Lighten up, folks.
That's the message today from Oscar producer Gil Cates over reports that some members of the Motion Picture Arts & Sciences were rankled by comments that this year's Academy Awards emcee, Chris Rock, made poking fun at Hollywood's biggest night.
"Come on, it's a fashion show," the Bring the Pain comic says in the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly. "What straight black man sits there and watches the Oscars? Show me one. And they don't recognize comedy, and you don't see a lot of black people nominated, so why should I watch it?"
Rock also disparaged the idea of giving out trophies in lower-profile technical categories. "Awards for art are f---ing idiotic," he says. (Rock has previously said that, if Jamie Foxx doesn't win Best Actor for Ray, "I'll take an Oscar from one of the sound or light people that win and give it to him. Jamie Foxx is not going to walk out of that place without an Oscar.")
On Sunday, the Drudge Report ran an item headlined "Host Chris Rock Shock: Only Gays Watch Oscars" that anonymously quoted Academy members calling for Rock's ouster to not "tarnish the reputation of the Academy."
By Monday, Cates was attempting to defuse the situation and defend his unconventional choice of Rock as Oscar host.
"The Academy is excited about Chris Rock hosting this year's Oscar telecast and looking forward to a very funny evening with him," Cates said in a statement. "Chris' comments over the past few weeks are meant to be humorous digs at a show that some people, obviously including Chris himself, think may be a bit too stuffy."
"The Academy has heard no grumbling from its members and has no intention of even suggesting that Chris step aside," Cates added.
The joke-slinger's rep, Matt Labov, declined to comment on the flap. But the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation rushed to Rock's defense, suggesting the Drudge item was trying to make something of nothing.
"Chris Rock isn't making fun of gays--he's poking fun at the Oscars," said GLAAD executive director Joan Garry. "It's shtick."
Of course, this wouldn't be the first time Rock has gotten into a Drudge match. In March 2003, the comedian blasted the Internet maven for an online report alleging studio bosses at DreamWorks pressured Rock to refrain from making any un-funny remarks against President Bush and the War in Iraq before his comedy Head of State hit theaters.
At the time, Rock said: "I don't know Matt Drudge, I never met Matt Drudge, but if I see Matt Drudge, I'm going to take my red-blooded American foot and put it up his un-American ass for trying to disrupt the opening of my movie."
Meanwhile, at an Oscar fashion event Tuesday, Cates was still finding himself sticking up for Rock. "When I was a kid--I'm from the Bronx--when I was a little boy I didn't watch the Oscars, not out of any sense of disrespect, but they just weren't part of my life. I can understand why, as a child Chris, wouldn't have watched it. It's kind of dopey to take [his remarks] out of context," he told E!
"At some point you've got to lighten up and take the fact that what he's saying is for the purpose of making us laugh."
Those latter remarks could be meant to address the humor-deficient oldster wing of the Academy. As noted in an editorial in Tuesday's Hollywood Reporter, "It isn't homophobia that's getting [Rock] into trouble but a lack of deference to the event. This is the same problem that got another guy who hangs out in New York, David Letterman, into trouble during his infamous stint at the Oscar helm. He was an outsider who failed to gauge the tolerance a Hollywood crowd would have for a guy poking harmless but pointed fun at their revered institution--and the crowd turned on him."
"The fact that Rock is the best thing that could happen to the way-too-full-of-its-bloated-sense-of-self-importance Academy Awards is undeniable," the Reporter continues.
"He's a pro. He knows how to behave himself...He won't be ruining your precious Oscars. But please don't ask him to be a Boy Scout, either. You can't hire a pit bull and expect a poodle to show up."
This is the first Oscar-hosting gig for Rock, who's taking over for the Academy's usual go-to guy, Billy Crystal. Crystal led last year's ceremony to its best ratings in four years with 43.5 million viewers. Cates & Co. hope the always edgy Rock will not only keep the show lively and viewership high, but also attract a younger demo to the telecast.
ABC will air the Academy Awards almost live (there's a seven-second delay in case Rock or someone else gets too crazy) from Hollywood's Kodak Theater on Feb. 27.