It is Oscar season. And while the nominees are preparing for their moment in the brightest spotlight the film industry has to offer, there is one individual who may be the most nervous of all: the host. Chris Rock takes those duties this year — and we may even see him mentioned below — at a time when controversy has abounded way before the red carpet has even been removed from storage. Hosting the show may be seen as a tough, thankless job where one is set up as an obvious scapegoat for any criticism the event might generate. Under such a microscope, any awkward moments involving the host are magnified infinitely. Here we remember the Top 10.
#10 Jon Stewart Remedies Awkwardness with Class (2008)
A big void has been left within the television landscape since Jon Stewart departed “The Daily Show.” Though seen as an enemy of the Right, his fairness and sense of justice permeated his comedy and the impact of his influential 30 minute political forum. So it only made sense that as we watched his second and last turn as Oscar host, Stewart could take an awkward moment and turn it into something beautiful. Unless you’re the most bankable A-Lister, if you win an Oscar you better keep your speech short or the orchestra will cut you off to keep things moving. For winning duos or groups in the non-acting categories, usually one person gets to do the talking and the others are frozen out. When real life European couple Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova won for Best Original Song, Glen finished his speech and Marketa stepped up to the mic only to have the audio cut off as the band began to play. When the broadcast returned from the following commercial break, Stewart broke format and brought the singer/songwriter back onstage to give her the moment he saw she deserved. An unscripted gesture of humanity, respect and equality toward a foreigner at a celebrated American event. No wonder the Fox News crowd hates him.
#9 David Niven is Upstaged by a Streaker (1974)
In the early ’70s, everyone was streaking. College campuses, sporting events and other public spaces all became fair game for a prankster or protester to strip down to his or her altogether and run around the joint. The Academy Awards, with its huge television audience, was obviously a prime venue for prime exposure to one’s exposure. During his introduction of presenter Elizabeth Taylor to announce the Best Picture winner, host David Niven was first surprised by a commotion from the audience, then the sight of a naked man running past him. Once the commotion subsided, Niven perfectly quipped, “Well, ladies and gentlemen, that was almost bound to happen…. But isn’t it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?”
#8 Bob Hope Loses It When “Hearts and Minds” Wins (1975)
Bob Hope holds the record for hosting the Oscars an astounding 19 times. During such a tenure an awkward moment would seem inevitable and Hope’s biggest actually came during his 18th appearance. The Hollywood legend was known equally for his onscreen work as he was entertaining our troops at war for the USO for decades and decades. The Vietnam War at that time, which had successfully divided our country and devastated its own, was raging to a close and the Best Documentary winner that year was “Hearts and Minds,” a scathing expose’ of the controversial war’s boosters which specifically featured Hope. Enough of an affront to the host himself, but when one of the winners read a tribute from a Vietnamese ambassador hailing America’s push for peace, the comedian had enough. He hastily wrote up a disclaimer from the Academy disavowing responsibility for political statements during the broadcast and made co-host Frank Sinatra read it onstage. Problem was the Academy had not made any such disavowal, the disapproval had fallen squarely and solely with Hope. This perhaps created enough of a schism between the man and the entertainment body that his next time hosting was his last.
#7 Jerry Lewis and the Longest 20 Minutes in History (1959)
Usually the broadcast’s endlessness is a factor to lost viewership and a subject of some of its most reliable onscreen jokes. Yet in 1959 the Oscars came up short. Way short. Once the Best Picture speech concluded it was frighteningly apparent that there were still 20 minutes of airtime left. Jerry Lewis, who was sharing co-hosting duties with other Hollywood notables, swooped in to the rescue and ad libbed bizarrely for as long as he could. This included an audience Q & A, manically overtaking the orchestra and leading a chorus of reluctant stars in what seemed like the longest rendition of “There’s No Business Like Show Business” in history. Though it is the producer’s job to keep a telecast timed and on track, it was Lewis who has continued to take all the heat for this debacle to this very day.
#6 Seth MacFarlane Mistakes the Dolby Theatre for a Hooters (2013)
No doubt Seth McFarlane is a comic genius known to wickedly skewer all levels of our popular culture and politics. But that comedy is proudly sophomoric and when the voice to Peter Griffin, Baby Stewie and Ted was given the platform to host the Oscars, he did not make any attempt to conduct himself like an upperclassman. His biggest transgression was a song and dance number titled, “We Saw Your Boobs,” a blithe listing of many nominated actresses, female attendees and A-Listers who had gone topless sometime during their film career — including Kate Winslet, whom the song implied had done it constantly. Though this number did succeed in milking some cheap laughs at these ladies’ expense, MacFarlane’s disrespect for them and the event as a whole dominated the news cycles that followed. He has conspicuously not gone on to host another Academy Awards, but the comedian still continues to tweak boobs as a punchline in his movie and TV comedies.
#5 Billy Crystal Busts Out a Racist Joke (2012)
Billy Crystal began hosting the Oscars in 1990, and he quickly brought the notoriously unwieldy role to new heights with his quick wit and family friendly appeal. Such a revered host was he that he stands as the second longest-serving with nine appearances under his belt. It was during his last, however — that saw him essentially come out from a long retirement — where Crystal struck the sourest notes of his tenure. His blackface portrayal of Sammy Davis Jr., a staple of his most popular past comic routines suddenly — and frankly inexplicably — was lambasted for its poor taste and insensitivity. Shock at his Octavia Spencer joke though was more legitimate. After leaving the stage with a Best Supporting Actress statue for her role in “The Help,” Crystal told the audience, “I loved that movie… when I saw it, I wanted to hug the first black woman that I saw. Which from Beverly Hills is about a 45-minute drive.” A legendary comedian desperate to come off as hip or edgy? We’re not sure what his motivation was for this joke, but there are so few opportunities for minorities to achieve Hollywood’s highest honor that when it does finally happen, the immediate reaction, especially from the ceremony’s host, should not be to talk like a cracker.
#4 Neil Patrick Harris Goes Up in a Puff of Smoke (2015)
He’d hosted the Tonys and the Emmys to much acclaim, so it seemed an obvious choice to add Neil Patrick Harris to the roster of Oscar emcees. It quickly became apparent however that the TV funnyman was out of his league for this particular awards ceremony. In fact, Harris churned out so many awkward moments during the broadcast that he’d have enough to fill up a Top 10 list all on his own. Some might point to the host’s nod to Best Picture nominee (and eventual winner) “Birdman’s” infamous underwear scene as the most cringeworthy, where he marched from back to center stage wearing only a pair of tighty whities in a lengthy bit that made everyone, other than him it seems, squirm. But it was the set up to his magic trick featuring frequent repetitive updates that interrupted the broadcast — with the involuntary aid of a visibly put upon Octavia Spencer — culminating in a predictably underwhelming climax that made audiences most want to saw this perma-grinning goofball in half.
#3 Chris Rock and #OscarsSoWhite (2016)
Chris Rock was probably stoked about hosting the Oscars this year until the Academy produced a nominees list whiter than an armed Oregon militia. In this era of #BlackLivesMatter, the most powerful institution within the motion picture industry stood up and said #LikeHellThey Do. Reacting to the snub, African-American celebrities have begun to boycott the ceremony, leaving the production so desperate for audience members of color we’ve heard they’ve even reached out to Todd Bridges to fill a seat. So what will Rock do as he looks out from that stage and sees a blizzard dressed in Versace and Valentino? That will be more interesting than any of the category’s contests. A notoriously outspoken black host presiding over an Oscars drunk with discrimination will be so delightfully awkward we’d even buy tickets to this free televised event.
#2 James Franco and Anne Hathaway Bomb (2011)
At first glance, the pairing of Oscar hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway was a match made in millennial heaven. All television programs aim hard for a young audience and the Academy Awards are no different. So it may have seemed, for a time, an inspired anointment of this fresh-faced duo to film’s most coveted emcee gig. That time pretty much ran out the minute they hit the stage. He seemed disinterested, stoned and proudly unable to read a teleprompter. She was vivacious from the get-go, and as their lack of chemistry and appeal began to sink in, amped up that vivaciousness to blood-curdling levels. Their low came during a bit where they both came out in drag, but in retrospect, everything they did that night was deservedly reviled.
#1 David Letterman and Oprah/Uma (1995)
History has labeled David Letterman’s one and only time hosting the Oscars as a bust. And the most infamously awkward moment came right at the very beginning of his monologue, forever remembered as the Oprah/Uma moment. Basically he was just goofing on the homonym-like sounds of their unique names and did a quick back and forth introducing the two women, seated at a distance from each other, from his perch atop the stage. And then he threw in the name Keanu for good measure. Some surmised that this started the feud that would keep Oprah from speaking to Dave for close to two decades. It turns out Dave had pissed her off about something else and her silent treatment of him was already in full effect. All of Letterman’s Oscar bits that night were excoriated afterwards as childish and inappropriate for the event. In retrospect, for the keenest Oscar observers, he seemed to do something most hosts — this list being a prime reminder — are unable to do: bring funny, watercooler moments to an otherwise mostly interminable telecast.
THE TOP 10 MOST AWKWARD MOMENTS IN OSCAR HOST HISTORY