Oscar Jokes That Got Comedians in Big-Time Trouble
Chris Rock still holds the distinction of being the only comic to get smacked in the kisser for telling an Oscar joke. But plenty of other funny people have received metaphorical gut punches as punishment for painfully unfunny Oscar gags. Here’s a roundup of Academy Award hosts and presenters who probably wanted to kick Bruce Vilanch in the pants for helping them write such garbage.
Seth MacFarlane’s ‘We Saw Your Boobs’ (2013)
Host MacFarlane told plenty of off-color jokes during his Oscars monologue. After poking fun at Denzel Washington, for example, he got off this zinger: “Denzel doesn’t care, he’s got a great sense of humor. He did all those Nutty Professor movies. He’s hilarious.” Get it? They all look alike!
But somehow, MacFarlane found a way to be even more off-putting with one of his swinging big band numbers, “We Saw Your Boobs.” It’s hard to find the joke here, except for the shock value of telling Meryl Streep that you’ve seen her topless.
Amy Davidson at the New Yorker came out swinging: “Watching the Oscars last night meant sitting through a series of crudely sexist antics led by a scrubby, self-satisfied Seth MacFarlane. That would be tedious enough. But the evening’s misogyny involved a specific hostility to women in the workplace.”
Glamour had the guts to bring up the “crudely sexist” criticism to MacFarlane in a puff piece about his upcoming holiday album. But the Family Guy creator insisted we just didn’t get his satire. “(‘We Saw Your Boobs’) was presented as part of an alternate universe where everything at the Oscars was done incorrectly, (but) the media ignored the context entirely,” he protested, unable to understand how we didn’t all get the alternate universe thing. “Comedy and satire being treated with more outrage than actual sexism, racism or homophobia makes no sense at all.”
Adrien Brody Makes Halle Berry the Punchline (2003)
Let’s be generous and call what Brody did to Berry a “joke.” After Berry presented Brody with the trophy for Best Actor, the winner pulled Berry into a passionate clutch and laid a sloppy smooch on her. At least he didn’t accept the award with a cringe Jamaican accent.
Berry played along and laughed, but after the fact, it doesn’t sound like Brody’s horny gag was welcome. On an appearance on Watch What Happens Live, Berry told a caller that the makeout session was in no way planned. “Can I say for real?” she asks Andy Cohen before an angry look clouds her face. “I was like, ‘What the fuck is happening right now?’ That’s what was going through my mind.”
Given Berry’s memory of the bit, it’s pretty weird that the official Oscars YouTube channel still presents the kiss as a “Favorite Oscar® Moment.” Academy member Lisa Churgin introduces the clip by gushing “moments like that are just the best.”
Sacha Baron Cohen Gets Kicked Off the Red Carpet (2012)
Professional comedy troll Cohen used the Oscars red carpet to promote his film The Dictator, arriving in character as tyrant General Aladeen. He carried an urn with him, supposedly containing the ashes of deceased North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. And who better to troll than toothy Ryan Seacrest?
The interaction went a little something like this:
Seacrest: Who are you wearing?
The Dictator: I’m wearing John Galliano, but the socks are from Kmart! As Saddam Hussein once said to me, socks are socks, don’t waste money.
After a little more inane banter, Cohen accidentally-on-purpose stumbled, spilling the dead despot’s ashes all over the American Idol host’s expensive suit. The “ashes” turned out to be pancake batter, but we suspect Seacrest was no less incensed. Security escorted Cohen away. Or maybe it was all a pre-planned hoax — who knows? The Dictator’s final shout as he was led off camera? “Now when people ask what you’re wearing, you will say Kim Jong-il!”
David Letterman Introduces Oprah to Uma (1995)
Maybe the bit sounded funny on paper: “Oprah? Uma. Uma? Oprah. Have you kids met Keanu?” The clunker started David Letterman’s hosting gig off with a thud, and it got worse from there, with The Atlantic dubbing the performance “the gold standard of Oscar bombing.” But it wasn’t just the fact that Letterman’s jokes didn’t play. The New York Times went after Letterman on the underlying nature of the joke: “Mr. Letterman has a questionable mid-America habit of ridiculing names, including those of everyone from immigrant cabdrivers to store owners called Mujibur and Sirajul.” Oof.
Kevin Hart ‘Jokes’ Himself Out of a Hosting Gig (2019)
The 2019 Oscars were weird for lots of reasons, but maybe the strangest thing about the show was that there was no host. That’s because planned master of ceremonies Kevin Hart got the boot after a series of homophobic tweets found their way back into the public consciousness. Hart deleted the lot of them, but you can get the gist from this 2011 post that the diminutive comic tried to erase from public memory: “Yo if my son comes home & try’s 2 play with my daughters doll house I’m going 2 break it over his head & say n my voice ‘stop that's gay.’”
The “joke” isn’t dissimilar to others that Hart told in his 2011 comedy special Seriously Funny, so the Academy had plenty of chances to find out what they were getting into. Hart didn’t help matters in a 2015 Rolling Stone interview when he said he wouldn’t tell those jokes anymore — not because his beliefs had changed but previously “the times weren’t as sensitive as they are now. These things become public spectacles. So why set yourself up for failure?”
Once Hart was announced as host and LGBTQ advocates brought the old jokes to everyone’s attention, the comic doubled down with an Instagram video about his refusal to apologize. The Academy sent Hart on his way, leading to a series of back-and-forth messages from the comic. He's doing some serious damage control in this one.
Give Hart credit — if you’re going to make jokes to embarrass the Oscars, might as well get them out of the way before you have to go to the trouble of hosting.