So I checked in with Twitter to see how everyone thought Billy Crystal did. The consensus: He was horrible.
“RIP Billy Crystal’s hosting abilities” –said @hipstermermaid
“The biggest problem with Billy Crystal's Sammy Davis Jr. impersonation is that no one knows who Sammy Davis Jr. is anymore. Or Billy Crystal” – said @carolynedgar
“I've never done anything in my life awful enough to deserve seeing Billy Crystal as Tin Tin.” – said @MichelleCollins
"Billy Crystal is still on. Oh wait...this is The Walking Dead." – said @BeTheBoy
“Billy Crystal should not be making old people jokes, because his real face is going to get upset.” – said the writer Tad Friend (@tadfriend)
Full disclosure: I got in the act, too. (I Tweet under the handle @maxthegirl):
“This is really playing to the crucial 55 to dead demographic.” – I wrote after Billy’s opening monologue
And later, on a slightly more conciliatory note: “Weekend at Billy’s was actually not half bad.”
But here’s the thing. The past few years, there’s been a succession of hosts—Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin, Hugh Jackman, last year’s failed experiment of Anne Hathaway and James Franco, even such social media darlings as Jon Stewart and Ellen DeGeneres. And what did we say every time? You sucked!! BRING BACK BILLY CRYSTAL!
So what happens? They bring back Billy Crystal and we all hate him for being, well, Billy Crystal.
To paraphrase the old Vikings coach Dennis Green: “Billy Crystal was who we thought he was.”
Even in his prime, he was a throwback, a genial, borscht-belt-style comedian in an age of snark.
Can anyone really get bent out of shape over that corny (and loving) Sammy Davis Jr. impression—a joke he’s done hundreds of times before? That’s like getting mad at your Uncle Morty for his “hide the penny behind your ear” routine. And are we really surprised he did “kissing George Clooney” shtick or “Morgan Freeman is the voiceover king” shtick or any of the other kind of safe, old-timey, Sid Caesar-esque jokes that put him on the map.
What did we expect? For Billy to suddenly turn into Louis CK? (Hmmm…now there’s an idea for a host.) And if Louis CK—probably the funniest guy in comedy right now—did host the Oscars, you know what we'd say, right? That his tux was ill-fitting. His jokes were too profane. He wasn’t sufficiently respectful of the moment. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
Yeah, I’m saying you literally can not win.
What’s troubling about all this, to me at least, is that the Twitter hate seems to come reflexively, instantaneously, and sometimes—as was the case for Madonna’s actually kinda awesome Superbowl half-time show—before the performer has opened his or her mouth.
Look, as a critic, I know that it’s more fun to pan a movie than praise one (few things are more satisfying than a well-placed put-down). It’s also fairly foolproof. If you praise something that everyone else hates, you look like a schmuck. But if you pan something that everyone else loves, you’re just edgy, ahead of the curve.
But there has to be some room for praise, for love, for irony-free appreciation, right? Somebody has to be brave enough to step forward and says, “Billy Crystal was comforting and corny and silly and. . .everything we wanted him to be.” So yeah, I’ll say it. Have at me.
Meanwhile, this morning, there’s a movement on Twitter to get Chris Rock to be the next Oscars host. I love Chris Rock and I think he’d do a bang-up job. Therefore, I have one thing to say to him: “Run away, Chris Rock! Run away!”
Edited to add: My pal Chuck Duncan just reminded me that Rock DID host the Oscars, in 2005. Tom Shales of The Washington Post called him "strangely lame and mean-spirited" and Caryn James of The New York Times said "his few attempts to put his mark on the event fell flat." So there you go.
Photo: Courtesy of the AP