As the rest of Hollywood worries about what baubles and bustiers they’re going to wear to the Academy Awards, Ellen Degeneres is only concerned with the jokes.
Degeneres is the host of the 79th annual awards show, the biggest night of entertainment on TV - and around the world.
“The humor will come from something everyone will relate to,” Degeneres said, adding that the bulk of the jokes can’t be too specific. “Not everybody watching will have seen every single film, so you don’t want to just play to the industry.”
It’s a job that puts the host dead center before millions of viewers, but it’s also one that has left some big-name stars big-time bad fits afterwards.
Remember David Letterman?
His disastrous outing as host in 1995 still stands as a low watermark for the Academy Awards telecast.
“I’m going to go out there and do what I think is funny,” said Degeneres. “I want to be perfect, and fantastic, but, that doesn’t mean I’m going to please everybody.”
While she’s an Oscar rookie, this is not Degeneres’ first time as the host of a major awards show. She’s already done two Grammy Awards, and she presided over two Primetime Emmy Awards, including the twice-postponed 2001 outing, which was held as the country was wracked with grief following the terrorist attacks of 9-11.
Degeneres and her writing team, which includes brother Vance, had already invested four weeks of work on the Academy Awards show before the nominees were announced.
Her monologue is well on the way, and some of the jokes will definitely come from the hip as the show goes on.
“Nobody’s wanting me to censor myself in any way, and they trust me not to do anything inappropriate,” she said. “I’m going to have my monologue ready. And, you’re praying for something, not necessarily to go wrong, but when you have Jack Palance doing a one-arm pushup or a streaker, as a comedian that’s when you have the most fun.”
Degeneres said they’ll encourage winners to be brief in their speeches, but the band won’t embarrass anyone by playing music mid-chatter. Likewise, there will be a backstage component where winners can thank the people they forgot online.
“They can thank all the people we don’t care about,” she said. “We just want to see the heartfelt, passionate response to an award.”
But don’t expect any song and dance numbers, a la Billy Crystal. Degeneres is planning to just be herself.
“While you’re doing it, it’s a thrill,” she said of hosting a major awards show. “If you can stay in the moment, which is what your goal is, it’s a thrill. It’s really a thrill when you finish it because you’ve taken on something not a lot of people do. I just don’t ever want to be too comfortable.”
SHE’S JUST PLAIN FOLKS
Ellen Degeneres has made a career out of speaking to regular people.
Born in Metairie, La., in 1958, Degeneres broke into the entertainment field first as a standup comic. She got her big break in 1986 on the “Tonight” show.
She parlayed her observational style of comedy into an ABC sitcom in 1994 and then in 1997 made headlines by announcing that she - and her character on the show - were lesbians.
The sitcom ended in 1998. After her public split from actress Anne Heche in 2000, she bounced back on CBS in 2001 with “The Ellen Show,” a critically acclaimed series that lasted just a season.
She launched her eponymous daytime talk show in 2003 with raves from critics and a big fan following. At the time, Degeneres said she found the perfect job, adding that she probably wouldn’t do anything else until she retired.
But she’s rethinking that stand. “I should have learned by now to try and not chart my life out,” she said. “There’s a few things I’m working on now, we’ll see, this (talk show) is definitely taking me through 2010. Then we’ll see what happens.”
Degeneres, whose partner is actress Portia de Rossi, says she misses the energy of standup and may do more comedy in the near future. “I miss that immediacy of being on stage,” Degeneres said.
There’s nothing more immediate than the Oscars.