Jimmy Kimmel’s tourists and the danger of awards-show stunts

Denzel Washington
Denzel Washington, center, mock-marries an engaged couple with Jimmy Kimmel looking on during the 89th Academy Awards.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Hollywood is often accused of existing in its own bubble that bears little resemblance to the world at large. So when it comes to the film industry’s biggest night, it’s no surprise that hosts of the Academy Awards often go to great lengths to prove it’s just like the rest of America.

Jimmy Kimmel, host of Sunday’s Oscars, put his own spin on this trend by setting up a stunt that tricked a busload of Tinseltown tourists into stumbling into the Dolby Theatre with the ceremony already in progress.

His stunt wasn’t exactly new, though. In 2014, host Ellen DeGeneres had an unsuspecting delivery man distribute pizza in the auditorium — and he ended up with a $1,000 tip for his efforts. And Chris Rock, who hosted last year, brought out a local Girl Scout troop to sell cookies to hungry millionaires.



In Kimmel’s version, the unsuspecting tourists came into the ceremony and were immediately brought in front of the crowd. The host asked their name and where they were from, introduced them to celebrities and offered to let them touch Mahershala Ali’s Oscar.

Some thought it was a charming display of Hollywood’s star power, but for others it was unclear who was the butt of the joke.

When DeGeneres ordered pizza, she was ribbing herself and the audacity of following through with a live pizza delivery. When Rock brought in Girl Scouts to shake down the Hollywood elite, the joke was on the attendees, who got a taste of what the rest of us experience with every trip to Ralph’s. (The taste? Thin Mint.)


The success of Kimmel’s stunt depends on whom you consider the rube in this situation. Was it Jennifer Aniston, who was shamed into giving a stranger her sunglasses? Was it “Gary From Chicago” whose charming antics garnered him instant Internet fame followed by immediate public scrutiny? Or was it Kimmel for trying to pierce Hollywood’s bubble with a dose of common folk?

When an ordinary person becomes the punchline to Hollywood’s joke, there are consequences that Kimmel and his ilk aren’t equipped to handle.

For Gary Alan Coe, that meant the overnight revelation that he was newly out of prison and a prominent public appraisal of his criminal background. Ted Williams met a similar fate when the homeless man with the golden voice was plucked from obscurity via a YouTube video and paraded around the morning shows before having his criminal history and ongoing struggle with drug and alcohol addictions revealed to the world.

The punchlines might be murky, but the reality isn’t: When it comes to injecting live drama into the Oscars, it’s better to deliver food, not tourists.

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