Is Sacha Baron Cohen’s Oscar Red Carpet Stunt Less Funny If It’s A Set-Up?

Ryan Seacrest got some ashes dumped on him in what was the best moment of last night's Oscars, but it was probably a total set-up. Does that kill the joke?

The days before the Oscars saw the entertainment press (and far too many fanboy sites) breathlessly reporting that the Academy of Motion PIcture Arts and Sciences had banned Sacha Baron Cohen from coming to the big show because he planned on doing a stunt for The Dictator. That sounds like a buzzkill position, but for years AMPAS had a policy of no promotion at the Oscars - the event was supposed to be about the movies that had come in the year before. 

All of this was naked publicity for The Dictator, and it was sort of ugly to see it get so much play. But that's the nature of entertainment journalism all too often these days, and so Paramount got a ton of free publicity. Then on the day of the Oscars we heard that Cohen would be showing up, and that he would be in full Dictator drag. And when he came on the red carpet this happened:

That's pretty funny, and it couldn't have happened to a better target than Ryan Seacrest.

But here's the rub: according to Deadline Hollywood, Tom Sherak - the president of AMPAS - is a paid marketing consultant for Paramount, the studio releasing The Dictator. Now all of the 'banned/not banned' stuff becomes clearer, as you realize that Sherak was using the Academy Awards as a platform to promote his client. And suddenly this stunt gets less funny, in my opinion. It's very plausible that Seacrest was in on the joke the whole time. After all, he had a second tux essentially waiting (he could have backups prepared anyway, to be honest). 

The joy of Borat is that there was a danger to what Cohen was doing. If he's simply doing Academy-allowed PR stunts that's much less interesting, daring and cool. In fact it's just as bad as the strained, phony banter too many presenters are forced to partake in on the Oscar stage.