Legendary Host Dick Cavett’s Advice to Oscar’s Chris Rock: "Don't Be Afraid to Offend" (Guest Column)

Dick Cavett - Getty -  H 2016
Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Writing for THR, the two-time Emmy winner recommends tackling the "bleached-out spectacle" of #OscarsSoWhite and shares the joke he would write for this year's host.

This story first appeared in the March 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Bob Hope once opened the Academy Awards with perhaps the best host opening line ever: "Hey, here it is, Oscar night again. Or, as it's known at my house, Passover." The audience's laughter lengthened the show.

I worshipped Bob Hope, but I can't help wondering how Rapid Robert would handle the controversies that loom over this year's Oscars. Hope wanted to offend no one, ever, and his political "barbs" were pussy-willow soft. This year, the host may well find himself tiptoeing through poisonous tulips. My advice to the host and everybody is: Don't be afraid to offend. People are resilient. Folks have been offended and actually lived. Here's the proper attitude:

ABC: Dick, we feel that some people will be offended.

Me: So?

A good Oscar host should have ready wit, showbiz smarts, ability to deal with inevitable mishaps, and — in an ideal dream — willing to snatch out of a winner's hands, as soon as it appears, that horrid list, a yard long, that goes with those awful, awful words, "I'd like to thank …"

What joke would I write for this year's host? Probably a switch on Jimmy Fallon's recent quip about a heavy snowstorm: "It was just a vast sea of white. I thought I was at the Oscars," he said. How about: "I was in a room backstage earlier with all the nominees, but I had to leave. Snow blindness."

Do forgive me, but I suspect that this year's bleached-out spectacle has less to do with mathematical odds than with something else as American as apple pie. Perhaps it sneaked in unconsciously? Dare one speak its name?

Our stinking racism. Or must we not joke about it? "There are some subjects you can never joke about," we're constantly told.

That would come as news to, say, Mort Sahl, Charlie Chaplin, Lenny Bruce, Joan Rivers, Paula Poundstone, Sarah Silverman, Jonathan Swift, Woody Allen, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher, Louis C.K. and on and on. Let's recall that humor is a deadlier and more effective weapon than witless rage or insult can ever be. Let the master speak: "Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand" (Mark Twain).

Three-time Emmy winner Cavett starred in his own talk show starting in 1968.