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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Oscar Night sketches: Still too timid to make room for Sacha Baron Cohen

March 3, 2010 | 11:58 am

We've been hearing over and over for the last few weeks how this year's Oscars -- coming Sunday night, in case you somehow forgot -- are going to be more youth-oriented and less stodgy and full of irreverent appearances by top comedians. But apparently the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' idea of irreverence only goes so far. According to this post from the Vulture's Claude Brodesser-Akner, Sacha Baron Cohen was dropped from the Oscar presenter list less than a week after he was announced, apparently because, as Vulture put it, "he might offend gazillionaire Best Director nominee James Cameron." 

Baroncohen It turns out that Cohen had planned to do a sketch with Ben Stiller with Cohen appearing on stage as a blue-skinned female Na'vi and Stiller translating her native patois. But according the Vulture, as the sketch played out it would become clear that Stiller wasn't properly translating Cohen's responses, making Cohen so upset that "she" would eventually open her Na'vi evening gown to reveal that she'd been impregnated by Cameron, leading to a Jerry Springer-style confrontation with her baby daddy.

Vulture claims that Oscar co-producer Bill Mechanic, having run 20th Century Fox when Cameron made "Titanic" there, squashed the sketch, believing that Cameron, as one insider source put it, "isn't known to be, shall we say, 'self-deprecating.'" The academy confirmed that Cohen was no longer on the presenter's list. Mechanic did not return Vulture's calls, while Cohen's spokesman, Matt Labov, chalked up the flap to "creative differences."

I guess some people would argue that Mechanic did the right things, suspecting the sketch was too brazen. But of course, if you've ever watched the MTV Awards, you'd know that it's the most outrageous moments that become the buzz topic of the day. It's pretty obvious that the Oscars' lack of wild, unfettered humor is one key reason why the telecast's ratings have been in a prolonged downward spiral.

Maybe I'm giving Cameron too much credit, but I'd bet that he could manage to handle being the butt of a few jokes on Oscar night. After all, what's he gonna do -- stalk out of the Kodak Theatre and take a cab home before he sees how many statuettes "Avatar" racks up? Once again, the academy has settled for timidity over some refreshing comic tumult. Happily, there are still a few promising comedians among the presenter ranks, including Stiller, Tina Fey, Steve Carell and Jason Bateman, not to mention the notoriously unfunny Sean Penn.

Photo: Sacha Baron Cohen. Credit: Chris Jackson / Getty Images

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