You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to think that Chris Rock and the motion picture Academy are doing everything they can – including fueling a trumped-up controversy – to boost ratings for Sunday’s Oscars.

“You won’t believe the halftime show,” the 40-year-old comedian says with a gleam in his eye on a commercial for the show. In other words, tune in or risk missing the equivalent of a wardrobe malfunction.

The promotional spot is supposed to be funny and provocative in the hopes of luring viewers back to the telecast, which has grown stagnant under the Whoopi-Billy-Steve rotation. The trio has taken turns hosting since 1996, the year after the Academy took its last big risk with David Letterman, who bombed because he refused to suck up to movie stars.

The come-on is that Chris Rock is just as dangerous. He won’t perform any soft shoe and he won’t genuflect to Jack Nicholson.

“Edgy is the word that keeps coming up,” Academy executive director Bruce Davis told The New York Times. “I like to hear that people are nervous, because that means you’re more likely to watch.”

Chris Rock’s ability and willingness to make some people nervous is, ironically, what makes so many other people like him. He is arguably the most popular comedian of our time, yet his stage persona may be more than the Academy Awards can handle. And that’s why he was selected.

Rock has been feeding this hall of mirrors, particularly in an interview with Entertainment Weekly in which he dissed the Oscars, hip-hop style. He never watches, he said, asking what straight black man does? He also called all awards shows idiotic. Telling the truth is no defense.

Rock and the Academy have been promising he won’t go too far. He has repeatedly said he doesn’t have to curse to be funny. But he made his reputation on HBO, where his now-defunct show and groundbreaking standup specials are laced with profanity and taboo subjects.

The Academy and ABC, which is broadcasting the Oscars, have gone out of their way to accommodate Rock’s style without turning his performance into a riff on prison sex.

Just in case, though, there’ll be a time delay. After all, anything can happen. At least that’s what the Academy hopes you think.

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