Thank the show-biz gods for Jerry Seinfeld. Amid the "Super Size This" atmosphere of "Oprah's Surprise Spectacular," his comic tribute to Winfrey explained why her interplay with performers has often rubbed me the wrong way.
During a hilarious riff on her daily shows as training sessions for husbands like me, who can always use more training, he said that male guests on 'Oprah' actually learned to answer questions and listen.
Seinfeld made a brilliant joke out of Oprah's insistent kind of sincerity -- her view that her sofa was a hot seat for "the truth." Her demand for tell-all honesty made a lot of actors lose their playfulness and wit and edge -- or just go overboard. Is it any wonder that Tom Cruise jumped the couch on "Oprah?" These days it's a relief to see him revert to being a toothy variation on an old-time action hero.
For deadly Oprahfied sincerity, no one can top Tom Hanks. In the pre-Oprah Eighties he burst on the scene as a frolicking comic in TV's "Bosom Buddies" and a feather-light romantic lead in "Splash." In the post-Oprah Nineties and 00s he became increasingly earnest and often dull on-screen, and increasingly sappy off-screen. As one of Oprah's farewell hosts, you could believe in his pride and happiness and sadness and still regret that he wore his heart on his sleeve, his cuff, and his collar. His real emoting looked like mugging.
Not everyone succumbed to Oprah-itis during her final shows.
Like Seinfeld, Will Smith didn't forget that show-biz artists express their authenticity through entertainment. Smith showed you could be full of heart without losing style and panache. Jamie Foxx dazzled the audience with his electrifying performance of "Isn't She Lovely?" The yearning faces and outstretched arms of the females in the audience proved that he convinced each woman in the gigantic stadium (and probably at home, too) that he was singing just to her. It made you wonder when, oh when is Foxx ever going to get another role as great as his Oscar-winning Ray Charles in "Ray" (2004)?
Kristin Chenoweth displayed amazing power and control as she sang "For Good" while hundreds of Morehouse College scholarship students, supported by Oprah, moved in a poignant and inspiring procession onto the stage. In our post-Oprah culture, we've put too big an emphasis on performers being "real." Chenoweth, like Seinfeld, Smith and Foxx, proved what really makes them real is their art.
Photo of Jerry Seinfeld at "Oprah's Surprise Spectacular" by John Gress for Reuters