Tuesday, March 2, 2010

My Oscars monologue

In 2001, I had the great honor of working on the Academy Awards. Gil Cates was the producer and a finer gentleman in this industry would be hard to find. I became friendly with many of the talented and hard-working people, all of whom were old pros at the Oscarcast, but for me, the greatest thrill of all was getting to know Hal Kanter. This writer/director/producer had been in the business since the 30s and worked with everyone from Elvis to Hope & Crosby. I had seen his name on countless film and TV credits too numerous to list but he is a wonderful man with a winning smile and a twinkle in his eye and I use to love hearing him tell stories about the Golden Age of Hollywood.

I was also impressed with how hard he worked writing jokes for that year's host, Steve Martin. Hal would come in everyday and pound away at his typewriter, filling reams of paper with jokes, figuring that for every fifty he wrote, one or two might make the cut. Steve Martin was the same, he came in one day and tried out his monologue on the staff. Many of the best ones never made the cut for the show but it was a great lesson in writing an Oscar monologue - volume, volume, volume. And maybe there might be a couple of gems.

Anyway, fast forward a few years to Oscar season 2008. I thought of Hal and just for the hell of it, thought I'd try and see if I could write some jokes. Now, I'd never done this before, so the fact that I was able to write a single joke, let alone the torrent that flowed was astonishing to me. I was amazed, not that they were any good, but that I could do at all. I got up my nerve and sent them to Hal. A few days later, I got a call, "Is this Mike Thomas, the joke writer?" It was Hal Kanter. He paid me the ultimate compliment and asked if he could steal some of my jokes for an event. Honored, I said yes, of course.

I was never able to get the jokes to the show for the telecast, probably weren't up to Jon Stewart's standards, but I got something better. Hal Kanter told a few of my jokes, and said they brought down the house.

Anyway, since it's Oscar season, here are jokes from Oscartide past.

by Mike Thomas

Jon Stewart walks out on stage wearing a Beatle wig and carrying the air tank cattle gun from “No Country for Old Men.”

Call it, friend-o! (removes the props) Good evening and welcome to the 80th Academy Awards. We are here at Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, the heart of the American film industry, or as it’s also known, no country for old men.

Thank you for coming, ladies and gentlemen. As you know, we are in an election year and these are perilous times we live in. We find ourselves engaged in a deadly conflict where lives are being wasted, millions of dollars lost, massive civil unrest... but enough about the writers’ strike.

Because if the American public wanted to hear name-calling, half-truths, lies, distortions and negative advertising, they could watch the Democrats debate.

I was worried that because of the strike, my monologue tonight would have been forced to be outsourced, like so many other jobs nowadays.
     (in a mock Indian accent)
So, if you please, my name is Jon and I am quite prepared to provide you with all your comedy needs for the evening.

That’s what happens when you buy imported jokes from Asia. And you know, the lead content of those things is just way too high.

I think I speak on behalf of everyone when I say I am so glad the writers’ strike is over. Now the Guild members can go back to their regular gig - being unemployed. But I love the writers, I think they’re worth every penny. I even think they’re worth the four pennies they get from DVD sales.

But since I originally thought I was going to have to ad-lib my own script tonight I wanted to put my own stamp on it, so - and I didn’t check with the Academy on this - I decided to expand the nominees for Best Picture to six films this year. So in addition to the films nominated for Best Picture I have added to the list that criminally neglected masterpiece, “Death to Smoochy.” Sure, it came out a few years ago, but since nobody saw it, I figured what the heck. The recognition is long overdue, I don’t care what Price WaterhouseCooper says.

So, welcome to this year’s Academy Awards, the Super Tuesday of awards shows. The Oscar season is a lot like a presidential election - there’s campaigning, advertising, spin doctors, dirty tricks - everything but hanging chads and the Electoral College.

And this year we celebrate the 80th Academy Awards, ladies and gentlemen. Just think, eighty years ago, back in 1928, right across the street at the Roosevelt Hotel, members of the film industry gathered for the very first time to honor the outstanding films of the year and be accosted on the red carpet by Joan Rivers.

Let’s see, what kind of year has it been in the film industry? Steven Spielberg sold his studio, Tom Cruise bought one for Katie Holmes, and Harvey Weinstein -- uh, whatever happened to Harvey? Is he still here? Oh, there he is. Hi Harvey! Uh, you’ve got something there on your tux, Harve. There, you’ve got it! Nice to see you, call me!

You know, because of the writers’ strike, certain films have been delayed or cancelled by the studios. The sequel to “The DaVinci Code” was postponed because of the strike, although, I heard the real reason was that Tom Hanks needed more time to grow out his hair.

And Oliver Stone’s film about Vietnam, “Pinkville” was cancelled, ostensibly for script reasons, but I hear the UA marketing department was concerned that audiences thought “Pinkville” was a musical about West Hollywood.

It was a good year for musicals, there was a wonderful little film from Ireland called “Once,” that is nominated for Best Song for “Falling Slowly,” which pretty much describes the stock market. Then there was “Enchanted,” a delightful Disney movie starring the lovely Amy Adams that featured the new anthem of the Writer’s Guild, “The Happy Working Song.”

There was “Sweeney Todd” - wasn’t that fantastic? The first slasher musical! Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter singing Stephen Sondheim showtunes while slicing throats and making meat pies out of body parts. Mmmmmm, yummers. Just a word of caution for those attending the Governors’ Ball, stay away from the steak tartar.

I hear the Paramount marketing department wanted to call the movie something else, but, “There Will be Blood,” was already taken.

And then there was “Hairspray,” where John Travolta gained a lot of weight and put on a dress .... (pause, wicked grin) You know, I think you can write your punchline for that one. I don’t want to get sued by the Scientologists.

Although I was fascinated by that Tom Cruise Scientology video on You Tube. I figured that deserved a nomination for Best Animated Short. But I understand Tom’s advisers felt he needed to soften his image and project a gentler side, so in his new movie he’s going to play a German soldier in WWII.

But you know, that’s what’s great about America, the religious freedom we all have. Look at how far we’ve come - a Mormon is running for president, and not just that - we have a black man, we have a woman, we had a Hispanic. And someday, maybe just someday, we could finally tear down the walls of prejudice and have an honest to goodness liberal run for president! Maybe not in my lifetime but, someday.

Actually, there was one liberal in the race, Dennis Kucinich, although I hear he was just using his presidential campaign as a stepping stone for the job he really wants - the lead role in the new “Hobbit” movie.

I’m personally thrilled they’re finally going to make “The Hobbit!” Or as New Line refers to it, “Return of the Ka-ching!” And again I say, if Peter Jackson & Bob Shaye can kiss and make up, peace in our time is possible.

Speaking of the Democrats, Al Gore won a Nobel Prize, isn't that something? Here’s a man who won the popular vote for president, whose movie on climate change won an Oscar, this year he wins an Emmy and now, the Nobel Peace Prize. But I hear what he really wants to do is direct.

This just in, Angelina Jolie has now formally adopted the entire continent of Africa.

This year there was something for everybody. The religious right was very happy about “Juno,” a film about a young pregnant teenager who decides not to get an abortion but to have the baby instead. That is until they found out it was written by an ex-stripper whose name means “devil” in Spanish.

It was a good year for the Affleck family. Ben Affleck, who had been more well-known for his relationships with Matt Damon and Jennifer Lopez, bounced back with a terrific performance in last year’s “Hollywoodland,” and this year, he directed his first film, a terrific movie called “Gone Baby, Gone,” starring his younger brother, Casey Affleck and featuring best supporting actress nominee, Amy Ryan. Well done, Ben.

Brother Casey also had a great year appearing twice opposite Brad Pitt in “Ocean’s 13,” and “The Assassination of Jesse James.” Hmmm, that’s more than Brad and Angelina have appeared together. Brad and Casey - a new item? Scooped you, “Access Hollywood!”

And Mrs. Ben Affleck, otherwise known as the lovely Jennifer Garner, gave a wonderful performance in “Juno,” so here’s to the Afflecks! I don’t really have a joke for this, I just like saying the name Affleck. (Quacks) Affleck!

Speaking of Brad Pitt, I feel he got robbed by not getting nominated for “The Assasination of Jesse James,” he was excellent in that. I guess he’ll just have to console himself with Angelina Jolie, his kids and a chateau in France. Hardly seems fair.

And poor Angelina was overlooked too, for her fine work in “A Mighty Heart” where she gave an outstanding performance as Marianne Pearl. If I may offer a bit of advice to Brad and Angie... guys, you need to raise your public profile. Hire yourself a publicist, get your picture on the cover of a magazine once in awhile. You need the exposure, otherwise they forget. Just some friendly advice.

Let’s see, it was a big year for Texas in the movies. The Lone Star state was the locale for the amazing Coen brothers film, “No Country for Old Men,” also known as “the Terminator Goes West.” Then there was “Charlie Wilson’s War,” a comedy about a drunken, pro-gun liberal Democratic congressman from East Texas who did drugs, attended right-wing fundraisers, chased women and helped win the Cold War. Now, that really is a movie with something for everybody. And it was a true story!

Another true story was “Into the Wild,” directed by the two-fisted Sean Penn. Great job, Sean, and I’m not just saying that because you scare me. It was a wonderful film and featured a fantastic performance by the great Hal Holbrook, a national treasure.

And speaking of national treasures - how's that for a segue -- there was another one of those "National Treasure" movies. You might remember the first one, where Nic Cage goes in search of the Declaration of Independence? I hear in the new one he goes in search of the missing Bill of Rights.

And you know, speaking of Texas, although it was set in California, “There Will be Blood” was filmed there in Texas. Anybody here remember when they actually made films in Hollywood? But it was a great film and I see Daniel Day-Lewis in the audience, well done, sir. He is not only one of the finest actors of our time but a darn swell cobbler as well. See these shoes? Yep, he made them. But next time, Danny, not so tight in the insole, OK? Thanks.

He was brilliant in “There Will be Blood” where he played a ruthless oilman who would trample over anyone to achieve wealth and power. Or as Dick Cheney called it, “the feel good movie of the year.”

Then there was “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” a movie about a man who can’t move. It was sort of like that Javier Bardem film of a few years ago, “The Sea Inside,” but without the action.
(He blinks several times)

Javier Bardem had a big year, didn’t he? He was in “Love in the Time of Cholera” and also, of course, “No Country for Old Men,” where he set men’s hairstyles back twenty years, which I personally want to thank him for.
(Brushes hair)

Let’s see, it was a big year for movies about expectant mothers. Ellen Page scored an Oscar nomination for “Juno;” Katherine Heigl got “Knocked Up” and became a big star, not something that usually works out that way.

The movie “300” was a big hit, and I found it really informative. For example, I never knew that the ancient Persians used giant lobster claw men at the Battle of Thermoplyae or that the King of Persia frequented S&M parlors. I hadn’t seen so many body piercings since my last trip to Starbucks.

And then my old “Daily Show” colleague, Steve Carrell, violated one of the oldest rules in show business by appearing with children and animals in “Evan Almighty.” (shakes head) If I may be allowed a personal moment here to talk to Steve.

He walks into the audience to Steve Carrell.

Stephen, Stephen... You know, when you said you wanted to leave the show and come out to Hollywood to pursue a movie career, I was supportive, but I warned you they would just break your heart out here. I know, look what happened to me with “Smoochy!”

OK, so you got lucky with “The 40 Year Old Virgin,” and “Little Miss Sunshine,” but Steve, "Evan Almighty?" I mean, really. You know, I told you that no matter what happens, we’d always keep your chair ready for you back on “The Daily Show” if things didn’t work out. Isn’t it time to outgrow this mid-life “I want to be a movie star” thing, and come home to your “Daily Show” family? The children miss you. Just think about it, OK, buddy?

He walks back to the stage.

Sorry for that Oprah-like moment but it needed to be done. Let’s see, what other movies were there? Well, there was “Atonement,” a powerful film about a novelist’s lifetime of regret at having told a horrible lie that destroyed the lives of innocent people. You could tell it was a British film because in America when someone does that, they get re-elected.

And George Clooney was terrific in “Michael Clayton“ where he played a corporate lawyer who develops a conscience. Which just goes to show there will always be an audience for fantasy films.

And there was “Lars & the Real Girl,” a charming comedy about a young man and his, er, inflatable girlfriend. It turned out to be a sweet film, but I was upset by it. I figured if they were going to make a movie about by my life they could have at least hired me as a consultant.

Another thing that bothered me throughout the year was that the movie titles were so confusing. For example, I thought “The Kingdom” was a film about Rupert Murdoch and Sumner Redstone.

I thought “I’m Not There” wasn about the FEMA relief effort in New Orleans.

And contrary to my expectations, the “Transformers” movie was not about Bill & Hillary Clinton.

What else? Well, I thought “The Hoax” was going to be about the search for Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. Wrong again.

And “Breach” was not about the Valerie Plame CIA leak.

Sometimes, being wrong about a title is a good thing. For example, I was needlessly worried that “The Bucket List,” was a movie about my acting career, but thankfully, no.

And, “I am Legend,” was not a movie about Jack Nicholson.

“Away From Her” was not about the Democrats and Hillary Clinton.

And I foolishly thought “Gone, Baby, Gone” was gonna be about the 10 billion dollars in cash that’s missing in Iraq, nope.

And with a title like “Walk Hard” I thought it was gonna be a love story!

So you see, it pays to read up on the films before you go.

It was also a year of strange casting choices. Not only did John Travolta play a housewife in “Hairspray,” but six different actors played Bob Dylan, including Cate Blanchett. And they say there are no good parts for a woman anymore.

But it was a good year for Sixties rock legends - there was a hit Beatles movie, “Across the Universe,” there was the Dylan film, and now, Martin Scorsese is doing a concert documentary on the Rolling Stones, tentatively titled “The Night of the Living Dead.”

But my favorite Sixties musical of the year was about the greatest band of them all, and tonight they are here to perform for you. So ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Alvin and the Chipmunks!

Alvin and the Chipmunks walk out (either CGI or people in costume) and begin singing a new version of “The Chipmunk Song”:

Oscar, Oscar time is near
Everyone is full of cheer.
I can hardly stand the wait,
Please, Oscar don’t be late.

Ads in the trades every day,
Screeners show up on Ebay.
Publicists work hard for their pay
Until that Oscar day!

That was very good, Simon.

Thank you.

Theodore, you were excellent.

Thank you, Jon.

Uh, you were a little flat there,
Alvin. Alvin?

(He is nowhere to be found)

(We see Alvin backstage chatting up one of the beautiful starlets)

(He rushes back onstage)

Limo drivers everywhere,
Overpriced salons styling hair.
Botoxed faces, Best Picture races,
Oscar’s in the air!

Now at last, the big night’s here.
Full of hope, full of fear.
And if you lose,
Don’t shed a tear.
There’s always a chance next year!
So don your tuxes,
Put on your gowns.
Oscar time is here....

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 80th Academy Awards. We’re glad our writers are back and that the show will go on!

And on... And on...

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