Last year, the 91st Academy Awards ceremony went on without a host or a satisfactory answer to best picture. The show ran sufficiently unmanned, and so the Academy will be going hostless again this year. But with the recent news, and the subsequent communal sigh of joyous relief, that Tina Fey and Amy Poehler will take back the Golden Globes hosting gig in 2021, I was left yearning for the Oscars to return to form. Hollywood’s biggest night needs somebody to host it.
For a show to be as grand as it is, it really misses the mark without a host. Just running through a list of nominees one after the other is as dull as a high school cross country team banquet. When comparing Fey and Poehler’s impeccable skills to Ricky Gervais’ eye-roll-inducing attempts at hosting, it’s evident that the problem isn’t necessarily with the concept of an emcee but rather the wrong host and/or too much hosting. Like baseball, even the die-hard, party planning, ballot-filling fans can admit that the programs are aggressively long. Where the runtime could be trimmed is the excessive comedy bits sprinkled mid-show and the tedious introductions for a new set of people to introduce the thing that actually needs introducing. Despite the 40 entry slideshows of “every memorable thing that happened at last night’s [insert award show here],” all the host ever does that makes it to the water cooler is the monologue. There’s no need for extra bits, props, selfies, or location changes, I beg of you.
So who should host? A comedian (maybe two), of course. After all, this is supposed to be fun and we need to come to terms with the fact that comedy is outside of Jeremy Renner’s range. We’ve comprised our dream list of comedians who can command the stage, have excellent comedic timing, and are actually well-attuned to subject matter on display that evening.
If you want a great commentator for the Super Bowl, you get someone who loves football. If you want a great award show host, you get an insanely obsessive film nerd who knows, without question, who took home Best Supporting Actress at the 54th ceremony (Maureen Stapleton, apparently). The Oscars are the Super Bowl for Virtel, who often shows off his encyclopedic knowledge of the program on the podcast Keep It. His impressive ability to rattle off every nominee and outcome off the top of his head is only matched by his sharp-as-knives wit and ability to spit out witty retorts to his co-hosts at breakneck speeds. Having a passion for your subject is a game-changer for a writer and Virtel’s Oscar passion is unmatched. He’s already co-hosted ABC’s Oscars All Access: Red Carpet Live on Twitter last year, so go ahead and give him the reins and let the niche references and playful snark roll.
Matt Rogers & Bowen Yang
I love a duo-act. A show like the Oscars can really thrive under two emcees who can banter and play off of each other’s bits. As the Oscars are considered the cultural event of the year for film, who better to guide us through the evening than the Las Culturistas? Fully immersed in all things culture, comedians and podcasters Matt Rogers (Quibi’s Gayme Show) and Bowen Yang (Saturday Night Live) are far less likely to make the kind of obvious, first-thought joke that dragged down Billy Crystal and Ellen DeGeneres’s overly broad monologues. Their high-energy, laugh-out-loud podcast not only showcases their comedic prowess but also the most enviable display of friendship. They embody the kind of best friend dynamic that makes Tina and Amy so endearing. While 2019 was a breakout year for their podcast as well as them as individual performers, they’re obviously massive longshots for the gig, but that doesn’t mean they’re not perfectly suitable for it.
Ayoade’s ultra-dry demeanor could work as a great change of pace. The British comedian is a regular on the UK’s annual, zany televised trivia tournament, The Big Fat Quiz of the Year, easily out-quipping the rest of the panel for the full two-hour runtime. As a seasoned TV presenter and critically acclaimed filmmaker, Ayoade seems like a natural choice to host a night that’s all about celebrating the year in film. While I wouldn’t be opposed to pairing him with one of his regular cohorts like David Mitchell or Noel Fielding, I’d love to see Ayoade’s weird charisma stand alone on stage in stark comparison to some of the louder host personalities of the past.
I’ll say about John Mulaney what the prominent stand-up once said to Bill Clinton: you can do whatever you want forever. He’s Paste Magazine’s top comedian of the decade, had one of the most (and few) memorable award show monologues co-hosting the Independent Spirit Awards alongside Nick Kroll, and his latest comedy/kids show hybrid special, John Mulaney and the Sack Lunch Bunch, shows Mulaney is a delight to watch in whatever he does. Through those two vastly different gigs, the comedian displayed a particular hosting skillset that feels both modern and old-school that seems aligned with the Oscars’ overall vibe.
Julie Klausner & Billy Eichner
At the tippy-top of everyone’s “shows that were tragically cut too short” list should be Hulu’s Difficult People. It was a true hard comedy in an era of soft dramedies and Klausner and Eichner’s entertainment-obsessed alter egos were deadly accurate with their takedowns. The series was essentially an audition for award show hosting duties with the pilot even ending at an Oscar party. Again, these award shows would do a lot better with hosts who genuinely want to be there and are not just picking up a paycheck. Just think of the Cats jokes!
If you still have reservations about hiring a host again, just watch Chelsea Peretti’s momentous opening monologue from last year’s Writer’s Guild Awards. A mix of inside baseball and wry observational jabs, she was an absolute joke machine. Peretti offers a mix of silly and ruthless comedy and her respectful indifference to the crowds’ squeamishness allows for material that is astute and tight rather than safe and boring. She’s unflappable and no monologue last year had a better line than when Peretti called out Bradley Cooper for saying he dreamed parts of A Star is Born before writing it by asking him, “Did your dreams take place in 1937, 1954 and 1976?”
Maya Rudolph & Kristen Wiig
How many times do these two need to steal the show as presenters before we give in to the inevitable and let them host? A Tina-and-Amy-type pairing with a slightly more absurd sense of humor, this combo is an absolute winner. As part of an eclectic group of women that helmed a truly iconic era of SNL, we know these two can thrive live on stage and with each other.
Minus the overt craziness, Tituss Burgess has a lot in common with his Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt character: a quick wit, amazing vocal range, and bold charisma. The man is a star, people. In theory, his Broadway background and Gatling-gun-joke-slinging sitcom work should translate well onto the Oscars stage. The multi-hyphenate is about as well-rounded as an emcee could be.
Issa Rae & Natasha Rothwell
“Congratulations to those men.” Issa Rae already has the soundbite of award season when she presented this year’s nominees alongside John Cho. In fact, she frequently has a quote-worthy moment on the red carpets of these ceremonies, so proper hosting duties seem well-aligned for Rae. Although the Insecure star is not a stand-up, her co-star Natasha Rothwell is. As the series’ greatest outlet for comedic relief, Rothwell’s live comedy experience would back-up Rae nicely. This would be the refreshing hire that the show desperately needs. I’ll take this pair over any white male talk show host anytime. I think we’re good on those guys for a while, thanks.
Why the hell not? O’Hara is a comedic legend having been a staple of Christopher Guest’s filmography and SCTV and she’s having a bit of a renaissance moment due to her scene-stealing role on Schitt’s Creek. Her co-stars Eugene and Dan Levy delightfully opened up the SAG awards earlier this month leading some to call for them to host a future show, but sorry, I’d rather see Moira Rose sing Saoirse Ronan’s praises.
Despite the bad faith talk radio-style discourse that followed, Michelle Wolf was an excellent pick to emcee the 2018 White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Through two joke-heavy stand-up specials and her own experience hosting a talk show, Wolf writes tight jokes imbued with just the right amount of biting commentary. Fearless but not needlessly cruel, the comedian would be a great fit for the job.
Jemaine Clement & Bret McKenzie
Look, all I want is more Flight of the Conchords content. If dressing in a suit and pretending to have watched Ford v Ferrari is how I get it then that’s just fine. Regardless of my FOTC greed, the two would genuinely make fantastic hosts. Much like Ayoade, their dry and subtle comedic style would be welcomed new direction for the gig while their slight outsider status as New Zealanders has the potential to lend a new, unique perspective to Hollywood’s biggest night.
Tina Fey & Amy Poehler
I mean, they basically are the gold standard for hosting duties now. Let’s get ‘em on every awards show: Oscars, Tonys, Espys, Slammies… they’d fit in everywhere.
Olivia Cathcart is Paste’s assistant comedy editor.