Chris Rock (2005)
The worst joke: “If you want Tom Cruise and all you can get is Jude Law, wait!”
The rest of the night: Chris Rock is one of our greatest stand-up comedians, and though his material as Oscar host wasn’t inherently terrible – set the same jokes up at the Comedy Cellar and it would probably go in a totally different direction – here was a case where the talent just didn’t fit the crowd. From the moment Rock made it onstage, he was rushing through his material, skipping over pauses for laughter and applause whenever he sensed a joke wasn’t landing. Even if the bits themselves were good, Rock didn’t handle the lack of an audience response particularly well. His more obvious whiffs came when he poked fun at a very-prolific Jude Law (disclaimer: it was 2005) and at actors who always seem to get picked second (in a bit of self-deprecation, the crowd wasn’t quite as amused as Rock was). But a perfect example of the night’s mood came in a way-too-long bit about no one wanting to make “Passion of the Christ.” Mild laughs faded into an uncomfortable silence as Rock went on and on, culminating in that infamous line: “That means Jude Law can get into a club easier than Mel Gibson and Jesus.” Oprah’s horrified reaction said everything about Rock’s night.
James Franco & Anne Hathaway (2011)
The rest of the night: In an attempt to appeal to a younger demographic, the Academy took a risk on a historically (and hilariously) mismatched pair of hosts. Anne Hathaway and James Franco presented polar-opposite energies and senses of humor, with Franco droll and subdued, and Hathaway exuberant and loud. Aside from a glaring lack of chemistry between the two hosts, a permeating clumsiness made this gig seem egregiously unrehearsed. In particular, an endless riff on Franco’s nomination for “127 Hours” sunk embarrassingly low, while Hathaway’s isolated bursts of excitement – “Hollywood’s biggest night!” “My mom is here!” “You’re all real!” – came off as awkward and more than a little artificial. Granted, Hathaway had to overcompensate for Franco’s seeming-attempt to show as little interest as possible (alternate explanation: he was stoned), but their pacing was so off that, mediocre material notwithstanding, every interaction between the two was just painful to sit through. By the time Franco showed up in drag, the whole “they’re making this up on the spot” sentiment rang unnervingly true.
Seth McFarlane (2013)
The rest of the night: McFarlane didn’t do an entirely terrible job, and really, how people feel about his hosting gig is probably dependent on their opinions of the “Family Guy” creator himself. But too often, McFarlane’s humor was pointlessly salty, with racial and gender commentary less edgy than stale and mildly offensive. There was a curiosity in how McFarlane’s energy would mix with a usually-conservative event like the Oscars, but his “We Saw Your Boobs” opening number was a perfect example of how it actually went down: once the shock value faded, the act was airlessly crude. He made a joke about confusing Denzel Washington in “Flight” with Eddie Murphy in “The Nutty Professor,” and explained that viewers compensate for not understanding Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz “because they’re so attractive.” Yes, that about sums up Mr. McFarlane’s evening: aggressively averse to political correctness, but not funny or nuanced enough to justify why.
David Letterman (1995)
The rest of the night: Again, no one’s going to accuse David Letterman of being a generally unfunny person – but seriously, his stuff did not agree with Oscar. That aforementioned “Oprah/Uma” bit, in which Letterman milked a couple minutes’ worth of airtime by showing his unabashed amusement with the names, was only the beginning of a long night for the “Late Show” host. Letterman invited the writing team from his day job to craft his jokes and skits, and what they churned out for the comedian kept the audience remarkably unresponsive throughout. Though he had another notable miss with a bizarre spinning dog routine, you’d think Letterman’s goofily lazy charm – which, let’s be honest, comprised most of his hosting duties – would be enough. But it most definitely wasn’t – for whatever reason, his audience was having none of it, and the dead-silence that carried on through the third hour kept things profoundly uncomfortable until the telecast’s merciful conclusion.