Beyond Compre

Bob Hope
First year as compere: 1940
Last year as compere: 1978

Oscar’s longest-serving ringmaster hosted the ceremony 17 times over the course of 39 years, but was never even nominated himself. “Welcome to the Academy Awards or, as they’re known in my house, Passover,” he drawled. Hopefully, the five honorary awards dished out to him softened the blow.

Best gag: Hosting the first Oscar broadcast in colour in 1966, Hope joked that “now you can actually see the losers turn green.”

Johnny Carson
First year as compere: 1979
Last year as compere: 1984

Carson made hosting look easy, but then he’d fronted America’s late-night talk show, The Tonight Show, for decades. When the 1981 ceremony was delayed a day after John Hinckley’s attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan, Carson still had bite, describing the actor-turned-Pres’ decision to cut arts funding as “Reagan’s strongest attack on the arts since he signed with Warner Brothers.”

Best gag: “Welcome to the Academy Awards: a glittering two hours of entertainment, spread out over four hours.”

Billy Crystal
First year as compere: 1990
Last year as compere: 2004

After 1989’s host-free year saw Rob Lowe dueting with Snow White, Crystal was a breath of fresh air. “Is that for me, or are you just glad I’m not Snow White?” he quipped when an ovation greeted his inaugural appearance. The Zelig-like montage of Crystal pasted into scenes from the Best Picture nominees has since become a staple.

Best gag: “Like the Titanic we are huge, expensive and everyone wants us to go faster.”

Whoopi Goldberg
First year as compere: 1994
Last year as compere: 2002

Arriving on stage in 1999 dressed as Queen Elizabeth (“Some of you may know me as the Virgin Queen, but I can’t imagine who...”) and cracking the only known Oscar fart gag in 1996 (after the Best Song-winning ‘Colors Of The Wind’, she quipped, “The question I want to answer: what colour is /my/ wind?”), Goldberg was asked back again in 2002.

Best gag: “Behave at the parties after the show. Last year, a producer got so drunk he left with a woman his own age.”

David Letterman
First year as compere: 1995
Last year as compere: 1995

Letterman’s one and only stint was, according to some, a train wreck. Certainly, the conservative Academy weren’t amused by the Late Show host’s chronic irreverence – getting Tom Hanks to help with a performing dog skit and repeated attempts to get the audience to chant “Uma, Oprah” resulted in bemused silence. Organisers made him drop plans to raffle a car mid-show.

Best gag: “Would it have killed you to wear a tie?” to the Nehru-collared Hanks.

Steve Martin
First year as compere: 2001
Last year as compere: 2003

From scripted gags (“Later, we’re going to show you a montage of people you think are dead, but aren’t”) to ad-libs (on Björk’s dress “I was going to wear my swan but I decided they were so last year”), Martin’s only sticky point came when he said of Ellen Burstyn, “She had gained 30 pounds and looked like she aged 20 years [for Requiem For A Dream], but Russell Crowe still hit on her.” The audience gasped as Crowe glowered.

Best gag: “Hosting the Oscars is like making love to a beautiful woman: something I only get to do when Billy Crystal is out of town.”

Chris Rock
First year as compere: 2005
Last year as compere: 2005

Rock was a controversial pick for 2005, with critics quick to lambast the “foul-mouthed” choice, a clear grab on the Academy’s part to attract younger viewers. Still, he kept it clean (mostly), despite ordering everyone to “sit your asses down!” as his first line. But sadly the Academy’s gamble didn’t exactly pay off: lacklustre ratings for his outing mean he’s unlikely to be back anytime soon.

Best gag:
“You want Denzel Washington and all you can get is me? Wait. Denzel is a fine actor. He woulda never made Pootie Tang.”

This year’s host is The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart.

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