“Oscar Host Has Become the Least Wanted Job in Hollywood,” the Hollywood Reporter argued in a piece published earlier this week.
Then Kevin Hart took that job. His old, homophobic tweets resurfaced, sparking outrage and, according to Hart, an ultimatum from the academy: Apologize or step aside.
He initially refused to do the former and eventually bowed out. “I do not want to be a distraction on a night that should be celebrated by so many amazing talented artists,” Hart tweeted Friday morning. “I sincerely apologize to the LGBTQ community for my insensitive words from my past.”
This all happened within a few days. Hart’s brief tenure as Oscar host shows the need to properly vet for the high-profile gig, and also how fraught of a job it is in the first place.
It seemed as if someone dropped the ball. His tweets were hiding in plain sight, and he had commented on them before. Hart also had some similar jokes in his act, including one about fearing his son is gay.
The academy has not publicly commented on the fallout and, as of Friday afternoon, had not returned requests for comment.
Not everyone wanted Hart to step down, including GLAAD, whose president, Sarah Kate Ellis, pointed to his huge following and said that “he missed a real opportunity to use his platform and the Oscars stage to build unity and awareness.”
But did Hart even need the Oscars gig to boost his star power? In the past decade, the Philadelphia native has gone from well-known name to bona fide movie star and wildly successful comedian who can sell out football stadiums.
In 2011, when his stand-up documentary earned $7.7 million at the box office, Hart broadened his fan base after serving as the unofficial host of the MTV Video Music Awards. “It’s a completely different audience for me. Some people didn’t even know who I was,” he told Entertainment Weekly.
The Oscars gig may have been appealing for similar reasons. Over the years, he’s repeatedly said he wanted the gig, and on Tuesday he posted on social media, “This has been a goal on my list for a long time."
But since the days of repeat emcees such as Bob Hope and Billy Crystal, the award hosts have acknowledged how tough of a gig it can be, and few have done it more than a handful of times.
“I don’t know that my family nor my soul could take it,” Neil Patrick Harris told the Huffington Post in 2015 when he hosted. “It was fun to check off the list, but for the amount of time spent and the understandable opinionated response, I don’t know that it’s a delightful balance to do every year or even again.”
Ellen DeGeneres received an Emmy nomination for her 2007 turn as Oscars host, but she initially said no when she was offered the gig again in 2014, citing how stressful the first time was.
Oscars ratings have been on a downward trend for years. Inevitably, hosts get slammed for that as a personal failing. The political climate presents an added challenge — you’re either too political or not political enough. And the charged atmosphere also means past statements, jokes and tweets receive close inspection and can quickly turn into controversies.
Some awards shows have sidestepped hosts altogether (like the VMAs). The White House correspondents' dinner, an even more thankless comedy booking, will pass on the humor next year after Michelle Wolf’s scorched-earth roast. A historian has been booked instead.
“Do you want a good host, or do you want a successful comedian?” said one publicist who represents comedians, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid alienating clients. “More times than not, the hosts have been late-night hosts, so they’re used to keeping a show moving, doing monologues for a living, reacting appropriately for a sort of formal, stodgy show, and it’s very corporate.”
Comics used to speaking their minds have to face a tighter set of constraints.
Ricky Gervais, who has been criticized for his Golden Globes performances, tweeted after the Hart fallout that he is only offended when a comedian apologizes for their jokes. And, to the academy, Gervais sarcastically wrote, “Let me host your show, and I promise I won’t offend anyone.”
Busy Philipps tweeted “I AM AVAILABLE” and suggested several women in comedy for the job. Before Hart had been tapped, comedian George Wallace tweeted out his audition via jokes involving dream presenters such as Meryl Streep and Sinbad.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, big names who seem well suited for the job — Oprah Winfrey, Justin Timberlake, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jerry Seinfeld, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler — have all passed. “The more exciting they are, the more likely they are to say no,” the outlet wrote.
The Oscars has come under fire over lack of representation among nominees, sparking the #OscarsSoWhite campaign and efforts by the academy to boost diversity among its ranks. Hiring Hart would have made him one of only a few black Oscars hosts, a list that includes Richard Pryor, Whoopi Goldberg and Chris Rock (who faced blowback at the 2016 ceremony for telling a joke about Asians).
Since the Hart debacle, pop-culture watchers have thrown several other names out there.
But would someone such as Jordan Peele, now an Oscar winner himself, want to pause his film and TV projects to rejoin his old comedy duo? Or would a well-established comedic actress such as Tracee Ellis Ross want to invite the intense picking-apart that’s a part of being an Oscars host, including the inevitable Internet trolls? Or would the academy welcome a breath of fresh air in the form of Tiffany Haddish, even after she mispronounced a bunch of Oscar-nominee names during the January announcement?
Maybe it’s time to break the mold altogether. But no matter who the academy lands on, expect more scrutiny than ever.