During the recent Oscar telecast, host, Jimmy Kimmel made a joke about actor/comedian, Pauly Shore. Kimmel quipped to the audience: “Thirty-one years ago, in 1992, Brendan Fraser and Ke Huy Quan were in a movie together, ‘Encino Man.’ Two actors from ‘Encino Man’ are nominated for Oscars. What an incredible night it must be for the two of you and what a very difficult night for Pauly Shore.”
Shore responded by saying he “loved it” and he went on to congratulate his two co-stars. He even left a Tweet telling fans to “never quit on your dreams.” Shore took it all in stride and didn’t show any resentment for the call back and for the obvious slight to his own career path.
I can’t dispute Shore’s reaction and I have no basis by which to assume that his sentiment was to mask hurt feelings and wasn’t 100% sincere, but…I’m going to. Because it has to hurt a little. Perhaps, not as a deep wound and perhaps the mention during the Oscars has some positive affects that Shore is enjoying, but on some level, as a human being undeserving of being made fun of at his industry’s biggest event, the fact that his career worked as a punchline, has to sting.
Pauly Shore was a pretty big star in the early 90s starring in high concept comedies with his patented character creation he called, “The Weasel.” I wasn’t particularly a fan and so I couldn’t say much about his movies but I vaguely recall a stoned, happy-go-lucky character who was a bit laconic. I was in the business and so I was aware of his popularity and I was also aware of the mounting criticism and declining box office each subsequent film received.
By the mid to late 90s it seemed that the popular consensus was that Shore had become a parody of his parody and that he was washed up. In fact, his effort to resuscitate his career in 2003 was a mockumentary called “Pauly Shore Is Dead” in which he pretended to die in order to drum up some popularity for his films.
In short, he became a symbol of faded popularity and a punchline for any sad riches to rags saga. To be fair, he has always worked, his pedigree is famous, and I’m sure he hasn’t struggled for money, but he has struggled for respect. Respect that he deserves. Respect that is compromised when Oscar hosts make fun of the fact that he was, in a sense, left behind in Encino.
I’m no stranger to this kind of criticism. Please don’t think I am fishing for compliments (I assure you I am not), but I’ve found myself in more “worst ever” lists than I care to mention. I saw my career ridiculed once in a copy of “The Onion.” In Rolling Stone’s ranking of SNL cast members I’m near the bottom. The latter isn’t criticism, per se, but the compulsion to make careers a competition makes strange bedfellows.
It’s a distinction I never wanted but I know exactly how I got there. I also know (and I’ve been anxious to type this to head off any “poor Gary” comments) that I am happier, more fulfilled and brimming with more confidence than I ever knew in three decades as an actor. I’ve always believed I had the talent to succeed in several aspects as a performer (which did lead to some quantifiable success), but I never developed the tools needed to stay there or to build an enviable career. I was afraid of going too far down Hollywood’s rabbit hole and of becoming someone I didn’t know.
Many (many) actors don’t lose themselves and don’t sacrifice their morals, values or integrity, and I might have been one of those admirable sorts (like my friends still in the business). But I was afraid of losing aspects to my life that I believed made me the person who wanted to perform in the first place.
That’s a conundrum, to be sure, but I have a feeling that if you’re an actor reading this, you might understand.
So, I know what being perceived as someone who came up short feels like. I’ve always bristled when Joe Piscopo has received criticism for not becoming as bankable a star as Eddie Murphy. He didn’t, but he did things “his way” and I know for a fact how hard Joe works and how talented he is. I defy 1000 actors who may be bigger names to win any talent competition against Joe.
What causes this toxic trend of humans to put others down to either distance themselves from so called “failures” or to associate themselves with success by drawing the contrast?
Certainly, the advent of social media has drawn out the critical crowd because now we can be warrior-critics with relative anonymity or at least keep distance from our subjects. Now there is a wind tunnel/echo chamber to propagate and promulgate our opinions on everything from performances to proper pronouns. But “Criticism Culture” goes deeper than the platforms that share our subjective folly.
Criticism is rewarded. Criticism has been exalted to the speech of (ex) presidents. Criticism has become a measurement for entertainment; for debate; for relationships.
And criticism is also the toxic exhaust of a society that is losing its compassion for others.
There is good criticism. We’ve all heard of “constructive criticism” and it’s a real thing. It is the clear, direct, and honest communication of ideas that could lead to positive change. It has an intention to help and even if it doesn’t, or is rejected, it usually wasn’t delivered to hurt.
And that is where this essay began and where it will end. It is the intention that is relevant and it is the intention that has become hurtful. I’m sure Jimmy Kimmel had no axe to grind or ill will toward Pauly Shore, but in an increasingly hostile environment our standards have been lowered to a new normal. A new normal where the laugh is more important than the quality of the joke. Where the insult is more important than any attempt at resolution.
And Pauly….I did see “Bio-Dome.” I wasn’t your target audience and didn’t like it much. But I admired you for finding a formula that put you on top of pop culture, even if just for a little while. Far more than I ever did (and about a million other actors).