Jon Stewart returns for a second go-round as Oscar host


When it comes to The Academy Awards, there are two kinds of hosts: Billy Crystal ... and everybody else. If the choice isn't Crystal, one can sense an almost palpable disappointment at the announcement. Such was the case when it was revealed last September that Jon Stewart would reprise his role as host, a gig he first accepted in 2006. At that time, the reaction to his edgy, cagey style at the podium was decidedly mixed.

But the truth is that the glib and acerbic host of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" -- born Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz in New York City 45 years ago -- carries the mantle of hip that makes him an obvious choice in an election year to host Sunday's Oscar telecast.

Crystal, turning 60 in March, might be considered too long in the tooth to pull in the younger viewers that both ABC and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences know they require to instill some youthful demographic heft. Stewart, by contrast, is an icon to the college crowd, with his sly intelligence and trademark snark.

"I'm thrilled to be asked to host the Academy Awards for the second time, because, as they say, the third time's a charm," Stewart said at the time of the announcement.

That has been pretty much it for Stewart's discussion of the assignment. He has declined most, if not all, requests for interviews this time around. Perhaps it's in part a reaction to the decidedly mixed reviews (at best) that greeted his previous Oscar stint, in tandem with a somewhat lukewarm response from the gathered audience.

There was some grumbling two years ago that Stewart had perhaps disrespected the Hollywood community in a fashion similar to that of another invader from New York, David Letterman, who had his lone Academy Awards turn in 1995. This was particularly evident when Stewart quipped that the Oscars were a chance to "see all of your favorite stars without having to donate any money to the Democratic Party" -- and then later, when referring to film piracy and the audience in attendance, cracked, "These are the people you're stealing from."

While those monologue jokes drew few chuckles, Stewart built steam as the night went along and arguably did better than he's given credit for. There was, for instance, his perfectly timed line three-quarters of the way into that 2006 show: "I can't wait 'til later when we see Oscar's salute to montages."

Stewart isn't expected to be hurting for material this year, at least now that the writers strike has been settled. He can now utilize his own award-winning "Daily Show" writing staff and, at least equally important, won't need to cross any picket lines or tiptoe through a minefield of industry ill will. The actors and nominees will be there to present and accept, and Stewart will have an opportunity to not only poke fun at them and the year in film but a high-octane presidential campaign as well.

He can even use the writing community itself as a comedic foil. That's not to even mention such ripe targets as Britney Spears, Roger Clemens and Bill Clinton.

"Jon was a terrific host for the 78th Awards," Oscar producer Gilbert Cates says. "He's smart, quick, funny, loves movies and is a great guy. What else could one ask for? I can tell you that Jon's very excited to be back with us this year. What's he going to do? I haven't a clue. But even if I knew, you know I wouldn't tell you."