Comic Doug Benson on the Ups, Downs and Delights of Live-Tweeting the Oscars

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The Academy Awards telecast stopped being a one-screen experience years ago. An Oscar viewing party is all well and good, but with a computer or phone nearby, a virtual theater full of people will enhance the experience from the first red-carpet arrivals to the music playing over the Best Picture winner’s speech. Yes, your friends are witty and can also fetch you a beer, but the best jokes about the winners, losers and everything in between are on Twitter. Some professionals make watching the Oscars simply worth the hours (and hours) spent. Doug Benson is one of them.

A stand-up comedian and writer — including penning jokes for award shows — Benson began recording a weekly podcast called Doug Loves Movies in 2006. Movieline talked with the devoted movie fan about the fleeting art of live-tweeting cinema’s greatest night, who the best hosts are and whether the Oscars ever really pull off comedy.

Are you live-tweeting the Oscars this year? How many ceremonies (Oscars, Golden Globes) have you done?
I'm planning on it. As long as I can get Internet access wherever I'm watching the show. … I live-tweet every show that I can, as long as everyone is seeing it live at the same time. The Grammys are on a tape delay on the West Coast, so it’s not fun live-tweeting that when the East Coast saw it all hours before.

What's been the entertainment value of the Oscar ceremonies of the past few years?
There is very little entertainment value. That’s why I live-tweet during it. To entertain myself and anyone else who might find the whole thing boring. I love movies, and I love that the Oscars honor filmmakers that do great work, but the whole thing is usually a fucking slog. The Golden Globes were so boring this year, I lost interest in live-tweeting it halfway through.

Do you think the Twitter/comedian commentariat builds up the mythology of the Oscars?
It makes the Oscars more tolerable, for sure. Which is good for the Oscars, I guess. When the jokes are lacking on the show, people can turn to Twitter for some laughs, instead of turning the show off and finding something of value to do with their night.

What do you think about the relationship between comedy and the Oscars?
Having written for several award shows, I know that banter is tough to pull off, even by performers known for their comedic chops. Because the whole setup is so artificial, and the audience in the auditorium really doesn’t give a shit about hearing jokes. They just want to win or lose and go to a party.
 
Should most presenters stick to non-comedic intros?
That can be even more deadly than trying to be funny. When the Oscars trot out an actor to tell us how sound editing works, the home audience trots to the kitchen or the bathroom. My favorite intro I ever wrote for someone, which was actually approved and said by Jennifer Jason Leigh on the Independent Spirit Awards: “Without screenwriting, movies would be plays.”

Is there anything you're looking forward to at the Oscars this year? 
Billy Crystal singing about Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. It’s always weird to me that he sings a medley about nominated movies, even if it’s serious shit like Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan.
 
Where would you rank Billy Crystal among the past Oscar hosts?
Definitely up there with Johnny Carson and Bob Hope as the best. Those guys know how to say something funny after something silly just happened, and in a self-deprecating way. I liked when Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin hosted together. I even liked the David Letterman year. A comedian is always going to be the best choice.

Follow Doug Benson's Academy Awards live-tweeting at @DougBenson.

[Photo: Robyn Von Swank]



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