Hosting the Oscars is notoriously one of the worst jobs in Hollywood. The Academy should fix that by refusing to give the gig to comedians.
Earlier this week, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that Kevin Hart, the star of recent films like Night School and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, would host the 91st Oscars in February 2019.
This announcement came shortly after an article ran in the Hollywood Reporter listing off the names of would-be hosts that had past on the job or former hosts that refused to return. According to the article, finding a host has become increasingly difficult as they are expected to help raise to show’s ratings while checking several very particular boxes:
Now the host is expected to boost the ratings, which means he or she must have wide name recognition; must be funny (without being tawdry), topical (without being controversial), politically savvy (without being too partisan), young (but not so young as to scare the Academy’s governors) and satisfactory to a coalition of competing interests, including the Academy’s president, its sprawling board and ABC.
–Stephen Galloway, The Hollywood Reporter
Somehow, with those specific needs in mind, the Academy landed on Kevin Hart as the host for this year’s ceremony. This announcement has already stirred up some discourse online, with critics pointing out Hart’s history of insensitive comments, particularly in regards to his blatant homophobia.
Like most hosts, I’m sure Hart will fumble his way through well enough. However, it’s tough not to feel some fatigue towards the Academy’s insistence on hiring a comedian, especially a male one, for a job that has no real need to be funny.
The issue, of course, is tradition. Tradition, that nostalgic beast that derives importance from mere repetition, presupposes that an Oscar host should be a comedian that’s able to crack a few jokes and pleasantly rub shoulders with the celebrity guests all while keeping the night moving along at a steady pace.
Even if you’ve only seen a few Oscar shows, you know the drill. The night starts with a big opening number followed by a monologue, both of which are meant to poke fun at the night’s nominees. After opening the show, the host spends the rest of the night popping on and off screen with skits meant to entertain the audience in the theater and at home. When the ceremony inevitably runs long, the host struggles to push things along. This tradition is, in a word, tedious.
This formulaic template is tired, worn out, and in desperate need of something new. In the last five years, Oscar hosts have ranged from boring to abysmal, bogging down what should be an exciting show.
The problem with comedians hosting the Oscars actually has less to do with the individual comedians themselves and more the mold they are forced into. The template, likely refined by the producers behind the show, has become so familiar that there’s little incentive for the general public to tune in unless they really love pop culture.
Imagine what could happen if the Academy fully revamped the show in a way that moved away from the need for a host at all. What if someone that’s not a man and not a comedian hosted? With the movie industry in Hollywood already undergoing some long overdue changes, why should the Oscars be exempt?
While I can understand why the Academy likes hiring comedians to host the Oscars, this model is simply worn out. Especially since we know that the jokes are scripted and rehearsed before the show even airs, it stands to reason that anyone could do this job. As such, it’s confounding that the Academy limits themselves to such a small group of possible hosts. If the host is meant to draw in a crowd, why are comedians — who operate in increasingly niche spaces — the default choice?
There’s also a bizarre dissonance in watching an awards show meant to celebrate the year in film that takes every opportunity to mock those movies. There’s no doubt that the Academy doesn’t want people to think they take themselves too seriously, but watching a celebrity make inside jokes with actors from the year’s biggest movies isn’t exactly a winning angle either.
We know by now, especially after the Academy’s “popular film category” announcement earlier this year, that they are worried about the show’s declining ratings. If they are serious about improving the ratings, they need to consider letting go of traditions that have outstayed their welcome.
Thankfully, the Golden Globes have shown at least some willingness to break the model, announcing that Sandra Oh and Andy Samberg would host this year’s ceremony. While Samberg is familiar to audiences as a comedian, Sandra Oh’s work offers us more variety. Unlike Hart, this duo feels like a much fresher choice.
Ultimately, it’s difficult to get excited about Kevin Hart hosting the Oscars. Not just because he’s an uninspired choice, but because he will inevitably fall victim to the same issues of hosts before him. Hosting the Oscars will remain the worst job in Hollywood unless the Academy starts taking risks to change the show for today’s audiences.