With Seth MacFarlane having ruled himself out of proceedings, the annual pass-the-parcel game for one of the most thankless gigs in showbiz — hosting the Academy Awards — continues apace. Nobody’s taken on the burden for two years running since Billy Crystal in 1998, while in the past decade, seven people have been (thus far) one-night-only hires. Finding a resident host would probably save AMPAS a lot of bother every year, but so far, nobody seems willing and/or able to be the 21st-century Bob Hope.
And since his name will inevitably be thrown into the hat again by pundits, as it has been for the last few years, Ricky Gervais has publicly declared that he’s open to offers. The sarky British comedian, who provided the Golden Globes with a signature emcee for three years running, has previously ruled himself out of the Oscar discussion. But with his Globes stint over — and with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler having proven a superior replacement act earlier this year — he’s had a change of heart.
Speaking to Tom O’Neil at Gold Derby, Gervais stated that he would now accept an offer from the Academy, though only under certain conditions. After O’Neil informed him that TV super-producer (and fellow Brit) Mark Burnett — best known for steering “Survivor,” but also various awards shows, including the Emmys — believes Gervais is the best man for the job, Gervais responded as follows:
“On the one hand I would be incredibly flattered and whatever you think of those sort of things, it would be a thrill and an honor to be asked. On the other hand I doubt the job offer would come without some strings attached. The worst string being, handing in my credentials as a comedian in favor of a family entertainer. We have to be able to poke fun at society without favoring any part of it because we are beholden to someone. And it’s a fine line between feeling like you’ve sold your soul and feeling like you’re ruining someone’s party. it would be very tempting though, I must admit.”
Gervais, of course, drew a divided response for his take-no-prisoners hosting style at the Globes, where he cheerfully but scabrously ridiculed nominees and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association alike. It’s an approach you can get away with at the Globes, where the boozy party atmosphere, as well as the awards’ generally acknowledged lesser prestige, is more conducive to a celebrity roasting. (Fey and Poehler followed his lead, though their delivery was a shade warmer.)
At the Oscars, though, satire is a more delicate art, and tends to go over better when a Hollywood insider is cracking the jokes. Billy Crystal, Steve Martin and even Whoopi Goldberg repeatedly managed the broadly preferred balance of ribbing and backpatting; Chris Rock’s crueller comedy, for example, drew a much chillier response.
Gervais’s quote suggests he’s not willing to make the affectionate compromises managed by the Crystals of this world, which is just one reason I suspect he isn’t at the top of the Academy’s wishlist — another being that they probably don’t want to be seen as taking the Globes’ sloppy seconds. Still, good to know that he’s around if they’re willing to go there; if the show’s organizers find themselves at the same kind of creative dead end that inspired them to hire Anne Hathaway and James Franco three years ago, they’d do well to make that call.