Wondering why it’s so hard to find a host for the Oscars? The Academy Awards honor yearly achievement in film. It used to be a quiet event, a dinner show with awesome door prizes, but now it’s a huge media circus, one that needs a ringmaster. But it’s more like a juggling act, and sometimes, the show drops the ball. Here are 10 really bad moments in Oscar host history.
James Franco and Anne Hathaway, 2011
Desperate to appeal to younger viewers and raise ratings, the Academy thought it would try something new: Hire hot young actors with big name recognition but zero live comedy experience. It went about as well as you’d imagine. Reportedly, Franco and Hathaway were so inexperienced at performing live that it never occurred to them to watch footage of their performance during rehearsal to see how it was going. Franco was widely panned for seeming disinterested in the show as he was hosting it (his eyes are literally closed during their monologue), while Hathaway’s exuberance (at 26, she was the youngest Oscar host in history) was knocked for trying overly hard to make up for Franco’s lack of energy. It’s considered the worst Oscar show to date, and when you see the competition, you’ll see that’s quite an accomplishment.
Jimmy Kimmel, 2017
In the year when the wrong film was read out as the Best Picture winner (“La La Land” instead of the real winner “Moonlight”) — which, granted, is a pretty big mistake — only one thing could possibly be worse than such a mistake, and that’s a deliberate disaster. Host Jimmy Kimmel decided to go out in the middle of the live broadcast and grab an entire tour bus full of people and bring them into the auditorium, either showing the stars off to the tourists, or the tourists to the stars. The bus riders were confused, the audience and nominees were confused, and the television audience was split between jealousy and pity.
Seth MacFarlane, 2013
He may be a comedic writer but his performance was tragic. Starting with an opening musical number highlighting the times that Oscar-winning actresses had been shown topless onscreen, it managed to go downhill from there. The television cameras focused on the horrified faces of the actresses being smugly sung about, even if their film appearance had been dramatizing a traumatic context. Some of the actresses (like MacFarlane’s “A Million Ways To Die in the West” co-star Charlize Theron) seemed in on the joke, but it didn’t stop the audience at home from turning against him. The ceremony ended with “Argo” taking Best Picture and MacFarlane taking Worst Excuse For A Human Being.
David Letterman, 1995
This one hurts because it seemed like the perfect fit. Letterman, at the time the heir apparent to Johnny Carson (until Jay Leno usurped the throne), was also following in his idol’s footsteps as Oscar host. His television writing team wrote his Oscar routines, but what was funny on “The Late Show” was less so in front of Hollywood royalty. His painfully unfunny “Uma, Oprah” bit is still a legend in live broadcast flops.
John Travolta, 2014
Although he was not the main show host (that was Ellen DeGeneres), Travolta was tasked with introducing one of the Best Song nominees before the song was performed. The song was of course that Disney earworm “Let It Go” from “Frozen.” But Travolta announced Tony Award-winning singer Idina Menzel as something that sounded like “Adele Dazeem.” A meme was born that night. She got back at him the following year by introducing him as “Glom Gazingo.”
David Niven, 1974
The quintessential English gentleman, Niven was presenting Elizabeth Taylor, who was going to read the nominations for Best Picture, when one of the most ’70s things imaginable happened — a man ran naked across the stage, “streaking” — on live television no less. In the moment, the unflappable David Niven ad-libbed, “Isn’t it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?”
Sean Penn, 2015
The presenter for Best Picture, Penn saw that the winner was “Birdman,” directed by his friend, Mexican national Alejandro González Iñárritu. Before naming the movie, he called out, “Who gave this SOB a green card?” — only he didn’t abbreviate the epithet. Many saw it as ruining a great moment for the director with a tacky joke. While González Iñárritu himself said he “forgave” Penn for it and found it funny, fans did not, and spread around the social media hashtag #Penndejo in response.
Jerry Lewis, 1959
Viewers are still feeling the sting of second-hand embarrassment from this one. Third-time Oscar host (who by then should have known better) Jerry Lewis was confronted with a problem that has not plagued the show since — it ran 20 minutes short. Lewis, best known for his improvisational skills, did the only thing he could do — improvise! He made the orchestra play about 30 verses of “There’s No Business Like Show Business” while he goofed around on the stage, flopping so hard that the network actually cut the broadcast and filled the remaining time with a short movie.
Chevy Chase, 1988
The year of the Hollywood writer’s strike threatened to shut down the Oscar broadcast too, but producers thought they could handle it. Chevy Chase had co-hosted the previous year’s show, so no problem, right? Wrong. Without actual writers, the show was dependent on the performers — and Chase began the show by shouting “Good evening, Hollywood phonies!” and proceeding to either sleepwalk through his hosting segments or go off on a rant — his diatribe against movie critics lost him what few friends in town he still had. At least things couldn’t get worse, right?
Rob Lowe, 1989
Wrong. The very next year brought the most notoriously horrible moment in Oscar broadcast history. The producer of that year’s ceremony was failed musical producer Allan Carr, who desperately wanted a comeback to prove his one hit, “Grease,” was not a fluke. His opening number consisted of a 10-minute “welcome to Hollywood” montage featuring an ingénue dressed as Snow White — the Disney version — who ends up in a club singing a duet with then-heartthrob-with-an-embarrassing-sex-tape Rob Lowe. Disney sued over the use of their copyrighted image, Lowe’s career suffered more from this debacle than the sex tape, and “Snow White” left Hollywood forever — the only Disney princess who didn’t get to live happily ever after.