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Stewart gets mixed reviews: What the hell were they expecting?

by Joel Keller, posted Mar 6th 2006 1:36PM
Jon Stewart hosting the OscarsLet's face it, folks: The Oscars are three-and-a-half hours of boredom and pomposity that is hopefully punctuated by occasional bits of inspired comedy, intentional or otherwise (our own Sarah Gilbert agrees with me; check out her review). There isn't really much a host, whether it's Dave Letterman, Whoopi Goldberg, Steve Martin, or the "gold standards" of hosts -- Billy Crystal, Bob Hope, and Johnny Carson -- can do to make the show any less of a bloated mess. That's why people have Oscar parties; if they didn't spend time taking bets, getting drunk, and scarfing down sushi, they'd all be asleep before the sound editing awards were completed.

So that's why I'm perplexed at the mixed reviews Jon Stewart is getting for his hosting gig. While Robert Bianco of USA Today seemed to like his performance, others weren't so kind.  Alessandra Stanley of The New York Times, for instance, said he looked "a little nervous", while Cintra Wilson in Salon rhetorically asked, "How.. HOW did Jon Stewart suck so hard?", using words like "tanking", "manic-depressive", and "glum" in her disjointed assesment of his performance. Tom Shales of the Washington Post, who always seems to write about TV as if his job is a chore, said that Stewart "began the show drearily, loping through a monologue that lacked a single hilarious joke," and that even Dave Letterman's much-criticized hosting stint in 1995 was better. Even the AP got into the act, saying Stewart was "too deferential, too nice and too obvious in his targets."

I don't get it; I just don't understand what people expect form an Oscar host from year to year. What was Jon supposed to do when he came out there? Sit behind a desk and do a replica of The Daily Show? That's what I think some critics, especially Wilson, who seems to be a big fan of Stewart's, expected out of him. They expected him to take pot shots at the Bush administration or make fun of Bill O'Reilly and CNN, like he does on Comedy Central every night.

But these critics forget one salient fact: this isn't a fake news show, this is THE OSCARS, a show about entertainment and the movies. It's not about politics or the media or race relations (to address the critics of Chris Rock). There's only so much a host can do in that venue, especially a host that's known for his edginess: if they make safe, funny entertainment-related jokes, they're perceived as "tanking" (Stewart, Rock), but if they make edgy jokes that don't land with the crowd in the theater, they're also perceived as "tanking" (Letterman). It's a no-win situation.

Overall, I think Stewart did a fine job. He ad-libbed well, and used his signature brand of self-deprecation to good effect, especially when deferring to the bright stars that were in his presence. The monologue, while not particluarly ground-breaking, had a lot of jokes that seemed to land more with viewers than with the audience in the theater, which, frankly, is what a host should try to do (Hollywood types seem to be a bit on the jaded side, from what I can see). Like I said earlier, there was nothing -- nothing! -- Stewart could have done to keep things moving along; for years, critics have been telling producers to pick up the pace by cuting the montages and the technical categories, but the producers seem to be ignoring them.

I'm starting to get the feeling that the perfect host for the Oscar broadcast is someone like Jay Leno, who is inoffensive, middle-of-the-road, and safe. He can make a couple of lame jokes and no one's going to slam him for not going for the jugular. Any other comedian, even if his or her act is even slightly edgy, is just asking for a critical drubbing the minute he or she accepts the gig.

[Photo: Gary Hershorn/Reuters]
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Jane Bronson

Some bimbo thought Jon looked nervous! What a dim bulb! Jon was the best host ever, and did a great job! Could it be people are jealous??

March 10 2006 at 9:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jose Torres

I find Jon Stewart does a great job of smacking those who most deserve it. And I thought he did a great job of doing it. If you want to see him take Bush to task for overreaching or labaste the Democrats for being ineffective at responding, then watch the Daily Show, and consider the Colbert Report as well.

Critics, if you want to see Greatness in oscar's hosting, save a tape of this and then watch it after next year's oscars. And don't compare Stewart's first oscar's gig to Carson's 14th or Hope's 8th. Did they walk on water their first time out with challenging movies up for best picture? Methinks not..

Jose

March 10 2006 at 1:31 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Debbie

A major problem is that the producers have two very different audiences to address - hollywood types (who view this as a very important ceremony that recognizes their achievements) and millons of viewers (who want to be entertained and enjoy poking fun of people). As a viewer, i really enjoyed Jon (and i only watched it because of him) but was really bored with the hollywood propaganda, speeches and all. I'm really not sure how you can make both audiences happy. Too bad they can't just pick one audience to aim at and set expectations appropriately instead of having everyone dissappointed.

March 08 2006 at 4:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Flash

I though John was great. I really liked his joke to Steven Spielberg about the Schindler's List --> Munich --> ??? Jewish movie trilogy. He made what was a quite boring awards show a bit more interesting.

March 07 2006 at 2:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Peter Trevino

Jon Steward did a Jon Steward performance, which means: he was Great! He was calm and proper as he always is. He did a couple of gay jokes at his own expense as he always does. He maintained that smile on his face that makes people smile just by looking at him. But most of all he was funny at all the right moments, and ad-libbed at least twice, that I could tell, making him even funnier than usually is.
Bravo for Jon Stewart. With this year's practice, if they pick him up for next year too, he will be the next Bob Hope type of Emcee at the Oscars!
Peter Trevino
New York

March 07 2006 at 1:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Patrick R

Wow, I think this comments section pretty much speaks for itself. Not a single dissenter? Not even one?

Of course not, because Jon Stewart was great! To me, his jokes were made even funnier by the great reaction shots from the audience of celebrities who obviously either didn't get the jokes or weren't sure if it was politically correct to laugh at them.

If the Oscars don't ask him back, I hope somebody else does, because he was born to do this.

March 07 2006 at 12:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Gail Dedrick

I thought Jon fuckin' rocked the house ... for what it is. You nailed it on the head: what did the expect?

March 07 2006 at 10:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Renee

Gee, he looked nervous? Only a zillion people watching all over the world. I thought he looked amazingly cool and was hysterically funny. I think the left wanted him to be more political and the right thought he was too political. A no win job

March 07 2006 at 9:26 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jason Johnson

Jon Stewart did a great job considering he had both hands tied behind his back. The show has to be cut to two hours max. by eliminating the non-star portions of the show. People want to watch the stars.

March 06 2006 at 7:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Debbie

what the heck were these people watching? Seems these commentators had their negative critiques ready a week ago. Jon Stewart was great and the audience loved him. Here's a tip, Jon Stewart's toe-nail clippings are wittier than any of them.

March 06 2006 at 7:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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