Sure, Oh is a beloved TV actor, known for her critically acclaimed run on “Grey’s Anatomy” and now her role on the knob-chopping spy thriller “Killing Eve.” And Samberg, a quick-fire comedian with a seemingly inborn stage presence, successfully made the transition from “Saturday Night Live” cast member to bona fide sitcom lead.
But the two together? Why?
The question was on the tip of my tongue as I watched the very talented stars awkwardly rattle off jokes side-by-side Sunday evening. Maybe it was their lack of chemistry. Former Emmys host Samberg is a natural funnyman, kicked into gear by live TV king Lorne Michaels. Oh’s humor is a little drier, sharper; a bit of Cristina Yang bled through her carefully timed delivery. Separately, their demeanors are fantastic. Forced together, one host always seemed to be chasing the other’s lead.
Or perhaps it was the “kill them with kindness” schtick that didn’t quite land as the two tripped over their purposefully tame teleprompter lines. Or the odd transition from facetious hot potato to sincere monologue, when Oh, standing in front of a room full of mostly rich white people, began to explain how sincerely special it was for her, an Asian-Canadian actor, to be hosting the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s big night.
“I wanted to be here to look out into this audience and witness this moment of change,” she began, as audience members continued to bleat out awkward laughs. “I’m not fooling myself. Next year could be different. It probably will be. But right now, this moment is real, because I see you, and I see you. All of these faces of change. And now, so will everyone else.”
Celebrities at the Beverly Hilton, along with the ordinaries at home who’ve been trained to expect cheesy jokes and oddball stunts from their broadcast awards shows, seemed to miss the sentiment shift at first ― only noticing it when the tears started welling up in Oh’s eyes.
And then I realized: My problem with the hosts had little to do with them, their schtick or the audience’s inability to appropriately digest Oh’s impactful speech. The reality is simpler: There is no such thing as a good awards show host.
The thing is, the job of an awards show host ― in the age of real-time social media criticism, at least ― is a lose-lose gig, and the organizations who run those shows know it. Just ask Anne Hathaway. If you’re cutesy, you’re labeled a bore by the masses. If you’re sarcastic, you’re considered too snarky. If you stay silent on politics, you’re unwoke. If you’re Jimmy Kimmel, you’re just doing it to promote your late-night show.
Time and time again, we watch as hosts are breathlessly celebrated and tormented online, laughed with just before they’re laughed at. For every Tina Fey-Amy Poehler back-and-forth, Ellen DeGeneres selfie and Hugh Jackman dance routine (acclaimed, innocent and inoffensive, respectively), there is an off-color David Letterman Oprah-Uma introduction, an unlikable Jude Law insult and an awkward James Franco.
Now, when Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph took the stage on Sunday, I wondered if those women ― two more of Michaels’ protégés ― could carry a contemporary awards show with minimal criticism. Their timing, chemistry and delivery soared in the few minutes they were on camera. That, in part, had to do with their lack of dependency on the prompter, as they used most of their limited screen time to gaze into each other’s eyes after a staged proposal. (A proposal that maybe mocked director Glenn Weiss’ Emmys engagement?) But wouldn’t watching Poehler and Rudolph perform standup for 60 minutes be 10 times better than watching them read off overly rehearsed lines to a room full of people who are high on Moët and their own egos?
That was the case with Poehler and Fey when they were given the chance to host the Golden Globes three years in a row, thanks to their near-perfect rapport. Their banter and charm was certainly a welcome distraction from the otherwise methodical format of awards shows, which is why people are campaigning for duos like John Mulaney and Nick Kroll to host. Except I’d rather just watch funny people perform their Netflix specials than schmooze through a set of overly vetted jokes performed in front of the crème de la crème of Tinseltown. Maybe awards show hosts were more popular in the 1980s and ’90s because we had few opportunities otherwise to see comedians like Billy Crystal and Chris Rock live. Now, streaming platforms, social media and YouTube make it easy to get your fix.
Let’s be clear: Oh’s monologue on Sunday was nothing short of refreshing, underscoring just how historic her stint as the first Asian host of the Golden Globes really was. As she said, things are changing in Hollywood; we can now demand more than the same people (historically, white men) tap dancing across the stages of celebrity soirees year after year.
But not even Oh could save the long beleaguered awards show hosting gig overall. Because it’s a bad job. What we really want is to see her in more leading roles on television, maybe even film. Let her energy be focused on those important goals rather than a job that rarely receives praise. We put these hosts through the wringer, only to demand more from the next year’s choice ― be funnier, be quicker, be more aggressive, but also relax. Why do they even bother?
So, Oscars producers licking their wounds after Kevin Hart stepped down from the job, listen up: Hire no one. You don’t need a host. You only need presenters. Funny ones, yes. Maybe a handful of smartly matched, comedic pairings (Hollywood sweethearts, witty Brits, drunken castmates, whoever!) who can still deliver bits without carrying the burden of the whole show.
I can suggest a few expected presenter pairs: Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner. Emily Blunt and John Krasinski (bonus points for marriage!). Constance Wu and Randall Park. Some less expected: Melissa McCarthy and Michael B. Jordan. Lin-Manuel Miranda and Idris Elba. Ryan Reynolds and Tiffany Haddish. Write them some good jokes and we’ll tune in.
But don’t bait us with a host, or even two.
Because the role of awards show host is the most thankless job in entertainment, and we should stop commanding that our favorites even try. Rather than judge someone for all their inevitable mistakes, let’s laugh at short bits between a few random A-listers. Guiding the ship, as Oh now knows, is a losing battle for the hosts and the audience at home, who are really just looking for a reason not to change the channel.