Thankfully there was no bad-joke refrain (remember “Uma, Oprah”?) and no musical number. And probably no angry voicemail on Jon Stewart’s cell phone from Sean Penn.
But Russell Crowe and Steven Spielberg might have some words for the first-time Oscar host, and you can bet Oscar winners Three 6 Mafia wanted to party with him after the credits rolled.
Though some of the jokes in his opening monologue fell flat and he played much nicer than many might have expected, “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart avoided any major pratfalls in his debut Sunday night (March 5) as Academy Awards host (see “Oscar Wrap-Up: A Best Picture Party Crasher, Virgin Winners … And A ‘Pimp’ “ ).
Stewart held his signature political zingers to a minimum, drew raucous laughter with a series of mock negative Oscar campaign ads and kept the show moving smoothly as he playfully skewered Hollywood, poking fun at such time-honored targets as the movie industry’s vanity and alleged liberal leanings. But, of course, he couldn’t resist one shot at Vice President Dick Cheney, just for old time’s sake. “Björk couldn’t be here tonight,” he said, referring to the sometimes flamboyantly dressed singer/actor. “She was trying on her dress and Dick Cheney shot her.”
Stewart softened up the crowd via a filmed opening bit in which he lampooned his status as a virtual B-lister when it comes to host choices. Past hosts Billy Crystal, Chris Rock, Steve Martin, Whoopi Goldberg and Mr. “Uma, Oprah” himself, David Letterman, were all seen turning down the gig in the short film, as Stewart got the nod only after Mr. Moviefone declined.
Stewart picked on himself first in his monologue, noting that he was honored that on a night when Hollywood gathered to celebrate excellence in film, they chose to do so with him, “the fourth male lead from [the 2002 bomb] ‘Death to Smoochy.’ ”
He swung for some low-hanging fruit first, joking about the hundreds of millions of people watching the show around the world, “nearly half of whom are in the process of being adopted by Angelina Jolie.” Then he segued into a bit about how nice it was seeing so many stars in one place “without having to donate any money to the Democratic Party.” But his next line, about how the event was also exciting for the stars because it was the first time many of them had ever voted for a winner, fell a bit flat. The veteran stand-up comedian actually showed a bit of mock nervousness.
Like last year’s host, Chris Rock, Stewart spent much of the monologue taking jabs at the plastic nature of Hollywood, roasting the night’s theme (“a return to glamour”) by saying it was an improvement over last year’s “night of a thousand sweatpants” theme, which drew a slight frown from best actress nominee Charlize Theron. He soon dipped back into a well he’d hit several times during the night: George Clooney’s luck with the ladies.
Honoring Clooney’s three nominations, Stewart noted that two were for “Good Night, and Good Luck,” which he said also happened to be the line Clooney uses to end all his dates. “I kid because I envy,” Stewart said as Clooney laughed along good-naturedly.
Try as he might, Stewart was not willing to totally avoid the topical humor he employs with his regular gig, including his second-favorite target: journalists.
Talking about best picture nominee “Capote,” Stewart said, ” ‘Capote,’ of course, addressed similar themes to ‘Good Night, and Good Luck.’ Both films are about determined journalists defying obstacles in a relentless pursuit of truth. Needless to say, both are period pieces.”
Stewart’s near “Uma, Oprah” moment came while ribbing director Steven Spielberg for “Munich,” a film about Israeli soldiers in pursuit of the men who killed Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games. “From the man who also gave us ‘Schindler’s List,’ ” he said. ” ‘Schindler’s List’ and ‘Munich.’ I think I speak for all Jews when I say, ‘I can’t wait to see what happens to us next!’ Trilogy!”
Stewart dealt with the “elephant in the room,” gay content in Oscar nominees “Brokeback Mountain,” “Capote” and “Transamerica,” by joking that he has no problem with gay-themed movies but was offended with how “Brokeback” ‘s gay love story “tarnishes the noble Western tradition.”
“I’m sorry, I just feel like there’s nothing remotely gay about the classic Hollywood westerns,” Stewart said as he unfurled a montage of clips from famous cowboy movies in which men were seen stroking their guns, admiring each others’ rifles, winking at fellow cowpokes, unbuckling their belts and staring longingly at each other.
Though he avoided the kind of teasing of fellow actors that drew Rock a stern response from Sean Penn last year, Stewart pressed his luck after the award for makeup was handed out by saying he was surprised Russell Crowe’s boxing flick, “Cinderella Man,” didn’t win. “I imagine the difficulty of making Russell Crowe look like he got into a fight,” he said, adding, “I’m going to be pummeled later this evening, aren’t I?”
Stewart had nothing but nice things to say about Memphis, Tennessee, rap crew Three 6 Mafia, though, after they performed “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” from “Hustle and Flow.”
“You know what? I think it just got a little easier out here for a pimp,” he said.
When “Pimp” won for best original song and the group bounded up excitedly and gave (somewhat profane) shout-outs to everyone they could think of — including fellow rapper Ludacris and, just for good measure, Clooney — Stewart seemed genuinely touched.
“How come they’re the most excited people out there tonight?” he said.
“That’s how you accept an Oscar!” Stewart said. He later added, “For those of you keeping score at home, Martin Scorsese, zero; Three 6 Mafia, one.”
Assuming he did avoid that feared beat-down from Crowe, only time will tell if Stewart is the next Crystal or one-and-done Letterman. But you can be sure of one thing: He’s likely the only host in Oscar history who will find a way to work in a blink-and-you-missed it joke about the toppling of an oversized Oscar statue as a metaphor for the spread of democracy in Iraq while working in a line about James Caan hitting the statue with his sandal. Think about it.