Seth MacFarlane: Destroying What You Are By Being What You’re Not

26 Feb

Seth MacFarlane managed to bomb the Oscars by apologizing for being himself, rather than just being himself. 


There were witty gags and awkward staring-at-floor-and-wondering-when-Jack-Nicholson-would-finally-arrive moments.   But every comedian has jokes that work and others that fall flat.  That’s not what’s interesting from a messaging point of view.  Where MacFarlane really bombed was his complete lack of authenticity and inability to establish a connection with audience.

When did this happen?  Two answers.  Answer One: about five minutes and eight seconds into his performance (we’ll get to that).  Answer Two: likely about a month before the show when he started worrying about his ability to pull off the Oscars.  There was a freak-out moment when MacFarlane went from “wow, I’ve been asked to follow in the footsteps of Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg” to “how the hell do I follow in the footsteps of Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg?”

Vanity – and the fear of being negatively compared to your esteemed peers – does strange things to people.  To avoid the fear of being labeled the worst Oscar host in history, McFarlane decided five minutes into the show to do a skit with William Shatner giving him the “worst host ever” label preemptively. Apart from being a self-fulfilling prophesy, it came across as horribly insecure and inauthentic.

Think about it this way.  Imagine you’re adored by bijillions of Family Guy and Ted fans, you’ve been selected by the ultimate Hollywood institution to host the Oscars, and you’re playing in front of a hometown crowd.   And yet you feel the need to pre-emptively tell everyone how awful you are?

The alternative would have been for MacFarlane to display exactly who he is – the sophomoric humor dude.  Every guy with a man cave loves MacFarlane.  Trying to “excuse” this self by making fun of the one thing that he actually is – the sophomoric humor dude – just didn’t work.  His role model should have been Ricky Gervais.  Gervais didn’t apologize for his piercing, uncomfortable, in-your-face sense of humor when he hosted the Golden Globes in 2010.  He knew that’s who he was, and he thrived in it.

And he got invited back to do it again in 2011.  And again in 2012.  By contrast, MacFarlane, not content with pre-emptively saying he was the worst host ever, also sent out a tweet after the Oscars pre-emptively declining an invitation back.  Had he just been himself, MacFarlane’s core constituency would have adored him even more, and everyone who didn’t like his humor would have just written it off as “not their thing.”

But instead, MacFarlane managed to ingratiate himself with basically no-one and, through his lack of authenticity, create the broad perception that he really was the worst host of all time.  How’s that for controlling your messaging?!


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