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Will Jon Stewart bomb as Oscar host?

January 5, 2006 | 10:06 pm

Jon Stewart

Smile, David Letterman. You may soon lose your place in the history books as the worst Oscar host ever. The turkey could go to Jon Stewart.

Stewart has the potential of being a catastrophe of Cecil B. DeMille-sized epic proportions when he holds forth on the stage of the Kodak Theatre on March 5. Sure, he's edgy and full of the kind of defiant 'tude that attracts young hip TV viewers, but he's a comic assassin. When Stewart aims his jokes, he goes in for the kill.

That's what Chris Rock did last year when his potshot at Jude Law backfired, causing Sean Penn to rally to Jude's defense by going off script during the ceremony to insist that Jude is "one of our finest actors!" It was a snafu that's still talked about today and one that threatens to haunt Rock for eons.

The reason that Billy Crystal, Bob Hope and Johnny Carson reign as Oscar's greatest hosts is because they joshed affectionately with their peers while never losing a sense of awe for the augustness of the occasion. Can anti-establishment rebels like Stewart, Rock and Letterman get that? It's one thing Chris Rock certainly didn't understand — dismissing the whole occasion as only something those silly gay guys care about.

A great Oscar host is humble while presiding over a moment in history. "Welcome to the Academy Awards," Bob Hope once famously said, "or as it's known at my house, Passover." Another variation on that same gag, but in a different year: "We're all here to celebrate Oscar — or as he's known at my house, The Fugitive!"

Comedians like Jon Stewart exult in their own cockiness, not humility.

A great Oscar host appreciates the fact that he's presiding over Hollywood's family reunion. It's important, for example, to acknowledge esteemed seniors present, like Steve Martin did when he hailed Mickey Rooney in the audience, saying, "Mickey, I'm sorry we couldn't get you a better seat, but Vin Diesel is here."

Ah, just the right touch. An affectionate tweak, not a slap. And the audience — and Mickey — loved it.

When acknowledging the family rascals, it should be done with playfulness. "Roman Polanski's here," Steve Martin once said, "Get him!"

And if certain family members are in a family way, it's important to note so. "As host, I have a lot of duties to do tonight," Billy Crystal said. "If Warren happens to be on stage, if Annette goes into labor, I have to be her Lamaze coach. But she's a pro and I know she'll do it in one take."

Jokes can be savage, even cruel, but only if counterbalanced with affection. In 1981, when the Oscarcast was bumped a day while America waited to see if President Ronald Reagan would survive an assassination attempt, host Johnny Carson took a huge gamble. Knowing that the bedridden ex-actor was watching from his hospital room when the show finally went on, Carson suddenly launched into criticism of Reagan for cutting government spending. He called it "Reagan's strongest attack on the arts since he joined Warner Bros." Shocked viewers watched on in embarrassed silence, which Carson let linger for a painfully long while. Then he winked and said confidentially to the audience, "I'll bet he's up and around now!"

Oscar's chief gag writer Bruce Vilanch once described the perfect host: "It's best to have an insider who the live audience is comfortable with. You don't want them to feel like this is a person you jobbed in."

But that's what Oscar bosses have done this year by jobbing in another cocky New Yorker — much like David Letterman — who has never been chummy with the California film crowd.

Are they crazy?

"Oh, what could Jon Stewart possibly do wrong?" you ask.

Stewart, let's face it, is famous for insulting his hosts — and without an affectionate follow up.

Remember what he said to Tucker Carlson when he appeared as a guest on "Crossfire"? After mocking Carlson for wearing a bow tie, Stewart fumed, "You're as big a dick on your show as you are on any show!"

OK, so Stewart had a private beef with Carlson that fueled his outburst. ("What you do is partisan hackery!" he railed at the "Crossfire" host.) But Stewart had no apparent grudge against the Magazine Publishers of America last September when he agreed to emcee a discussion about magazine humor.

Once underway, no one was laughing when he launched into attacks against Time and Cosmopolitan that didn't end in punch lines.

He told Cosmo editor Kate White, "You clearly have disdain for your readers."

Then he turned on editor Jim Kelly for Time's handling of the Valerie Plame case: "One federal prosecutor says 'let me see your notes' and immediately everyone pulls their underwear over their heads and hands it over! Not only that — Newsweek breaks the story!"

One thousand of those magazines' advertisers watched on in the audience, dumbstruck at the sight of a very unfunny prima donna in meltdown mode.

"I don't consider the print media as relevant," Stewart harrumphed at his hosts who had paid him an appearance fee of $150,000 to lead a discussion about comedy. "I didn't say you weren't important. I just said you were at the kids' table."

Obviously, he wasn't kidding. Stewart's appearance at MPA turned out to be one of the biggest media debacles of 2005.

So considering that, how do you think Stewart will handle his job hosting that big media event out west in March? Can this guy be all warm, fuzzy and cuddly? And convincing at it?

Keep in mind that he didn't do a very good job hosting the Grammys in 2001 and 2002. At least he wasn't too arrogant, though. The Hollywood Reporter described his performance as "hopelessly awkward and uncomfortable."

The comments to this entry are closed.


The problem may be for Jon Stewart to try and remember what so many others seemed to forget. The Oscars should be about the movies...not about the host. Good luck with THAT!

hahahahahahaahahahahahaha! You're funny. You're probably tired of people coming here and telling you how silly you are. Yet I am here doing so.

What's even funnier about you is that you speculate that Jon will be mean at the Oscars because he insulted the Crossfire crowd then insulted the magazine crowd. Do you not get it? Both of those groups NEEDED to be railed at. Every now and then Jon uses his clout to speak truth to power and say things that need to be said. Hosting the Oscars will not be an opportunity to speak truth to power because there is no real power there.

Sure, all the actors and directors and hapless sound engineers are leaders in the Hollywood community, but in terms of relevance they... have none. So Jon will probably be funny. What would be the best is if Jon told them all to get over themselves. The Oscars continuously surprise me as a showcase for how draconian and behind the times Hollywood is. I mean, damn, Halle Berry is the first black woman to win Best Actress. HALLE BERRY?? And Denzel is only the second black man? I don't want to know the statistics for other minorities in major categories. It would just make me cry.

Jon should make all of those mother truckers run out of the theater crying at their utter, utter patheticness. Maybe the whole affair will get cancelled the same way Crossfire was.

You obviously take the Oscars way too seriously. I'm with Chris Rock. Oh...and you obviously don't know much about Jon Stewart. Just enough to bash him. If anyone is arrogant, it's you.

Firstly, Jon is a comedian. If enjoy pointing out flaws in humor, you're obviously too dark-hearted to understand humor at all.

He says it the way it is. If he pokes at someone without a punchline, then it wasn't meant to be funny. I think he'll reign in his cutting sarcasm for the evening. He's intelligent; he's aware of the gravity of the situation. I don't think we'll see any awkward moments from him (if only because I really don't think he's got any bones to pick with the film industry).

Definitely some rightwinger bias in the post. And the rightwinger who claimed Stewart's "ratings were suffereing because he was too left wing" who did you get your ratings information from, O'Reilly? Try the highest rated show on Comedy Central, so much so the Stephen Colbert show was spun off of the Daily show with Stewart as Executive Producer. As others have said as well, Stewart is quite low key and professional in his interviews- a fair sight better than the right winger shows can say, which is the very issue Stewart was skewering Tucker Carlson on. It's so rare that Stewart does skewer even the pompous rightwingbag guests on his show. I've never seen him be rude to any celebrity guest, even if they are dull and rambling and not too bright.

Stewart is not and was never funny. He IS a lot of things, and not bad at all, but funny is something else. We will not get "funny" on Oscar night, but what the hell, lets try him.

"Obviously, he wasn't kidding. Stewart's appearance at MPA turned out to be one of the biggest media debacles of 2005."

Um, maybe for the media. The general public did not hear about this. The only reason I know is because I am a confessed Jon fanboy who tracks news of Jon. Otherwise, it wasn't reported, mostly because if it were it would make the very medium printing it look very, very bad. Like previous commenters have pointed out, Jon only targets those who deserve it, and perhaps the print media does. Perhaps instead of patting ourselves on the back all the time, we should maybe look at what's wrong, such as how this telecast is predestined to have abysmal ratings due to the poor box office of the frontrunners for best picture. But given the number of fantastic films released in 2005, I'd say it's more likely he targets the American people than the Hollywood elite. He will question why Americans choose to see Dukes of Hazard rather than Cinderella Man or Capote. Though Jon has never made it as a successful film actor himself, he still carries a great respect for the medium, as evidenced by the interviews on his show. And your characterization of him is one of the most out-of-touch, wholly wrong misrepresentations I have ever read of anyone. Cocky? Are we even talking about the same person here? I assure you, the Hollywood elite needn't worry their pretty little heas; any insult the multiple Emmy-winner and bestselling authour lobs their way will be immediately followed by "But tomorrow you will begin work on a big Hollywood blockbuster, while I return to work on my late-night cable fake news show." The nebbish, always self-deprecating, and portrait of humbleness and humility will be more like Billy Crystal then I think you realize, without the desparate pleas for attention or 45 mminute intro that hyelps the show keep running until 1 am. This article is typical of the unspoken Hollywood-New York rivalry and your bitterness of Hollywood not choosing an "insider." Get over yourself and wake up to the world, which exists and keeps going outside of Oscar season.

Do you ever watch "The Daily Show"? You can catch it Monday through Thursday in the later evenings. Check your local listings for times.

Jon Stewart is almost always kind to his Hollywood guests, oftentimes to the point of self-depreciation. He enjoys telling them and his viewers that he isn’t a very good actor, and often claims the movies he has been in were never big hits. Even actors that other actors put down, he praises. It is a very rare event to see Jon Stewart insult (and mean it) an actor. Only one instance is even coming to my mind, and I don’t miss a show.

Anyway, yes, if this were an event he didn’t respect…like “Crossfire” or perhaps some political event, the viewers would have something to worry about. In this case, Jon Stewart will be as humble as they come…and I would guess, funny.

You're silly, and out of touch. I don't know a single person who thought the Jude Law joke was the least bit inappropriate, much less a "snafu that will haunt Rock for years." The person who was embarrassed was Sean Penn, for his humorless and self-important retort.

Additionally, Rock put himself down in the same run, comparing himself unfavorably to Denzel Washington. Lastly, using the Tucker Carlson exchange as in any way representative of Stewart's on-screen demeanor is ridiculous. Either you know this, and decided to bend the facts to manufacture an incendiary take for your column, or you are ignorant of the subject matter about which you're writing.

I couldn't agree with you less.

The thing about Stewart's comments towards Tucker Carlson and Time is that they are, in fact, correct. Time did miss the boat. Tucker Carlson is a pedantic dweeb.

But more importantly, with respect to the Oscars, is the fact that both those appearances were not in places where Stewart was either 1) scripted, or 2) required to be funny. In both cases he was asked to give his own perspective, and he did. If some people didn't like it (like you) so be it. The Oscars, on the other hand, is both scripted and a situaton in which comedy is expected. Stewart is consistently hilarious in that situation. Also, in my humble opinion, he is the only late night host who has that maical Johnny Carson quality of being both humorous at his guests' expense and incredibly polite to those same guests. I can't imagine him varying from that demeanor at the Oscars.

Finally, I'm not sure what your standard for judgment is, but if Chris Rock was a failure, then I don't know what you are thinking. I hated Billy Crystal. His song and dance numbers always made me think of him as some bizzare white "uncle tom", performing a little soft shoe number for his more famous masters. Rock's comment about Jude Law, on the other hand, was hilarious. I did happen to say "Holy S**t!" through the laughter, but his honesty (and let's be honest, last year at this time Law had been in every over-exposed arty stinker so far) was incredibly refreshing. My standard for a host is, and probably always will be, Steve Martin. No costumes, no song and dance, just a man in a tux who, while being respectful of the ceremony at hand, felt no need to be respectful of any of the self-important stars in the audience.

But I see from the comments that I'm not the only one who thinks you are wrong . . .

John Stewart will be successful if he shoots from the middle. His show has been leaning left wing for several years now and his ratings have suffered as a result. If he makes fun of Democrats and Republicans equally, then he can do no wrong. I'd like to hear some Hillary jokes instead of the tired George Bush hate speech, if she's actually done anything since taking office.

Nobody cares about what the actors think, so he should make fun of anyone in the room as harshly as you want. We all knew Chris Rock would be cruel at times, which is why we watched.

The 2005 Oscars were just disappointing and dull overall. Not even the best host could've saved that show.

With that said, I'm excited to see Jon Stewart hosting. He's one of my favorite comedians, and I love the movies that are out this year.

Stewart is the funniest man on television, and was correct in every instance that you cited. I'll be watching and whether he goes in for the kill or not I know he'll be excellent as usual. If there is a post show backlash he has something that Chris Rock didn't have. A national platform to respond on. I'll be watching that as well.

Who cares who the Oscar host is? The show is only as good as the movies it honors. If you don't have nominees that interest and excite people, then the show will be a drag to watch. 1997 was the highest rated because the most successful movie of all time was favored to win all the awards. 2002 was one of the best shows because Chicago was a sure thing -- but when The Pianist started to win big awards at the end of the night, Best Picture was suddenly a nail-biter. This year's race is being dominated by a frontrunner (Brokeback Mountain) that has a lot of question marks surrounding whether the Academy will fully embrace it beyond nomination day. The controversies surrounding it and other potential frontrunners could make for a good show.

Whoopi Goldberg's major failing as host was that her shows always dragged on past midnight. Billy Crystal was guilty of this too -- he'd do a monolgue and then his Best Picture medley. It would be a good half hour or more before they'd start handing out awards. As an East Coaster I care more about being in bed by midnight than I care about Jude Law jokes (he made Alfie and deserves to be skewered appropriately).

Also, I don't think Oscar hosts are given a blank check with their monologue. He's not going to show up on Oscar night without having run his monologue by Gil Cates and others -- unlike winners who are free to use their 45 seconds to say what they like. Part of the host's job is to stick to the script, with only a little improv as the show goes on -- and even that is usually one-liners, and writers like Bruce Vilanch are backstage so that it's not all the host's doing.

So as long as Jon Stewart keeps it short and keeps the show moving, he'll be a good host. His main job is to keep people watching until the end -- even if the races aren't turning out as interesting or as well as viewers may have hoped.

A lot of people I know think that The Daily Show is the best show on TV. Let's be honest, the people who are most upset about this are afraid that Jon Stewart is going to point out to a very large audience that the current administration is incredibly corrupt. And as for Tucker Carlson, Crossfire seemed to disappear shortly after Stewart's appearance.

So he said Print was at the kids' table. Hmm...bad review in print before he even does it...

I say give him a chance. He has great timing...and that's what it takes to make a good Oscar host.

We need to keep in mind that even the funniest of people come across as pretty lame if the writers (like Bruce Vilanich) don't do their job. The Oscars appear to be carefully scripted, and the material is frequently stilted and dry. I suspect that even the opening "monologue" has plenty of fingerprints on it. Only with the adlibs can an individual host be revealed. If John Stewart can fend off the professional writers, I think he will be entertaining and witty. Best of luck to him and to us. Personally, I watch it for the clothes.

While others may criticize Jon for his "unfunniness" I think it's important to remember that he's unfunny when he really sees an issue that is not dealt with in the media. I predict he will touch on issues too close to home and he will make people uncomfortable to make them think. Unfortunately there aren't many venues where you can connect with people. His show reaches a niche that wants to be informed but sadly there are many Americans who don't care to be informed, or look to news for reassurance or someone to blame, rather than information. If you listen, I guarantee that whatever Jon says will at least make you think.

I realize this is not a serious blog--rather something cooked up by the contemptible Chicago mafia that owns the times now to seem more hep, as great-grandma used to say--but even given that. the supercilious tone of this article just whimpers. Hollywood's current output is so weak that they should cancel the Oscars, or at least Bruce Vilanch could take another cruise or SOMEthing. At least it ain't poopy goldberg fer chrissake.

I agree that Chris Rock missed the mark on the Jude Law joke, though it was a bit funny, yet that was the only thing people mention when dissing his job. No one mentions the lame film spoof Billy Crystal did with Mystic River and child abduction that turned to child abuse, with Cystal looking out the back window of the car that Tim Robbin's younger self was kidnapped.

The truth in all this banter is that Jon Stewart is at the top of his game and people like to knock people down when they are on top. Let the guy do his job and then put your two cents in. The fact of the matter is that most of this is either anti New York or blue state bashing.

I have watched the Oscars for over thirty years, yes one of those fags that Mr. Rock mentioned, and i will continue to watch no matter who hosts, short of Paris Hilton that is. By the way I have enjoyed all of them save the yeat they had the multi hosts, I found it dull. I like to hear a good comic do his schtick, I loved the Letterman Oprah Uma gag.

One of the reasons Johnny Carson got away with the Ronald Reagan joke is that, at the time, he had about 20 years as the beloved host of one of Ameica's favorite shows. I l ike Jon Steward but, on cable, he still only has a niche audience and has not nearly accumulated the credit with the American people that Carson had. I think Steward will be like Chris Rock, mostly funny with a few jokes that Hollywood does not like and the viewing audience does not appreciate. I await the day Billy Crystal or Steve Martin decide to host again

This guy got his start on MTV acting like an idiot. I don't know how or why he's thought of as a wry commentator on politics, culture and society.

Oh yeah...and he's about as funny as cancer.

Your characterization of Stewart is so distanced from reality that I almost have to think it is an intentional smear. Stewart is not a "rebel" and is certainly not "cocky". You paint him as a Howard Stern-like shock comic in this piece, and nothing could be further from the truth. He is actually quite self-effacing, and respectful of all of his celebrity interviews. I think Stewart is a master at capturing the exact right tone when it comes to fun-making. You forget that those instances you maliciously cited where not attempts at humor, they were part of Stewart's activism, which he doesn't engage in often. Jon Stewart could be the next David Letterman, but he could also be the next Johnny Carson.

"That's what Chris Rock did last year when his potshot at Jude Law backfired, causing Sean Penn to rally to Jude's defense by going off script during the ceremony to insist that Jude is "one of our finest actors!" It was a snafu that's still talked about today and one that threatens to haunt Rock for eons."

This would be right on if the last sentence said "Penn" instead of "Rock." As many others have noted, it was Sean Penn (whose acting I generally love) who came off like a self-important blowhard.

As a Stewart fan, I worry that he'll bomb, because it's a tough gig. Billy Crystal is terrible, though, at this point. Thank God I won't have to listen to him singing again.

And Jon Stewart is actually quite self-deprecating. His one remark, widely printed, is that, as a longtime viewer of the Oscars, he couldn't help but be disappointed by the choice. There's self-deprecation, deference for the institution and quick wit in one fell swoop. Stewart's a fierce media critic, but he's much more in the political center than many of his viewers. He's also incredibly quick-witted. It's entirely possible he'll do a fine job.




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