Here’s the typical Oscar hosting scenario:
Year 1: A comedian hosts, performs well and with confidence, then is trashed in the press.
Year 2: The Academy chooses an actor/actors for the hosting gig. The script fails; the actor (not being a writer) panics and keeps trying the script anyway/hides backstage/whoops. We all flinch in sympathy, long for the ceremony to end.
Year 3: One of the previous comedian hosts is asked back, and is trashed a little less.
Year 4: The Academy chooses an actor/actors…..
Strangely, the Academy fails to recognize exactly why comedians perform better. Not being comedians themselves, Academy members mistake comedic actors for comics, assume song-and-dance types can roll with the inevitable botched entrances and exits. They’re forgetting the obvious: comedians IMPROVISE; actors PERFORM THE SCRIPT. And last night, the difference was written out so plainly I’m hopeful that they will finally, finally get it.
Something unexpected happens (say a wrong card is given out):
- Actor’s response: panic, stare at the other actor next to you, read out/let your partner read out something you suspect is wrong, cast blame, ruin the Oscars for the mistaken winners and the real ones.
- Comedian’s response: riff on a another comic’s similar mistake, cast all blame on yourself in such a way that it diminishes the gaffe, makes the audience (and comic) laugh, and earns you thanks from the company that blew it in the first place.
Kinda obvious, isn’t it? A host needs to respond to the crowd, alter/rip on jokes if they don’t work, recover from mistakes by oneself and others, and relax. Comedians have suffered through brutal NYC stand-up crowds; Oscar crowd judgment? Easy. That’s why comedian hosts will often return to the gig even if unfairly attacked the first time around.
Let me be clear: I’m not saying what happened is Beatty’s fault; I’m saying it’s to be expected. Improvising is simply not a required skill for an actor (though arguably, more so for a stage performer). But let’s envision if instead of Kimmel, Neil Patrick Harris or James Franco were hosting. Imagine how much MORE botched that conclusion to the night would have been.
Jimmy Kimmel nailed it last night. As usual, the critics are already nitpicking, as they are wont to do. Were The Lion King bit or the name jokes the best calls? No. Though they weren’t nearly as offensive as some claimed (he’s no Seth MacFarlane), they were ill conceived. Comedians always struggle with that sensitivity vs. humor pull, especially when improvising. But the humorist who tries too hard to be PC is never going to make us laugh. (Would someone remind the critics please just how often they have attacked every previous host for being potentially offensive in one/more of his/her jokes?) No one will remember those comments/bits anyway; they weren’t funny.* But his Meryl Streep-talentless-Trump reference? His conscientious objector Mel Gibson slam? The Matt Damon attacks? Oh yes. We’ll remember those.
Kimmel was sarcastic and charming: the snark of Jon Stewart or Chris Rock with Billy Crystal’s crowd-pleasing style. And so confident. The crowd there and the audience at home both seemed to enjoy themselves, even during that halftime lull. Kimmel can be the host we’ve been waiting for, if the Academy just gives him the chance. Hopefully, they’ll beg him back despite his hilarious parting promise never to return. For those of us still vainly attempting to have faith in a show that so often blows it, let’s hope Oscar planners catch on.
*For a great spoof on white people’s mispronunciation of minority names, check out Key and Peele’s brilliant role reversal clip.