Every year, focus for the Oscar ceremony not only centers on the films involved, but the host of the show. For such a global event, the Academy producers normally pick a comedian (Bob Hope, Billy Crystal, David *ahem* Letterman etc) to ensure there’s levity amidst the tension of snagging a top gong. Typically, comedians (and comediennes, for that matter, Whoopi Goldberg) have provided a number of classic moments involved in hosting this prestigous event, although one could mount an argument that a comedian, whilst funny, is the top choice ironically in the face of there never being a comdy movie involved in the ceremony. When was the last time you saw a comedy up for best picture? That’s right: never.
Recent ventures into more serious, or at least “actorly” turns involved Hugh Jackman doing a spot, and the reviled attempt by James Franco and Anne Hathaway, the former who appeared to be drunk, and the latter who looked like a kitten in the lights of an oncoming train; the most recent comedic hosts, boasting Ellen Degeneres, Seth McFarlane and even Jon Stewart back in 2008, garnered the most positive response from a show that not only bulges with A-list celebrities in ever corner, but a bloated running time and a fairly dry wit threaded through the countless guest presenter monologues.
So what makes a good Oscar host, and how should it be done properly? The simple answer that there cannot possibly be a single answer to either of these questions, and nor can there ever be a definitive example of the perfect host. To my mind, perhaps Bob Hope and Billy Crystal (before he went and got plastic surgery and looked like a store mannequin for the 84th Oscars) have become the most celebrated hosts of the ceremony to this point. An Oscar host needs tenure, apparently, because the young upstart celebrity will never get a look in. The host needs to be funny (hear that, James Franco?) but not insulting – a factor most hosts are met with when they take on the role. I’m sure if Chris Rock had been allowed to say what he really wanted during his turn in 2005, there’d be a whole heap of unhappy people aiming their bile in his direction.
The host needs to be television savvy, because the show is no longer just broadcast to the people within the auditorium – it’s a global event with millions of viewers in multiple countries watching live – and there’s a certain sense of timing in television that you can’t get away with on stage, live to a crowd. The host needs to be able to communicate with the stars; Billy Crystals approach of gently massaging the egos of the nominees before snarking them immediately seemed to allow him to get away with a lot more than other might have attempted. Crystal also had the good fortune to know most of the celebrities nominated anyway, so had a casual rapport with them that I doubt James Franco could ever hope to match.
Ribald humor appears to be something the Academy frowns on, or at least does so now ever since Seth McFarlane’s infamous “I Saw Your Boobs” song during his hosting gig in 2013. Apparently, roasting a person from the Oscar stage is both acceptable and unacceptable in equal amounts, it really does depend on the roaster, and the roastee, and what relationship they have. Again, Seth McFarlane’s widescreen attempt to dial up his snark for the 2013 nominees was a little harsh considering he’s a television dude with little film experience, at least compared to those involved in the ceremony that night.
Ellen Degeneres’ turn in 2014 was easily the most vanilla hosting job in recent years. Degeneres’ skill with putting the crowd at ease didn’t quite translate into the television, with audiences finding her vox-pop style a little too casual (I guess some folks are never satisfied). Not to mention the now famous “celebrity selfie” that broke Twitter, which ended up being a marketing stunt and hoodwinking a whole population into thinking it was genuine. Guess what: that won’t be happening again.
Being an Oscar host is both a prestigious moment, and a career blight if it all goes wrong. John Travolta wasn’t even hosting last year and he became the top talking point for screwing up Idina Menzel’s name. So yeah, he’s a laughing stock. But the Oscar host is such a prestigious spot that almost nobody refuses outright. It’s also a thankless task, because at the end of the day, nobody is going to like your work 100% of the time. Some jokes will fall flat, some musical numbers won’t work (Hugh Jackman’s Broadway-styled number in 2009 reminded us all of that) and mostly, people just want to get to the awards. Fluffing about with small talk just takes up valuable time.
Sometimes, a host that seems like a good idea initially, doesn’t quite turn out that way in the end. David Letterman. Alec Baldwin. Chevy Chase. Letterman especially was a poor choice because he’s practically useless with unscripted comedy, and the Oscars host should be able to riff off-the-cuff. Which is why I enjoyed Seth McFarlane to a degree, and still enjoy Billy Crystal when he does it. Whoopi Goldberg should be invited back to do it more often too. Or maybe I’m just living in the past.
The 2014 Oscars will be hosted this year by Neil Patrick-Harris, a fan favorite and long-requested performer who (I hope) will show everyone just how it’s done. My thoughts on it are this: if you’re asking somebody to be the host, you’re doing it because they have something an audience likes, or wants. Picking them and then asking that they water down their personality so as not to “offend” anyone seems counter-intuitive, but then nobody in Hollywood wants to put Jack Nicholson’s nose out of joint for a cheap gag. Which is a shame.
Because if the celebrities can’t laugh at themselves, they have to know that we are laughing at them anyway.
Who is your favorite Oscars host? Who should host the show in the future? Do you think NPH will do a great job, or fail miserably? Let us know in the comments below!!!
© 2015, Rodney Twelftree. All rights reserved.