
oscars. they still mean something after 83 years, at least in the
industry. unlike the mtv awards, their audience is not exclusively
9-18 year olds. unlike the golden globes, the voters are people who
actually make movies, not pretend to be journalists. some things are
simply inappropriate. it’s a dance every year to figure out what
those are. every single line on the oscar show is negotiated. unless
you’ve been there, you have no idea how it is put together. it’s like
nothing else on earth. i’m writing a book about it, but i have to
throw in my sexual escapades to make sure it sells.
the only way the show will ever meaningfully change is if the academy
agrees to off-load some of the less-than-thrilling awards to another
ceremony. that is a very tough sell because of the nature of the
organization, formed at the end of the silent era to give parity to
everyone who works in pictures.
this year, by the way, we had the youngest writing staff ever, many of
them recruited by jud apatow. it made no diffrerence. many of them
had worked on the mtv awards. no diff.
enjoy your crabs,
bruce. it’s really me.
To be honest, I know next to nothing about Bruce Vilanch, other than that he looks like someone dressed a beanbag chair as Garth from Wayne’s World, but he comes off quite charming in his emails. It’s rare that someone can tell you to go f*ck yourself in such a sweet, self-deprecating way (also, “enjoy your crabs” is an interesting closing. I’ve never heard that before, is that a New England thing?). It helps that he’s totally right. No one ever likes the Oscars, and writing for them has to be one of the most thankless tasks in show business outside of being Jerry Bruckheimer’s coke mule. I thought Chris Rock, Dave Letterman, and Jon Stewart were all funny hosts, but there really isn’t much they can do to shake up the general fuddyness of it. It’s the most self-serving, self-mytholigizing ceremony there is and everyone knows it, but you can’t hint at that without Sean Penn getting his little panties in a bunch two seconds later. Whereas comedy is generally about being truthful and unassuming, the Oscars is an absurdly grandiose celebration of elaborate fiction. Of course that shit’s impossible to write for.