Ty Burr's modest proposal: A wrench in the works oughtta liven things up

By Ty Burr
September 15, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

How can the Emmy Awards Show be improved?

The Emmys were a big old drag. No surprise there. But do you want to know why?

I mean, it takes more than mere bad taste in production values and ill-informed voting by an electorate slightly older and less maneuverable than the ”Titanic” to make for a lousy awards ceremony. No, what made the recent Emmy telecast such a brain-melting chore to sit through was what the show lacked.

Soy Bomb.

You remember Soy Bomb, don’t you? The guy who mysteriously appeared during Bob Dylan’s onstage performance at the 1998 Grammy Awards, frenetically pogo-ing up and down right next to Bob while showing off the words ”SOY BOMB” scrawled across his naked chest? Turns out he was a ”performance artist” who somehow scammed his way into the hand-picked onstage ”audience,” the better to make his grand sociopolitical statement that we are all… soy bombs… or, uh, something.

Give credit to Dylan for merely eyeballing the guy and going on with his song, perhaps chalking it up to that Blue Sunshine he probably took back in ’67. For those of us watching at home, though, it was exactly the kind of bizarre, unscripted, psychotic blurt that breaks through the maddening tedium of awards shows and that, in fact, makes them bearable.

For precisely that reason, last week’s MTV Video Awards were a lot more fun. You had not one but two — count ’em, two — nominees for Best Supporting Nutcase: the enthusiastic Italian fella in the audience who kept blowing kisses to a visibly rattled Madonna until he was physically escorted out, and the tuxedo-clad gent who interrupted the Backstreet Boys’ acceptance speech to cryptically intone ”Wake up, it?s three in the morning” before skedaddling backstage.

Who were these guys? Who knows? Who cares? Maybe the Italian was Roberto Benigni’s zaftig cousin; maybe Mr. Three in the Morning was the guy who beat up Dan Rather while yelling, ”What’s the frequency, Kenneth?” All I know is that they momentarily ripped a hole in the carefully maintained scrim of banal self-congratulation and let something hairy and strange peek through.

What did you get on the Emmys? Nothing scary. Not even one woolly-headed political speech from a presenter or winner, in the time-honored tradition of Vanessa Redgrave and Sacheen Littlefeather. The closest the show came to oddness was when ”Frasier” writer Jay Kogen thanked his rich white parents, and that was more a pure Hollywood moment than anything else (and, besides, Fox killed the mike before Kogen could give his realtor mother’s 800 number).

I say: To hell with concerns over whether ”The Sopranos” was robbed. Forget about revamping the voting procedures. Instead, next year’s Emmy Awards producers should leave that backstage door to the alley open and hope someone interesting sneaks in. At the very least, don’t you think they could present a statuette for the Best Funky Disruption of a Major Awards Telecast?

Call it the Soy Bomb.