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Bruce Vilanch tells you how to write the Oscars

Vilanch has been one of the writers for the Oscar show for 14 years.  

By Paul Clinton

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- Bruce Vilanch, the openly gay writer/comedian best-known as the "Hollywood Squares" guest with red glasses, wild mop of blond hair, and zany T-shirts, assumes another role this time of year: head Oscar writer.

Vilanch has another life -- he's written for Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg, Steve Martin, and even Donny and Marie Osmond -- but award shows are his bread and butter. This is his 14th year with the Academy Awards.

CNN talked to Vilanch -- or rather listened to him, because you can't get a word in edgewise -- just a few days before Oscar night about what it takes to write the words for one of the most-watched programs of the year.

CNN: Where do you get your material year after year?

Vilanch: The nice thing is the academy serves up a whole new raft of movies every year, so the movies are what actually fuel the ideas -- other than having the everyday trauma of "AM I FUNNY TODAY?!" Then I look in the mirror and say, "Yes, you're still funny."

CNN's Paul Clinton talks with the producer and one of the writers of this year's Academy Awards show (March 20)

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CNN: The academy seems to deal with such serious films [and issues]. This year it seems to be mental illness, "Iris," "Beautiful Mind," "I Am Sam." Is that a problem?

Vilanch: That's typical of the academy. I don't know why that is. They're in therapy now. Hey, there's still Hobbits running around, and there's still girls in can-can skirts. There's a couple of things we can still make fun of, still use as a base. It's always a challenge, but who said mental illness isn't funny? Even my shrink laughed.

CNN: Do you ever freeze the show [finalize it before air] or are you writing throughout?

Vilanch: We're writing constantly. We're in the wings with Whoopi, with the host, watching TV and eating delicatessen, because it's a long night.

CNN: If you're writing on the fly, how do you deal with ABC censors? Don't they have to approve the material?

Vilanch: We'll get the censor on the phone. On the hotline! We can get her away from what she's eating. We're all eating. It's a long day you know.

CNN: What will you do about September 11? Will you acknowledge it all?

Vilanch: We'll certainly acknowledge it -- I mean, it's a part of the show. There are a couple of moments planned to be in there, that are about that. Obviously we can't ignore it, but a lot of time has passed.

CNN: Has there ever been a joke you didn't use that you wish you had just gone with?

Vilanch: There was one time Billy Crystal ... at the end of the show he was going to [do a Paula Jones joke]. And he didn't do it because he was afraid of the "call from Bill." "It's Bill, caught the show last night. Have you had your taxes audited this year?"

CNN: There are so many parties after the awards every year, so do you always hit the circuit?

Vilanch: If the show has gone well I go to as many as I can. If it's not a great year I'm in a Bronco on the 405, heading for the border with a football player at the wheel.



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