CATEGORIES Features, Oscars, Awards

Hosting the Academy Awards may be the toughest gig in showbiz: For every Johnny Carson–style triumph, there's a David Letterman–like dud. How about 2009 rookie emcee Hugh Jackman's musical numbers? Can this year's co-hosts, Anne Hathaway and James Franco, ensure they land on the Carson side of the fence? The stakes are admittedly high, especially given that their average age is only 30.

Luckily, we've got some helpful advice, based on the best (and worst) moments in Oscar host history. Our first tip: Make sure the tux and dress are returnable.

DO Have a Good Rapport With Your Partner

Last year's hosts, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin, teamed up to do what each of them do best when they host 'Saturday Night Live': making sometimes-tired punch lines into charming barbs.

The two had a good rapport with each other and the Hollywood audience liked them too. Maybe a well-liked tag-team works for the Oscars.


DON'T Fear Rejection

When Jon Stewart mocked Scientology and snarked that Hollywood was "out of touch with mainstream America," home viewers roared, but the industry crowd responded with unamused silence.

Replaced by Ellen DeGeneres in 2007, Stewart looked to be one-and-done -- until, like a sheepish lover, the Academy asked him back for '08. Aw, Jon! They like you, they really like you!


DO Stick With What Works

Why mess with success? Billy Crystal's spirited song-and-dance routines, in which he inserted himself into nominated films, never got old in his eight appearances as host -- most memorably when he was wheeled onstage as Hannibal Lecter.

And when Jack Palance started doing one-handed push-ups in 1992, Crystal turned it into one of Oscar's greatest running gags.

Some hosts -- like Hugh Jackman in 2009 -- have tried to emulate Crystal's signature song-and-dance openings, but as hard as Jackman tried, it just wasn't the same.


DON'T Run a Bad Joke Into the Ground

We're not exactly sure what David Letterman was going for when he made his ill-advised "Oprah, Uma. Uma, Oprah" joke at the 1995 Oscars. (At least we think it was a joke.)

But then he did it again ... and again. End result? Oprah boycotted his show until 2005, and Letterman became known, perhaps unfairly, as the worst host in Oscar history.


DO Think on Your Feet

Great Oscar hosts know how to roll with the punches; but the king of quick thinking was 1974 co-host David Niven.

When streaker Robert Opel ran by flashing a peace sign AND his privates, Niven quipped, "Just think, the only laugh that man will probably ever get is by stripping and showing his shortcomings." Now there's a man you want in a crisis (Niven, not Opel).


DO Be Yourself

Ellen DeGeneres' stint as host in 2007 marked the era of a kinder, gentler Oscars: Her folksy shtick included handing Martin Scorsese a script to read and asking Clint Eastwood to pose for a MySpace picture.

As it turned out, maybe the Academy secretly wants to be abused -- that feel-good era lasted all of one year. But don't worry -- Ellen's still dancing onstage ... just not at the Kodak Theatre.


DON'T Sing With Disney Characters

OK, so Rob Lowe didn't host the Oscars. But there are vital lessons to be learned from 1989's opening number, in which Lowe and an actress dressed as Snow White crooned a very special rendition of 'Proud Mary.'

Lowe (fresh off a sex-tape scandal) was a laughingstock. Disney sued. Heck, we'd sue if we could, for assault on good taste.


DO Make a Grand Entrance

Opinion is divided on whether Whoopi Goldberg, with her off-color jokes, was a good host or a bad one. But she did know how to enter a room.

In 1999, she opened the show as Queen Elizabeth, declaring, "I am the African Queen. Some of you may know me as the Virgin Queen, but I can't imagine who." Ah, high style and low humor. The royals would be proud.


DON'T Start Off on the Wrong Foot

In 1988, having already co-hosted with Goldie Hawn and Paul Hogan (that is not a typo; Crocodile Dundee once hosted the Oscars), Chevy Chase flew solo and set the tone with his opening line: "Good evening, Hollywood phonies."

The celebs laughed politely, but Chase wasn't asked to head up the telecast again. It was either that, or the nose-picking.


DO Emulate Johnny Carson

To many, the gold standard for Oscar hosts is five-time emcee Johnny Carson, master of the double-take, the witty ad-lib and the gentle barb ("I see a lot of new faces, especially on the old faces"), who subtly managed to flatter the Hollywood elite and skewer them at the same time.

And the man always exuded class, even when he was sharing the stage with a pig.


DON'T Turn the Oscars Into 'Romper Room'

Believe it or not, the Oscars once ran short, in 1959. Forced to fill the extra time, co-host Jerry Lewis pulled the night's winners out of the wings and exhorted them to dance and sing -- which they did, for a very awkward 20 minutes.

Whether you enjoyed it depends on your taste for Jerry Lewis ... which means they must've loved it in France.


DON'T Insult the Talent (by Name)

When Chris Rock was asked to host in 2005 to bring some "edge" to the proceedings, many worried that the censors would be working overtime.

Rock kept it clean -- but joked that most people hadn't heard of Jude Law, nor had they seen the nominated films. (Gasp!) He wasn't invited back. Guess the Academy didn't want THAT much edge.


DO Poke Fun at Yourself ... Repeatedly

Number of times Bob Hope hosted the Oscars: 18. Number of times he won an Oscar: 0. (He did receive four honorary awards.)

But Hope took those lemons and made them into loser lemonade, getting laughs year after year with self-inflicted zingers like "Welcome to the Academy Awards, or as they're known in my house, Passover."


DON'T Back Down From a Fight

Frank Sinatra was livid when Bert Schneider, producer of the antiwar 'Hearts and Minds,' accepted the 1974 Best Documentary Oscar by reading a letter of "friendship" from the government of North Vietnam.

So he countered with his own statement, hastily composed with co-host Hope, condemning Schneider's speech. Mistake? Who knows -- but it made for great TV.


DON'T Be Afraid to Share

One of the few recurring hosts who wasn't a comedian or talk show host, Jack Lemmon shared duties with four co-hosts in 1958, and three in 1972; and even when he got top billing in 1985, he still had to cede the spotlight to a multitude of celebrity "co-presenters," including Jennifer Beals, Tom Selleck and Kelly LeBrock. Is that any way to treat a two-time Oscar winner?


DO Keep Some Perspective

In the end, no matter what, the critics will rip you to shreds. Just ask Steve Martin, who joked, "Hosting the Oscars is like making love to a beautiful woman. It's something I only get to do when Billy Crystal is out of town."

Some loved him; others blamed him for a dull evening ... and now he watches the show from home like the rest of us. Oh, well. It sure beats waiting tables.


Complete Oscars 2011 Coverage