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Chris Rock's humorous jabs fail to draw blood

So, OK, asked Chris, addressing the elephant in the room. “Is Hollywood racist?”

Considering that the stench of peanuts was everywhere, what choice did he have after all?

Well, he explained, not “Burning Cross Racist.” Or “Fetch Me a Lemonade” racist.

As he once explained to President Obama, it’s like this in Hollywood: “They just don’t hire black people. And they’re the nicest white people on earth. They’re liberals.”

So what kind of racists are they to Chris?

They’re sorority racists: “We like you Rhonda. You’re just not ‘Kappa.’ ”

[Read: Celebrities and their dazzling fashions do not disappoint]

Now that’s not bad. In the guise of the Oscars’ requisite opening comedy routine, Chris Rock managed to explain more about how racism operates in the liberal precincts of 21st century America than a lot of journalism has. That’s how Tocqueville’s “tyranny of the majority” manages to govern so much when liberals are in charge. Fraternity and sorority rules.

Funny, too, were Rock’s man-on-the-street interviews outside a theater in Compton (as in “Straight Outta Compton”). It was his comic high point of the night.

For those of us looking for blood or insight from Rock on Sunday’s Oscars, that was about it. The evening’s dealings with Topic A were only significant in their toothlessness except when the subject was the most famous boycotters of all, Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith. It was fun to watch Tracy Morgan starring in the “diverse” Oscar version of “The Danish Girl” but the only blood spilled was the Smiths.

Somehow, Hollywood’s moneyed decision-making class got off scot free while Rock told us that Jada Pinkett Smith boycotting the Oscars is like “me boycotting Rihanna’s panties.” Or, as he explained in case we didn’t get the joke, “I wasn’t invited.” Not that he wouldn’t want to be, he assured us, just so we wouldn’t have our doubts.

I’m sorry, that’s just a bad joke. It would barely fly in a movie about an obscenity-spouting teddy bear. Kevin Hart said before the show, he’d advise his “mentor” and “friend” Rock just to do what he always does: “what you do best – make people feel awkward, make people uncomfortable and then let people relax.” Relaxation was wall to wall Sunday night. The only people feeling awkward and uncomfortable, frankly, were those of us who had such great hopes for Rock as the Oscar host with the best chance of getting across what needed to be.

The Smiths took it hard. As Rock made sure we appreciated “it’s also not fair that Will Smith got $20 million for ‘Wild, Wild West.’ ” Just to be absolutely clear that Will and Jada were being targeted for their apostasy, Angela Bassett did a “Black History Month” joke describing what seemed to be Will Smith and then revealing that she was talking about Jack Black.

At that point, I thought that if Billy Crystal had been hauled down from the attic to get his jokes from the living Hollywood joke machine that is Bruce Vilanch, they’d have been sharper and more pointed. (Vilanch’s most famous employer, Bette Midler, tweeted before the event that the Oscars are an event where Leonardo DiCaprio is considered “overdue” for an Oscar but “black people can wait till next year.”)

Funnier in less than a minute than Rock was for the whole show was Louis C.K., introducing a category whose winner was a documentary short about honor killings that changed laws in Pakistan. It was a slice of what Oscars can be.

So when your host comes up short, what have you got? Lady Gaga’s melodramatic song. And the awards. It was a huge surprise – but not a bad one – that Mark Rylance won the Supporting Actor Oscar over Sylvester Stallone. Rylance had about 25 lines in “Bridge of Spies.”

And Ennio Morricone, even for the despicable “Hateful Eight?” Sublime. Surprising was Sam Smith’s claim to be the only openly gay Oscar winner ever. And Leo’s urging not to take the planet for granted. The rest? As expected. Not a stellar night. The films were better. God, were they ever.


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