Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the 89th annual Academy Awards to honor the best films of 2017. I'm your host, Drew Barrymore, and I'm pleased to begin the evening by presenting the Irving G. Spielberg Award to a man who, some say, has long deserved an Oscar as best actor. Perhaps for his starring debut, in which he courageously demolished racial stereotypes by playing a poor black child ((clip from The Jerk)). Or for the holy rage he summoned as he renounced Kathleen Turner with a ferocious "Into the mud, scum queen!" ((clip from The Man with Two Brains)). And who can forget his transsexual transcendence as a man inhabited by a woman ((All of Me)), or his searing indictment of painful dentistry ((Little Shop of Horrors)), or the role that was commonly judged his best performance of 1987, as the eloquent romantic with a canary on his nose ((Roxanne))? It may be that each of these turns deserved an Oscar -- indeed, that the academy, in its myopic preference for drama over comedy, has ignored generations of superb actors, from Charlie Chaplin to Cary Grant. Tonight, perhaps, we could honor them all by paying tribute to the greatest comic actor in film history . . . Steve Martin!
Comedy is the original no-respect art form. Primitive man knew that if he were to be hit over the head by his fiercest rival, then stumble around and yell "Aarrggh!," he would be acclaimed as a great tragedian. But if he were to do ten minutes of witty stand-up, then bash himself with a club, he would be accused of doing shtick. It is ever thus. At the movies, comedy may be king at the wickets, and most of Hollywood's nouveau novas -- Eddie Murphy, Chevy Chase, Tom Hanks, Dan Aykroyd, Robin Williams, Bill Murray, Pee-wee Herman, Martin Short -- may have won their early stardom cadging laughs on TV or in the burgeoning comedy-club scene (see following story). Yet the Motion Picture Academy continues to lay laurels on lesser mortals whose roles require that they cry over the phone, commit suicide or speak with an English accent.
No emotions are easier to evoke than fear and pity. But comedy is hard. It takes Astaire timing and kamikaze cojones to stand on a stage or a sound stage and do this: wear a novelty-store arrow on your head; blow up balloons, twist them into animal shapes and announce the resulting sculpture as "venereal disease!"; tap-dance maniacally when seized with an attack of "Happy Feet"; then build a movie career running variations on a character you might call the suburban jerk. And mainly this: wait bravely for years until your public gets the comic point.