The Brief, Unhappy Oscar Night of Kevin Hart

On September 6th, 2012, Kevin Hart hosted the MTV Video Music Awards. He took the stage surrounded by a group of bodyguards dressed in Secret Service suits, all of whom were little people. He announced, “I told MTV I was going to need a little security. I think they took it a little literally.” This was the opening joke. Of his monologue. Hosting an award show. On December 4th, 2018, the Academy Awards announced that Kevin Hart was hosting this year’s Oscar ceremony. On December 6th, 2018, Kevin Hart announced he was pulling out of the gig. What the hell just happened here?

Not a thing about this fiasco makes a lick of sense. Kevin Hart is a wildly successful movie star and comedian. He is a man of many talents. Award shows are not one of them. He is the smarmiest, sleaziest, creepiest and unfunniest award show guest of the past decade. He usually co-presents with a female movie star and slimes all over her sexually — like at the podium at the 2015 Golden Globes with Salma Hayek, when yes, he made a joke about her “golden globes” (meaning her breasts) and she just cringed, as we all cringed for her. Salma Hayek was not anointed to host this year’s Oscars. Kevin Hart was.

The sheer jaw-dropping badness of this decision defies all logic. Hosting the Academy Awards used to be one of the most prestigious, high-profile gigs in show business. How did it become a job they got so desperate to fill, they called Kevin Hart, knowing his shtick? It’s not like his sense of humor is some kind of guilty secret he kept hidden until this week. Didn’t they check out any of the shows he’s hosted before? Here’s Hart again at the 2012 VMAs, right after Lady Gaga performed. “Lady Gaga got ass. I didn’t know she had all that ass. Lady Gaga got them yams. I was looking. I was definitely looking.” This year, Lady Gaga will be a nominee for Best Actress. They thought Kevin Hart should be the guy making jokes about her on live TV? They didn’t see him creep out Tiffany Haddish with herpes jokes at the VMAs a few months ago? How did they think this wouldn’t be a disaster? And who would want the job now, knowing they were below Kevin Hart on the wish list?

It’s no secret the Academy is having trouble finding warm bodies willing to host—as Hollywood Reporter said this week, it’s become “the least-wanted job in Hollywood.” It’s a gig where the downside is much bigger than the upside. Flop at the Oscars, you flop big. Ratings have been trending down—perhaps no more than any other live-TV event these days, but enough that the host will get unfairly blamed no matter what happens. Chris Rock, the greatest living award-show host, crushed it both times he hosted. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are still at the top of everybody’s wish list, after their triumphant three-year running the Golden Globes—but they’ve never shown any desire to bail out the Oscars.

Jimmy Kimmell hosted the last couple years, and did his (usual) excellent job, knowing full well it was just because he was the network’s in-house late-night franchise guy. He’s a pro accustomed to thinking on his feet, keeping things moving fast, handling the live-TV pressure with a cool head. Not necessarily exciting, but reliable. Ellen Degeneres, Whoopi Goldberg, Steve Martin, Hugh Jackman, Jon Stewart — they knew how to handle this tricky gig. It’s a job that calls for a certain stamina, plus a willingness to shut up and not be the center of attention. But Kevin Hart? Not that guy, which is why he bombed hosting the VMAs and the BET Awards. He doesn’t ham it up this way to be a jerk—he does it because he thinks it’s funny. It’s never funny. Hardly anyone would have been a worse fit for the Oscars. James Franco would be a better pick. Billy Crystal would be a better pick. Seth McFarlane would…I find myself reluctant to type the rest of the sentence. But Bob Hope would be a better pick, and he died 15 years ago. (Hologram!) Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway would be a brilliant move.

A few years ago, the Oscar honchos raised eyebrows by inviting Eddie Murphy to host—the star who got so upset when he failed to win Best Actor, he walked out in the middle of the ceremony. Hiring him to host was a terrible idea, and it didn’t work. Murphy bailed in a huff a few months before Oscar Night, which meant we got denied the pleasure of seeing him bail during the show. Instead, we got stuck that year with Crystal, who exercised restraint (by his standards) in doing only one godawful blackface routine. In 2013, they hired MacFarlane, who was so hysterically unfunny he made you wonder if they tried getting Billy on the phone.

Until this week, the Academy’s host troubles were a private industry matter. Now everybody on earth knows about them. The ceremony doesn’t happen until February 24th, and it’s already in flaming-engines crisis mode. (What if — God forbid — they bring back Billy to host? Seriously, what if? Please, no, guys — bite your lip, call Warren and Faye, make an offer they can’t refuse.) In other words, this messiest of all Oscar messes could just keep getting uglier from here.

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