TORONTO – Hosting a major awards show like the Oscars is a high-wire act that even some of the most veteran comedians have failed at (David Letterman, anyone?).
But the job seems to be even more treacherous these days, with political tensions running high in the U.S. Some viewers are hoping for fun escapism, while others are expecting biting commentary on what’s happening in the world.
Last month at the Golden Globes, which was the first major awards show to air after the election, Jimmy Fallon tried to strike that balance by taking some broad swipes at U.S. President Donald Trump while also providing levity. But “The Tonight Show” host got mixed reviews.
“I wouldn’t want that job right now,” says Golden Globe-winning actress Drew Barrymore, who stars in the new Netflix series “Santa Clarita Diet.”
“I feel very inspired by protesting but I feel like people in the entertainment industry are just getting shot down and it’s a very tricky climate. I feel like it’s a little bit lose-lose for entertainers right now.”
“It’s a hard balance to strike,” adds John Lee Hancock, director of the new film “The Founder.”
“Some people will say, ‘Oh, you kept the kid gloves on,’ and other people would say, ‘Why did you go after him?’ So you’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t.”
James Corden is set to host the Grammys on Sunday and while there’s no telling if he’ll get political onstage, he did recently take a swipe at Trump’s controversial travel ban in a video bit on “The Late Late Show.”
“I always appreciate a host who’s telling the truth about whatever is going on in the world and not shying away from what’s important, so I’m all for awards hosts talking about the political landscape and fighting for what’s right,” says Miranda de Pencier, co-executive producer of the upcoming CBC/Netflix series “Anne.”
“I think now is the time to speak up, so I’m for it,” adds Moira Walley-Beckett, the show’s Emmy-winning co-executive producer who also wrote and produced for “Breaking Bad.”
Canadian actress Carrie-Anne Moss says she thinks comedians “are really important right now” and “have an ability to story-tell right now in a way that is needed, where we can see clearly.”
“I think it’s part of the job, of art, to expose what’s happening,” says Moss, who can be seen in season 2 of AMC’s “Humans,” debuting Monday.
“Otherwise it feels like the elephant in the middle of the room that you’re not dealing with, where everyone is just pretending and dressed up nice and looking good and that wouldn’t make any sense, to not look at what’s going on.”
Barrymore, however, feels the political upheaval in the U.S. is “too new and too raw.”
She says she prefers to protest for what she believes in in a more private way and feels awards-show hosts should “address the elephant in the room, but how can we do that in a way that makes us believe in the good?”
“I feel like right now in entertainment you can catch more bees with honey,” says Barrymore. “The anger is out there and it’s palpable, so I feel like it’s better in masses than one angry voice.
“I feel like that’s just anger on top of anger and it’s an anger sandwich and it’s just negativity met at negativity.”
Overall, an awards-show host should be funny and irreverent, says Oscar-nominated Canadian filmmaker Sarah Polley, writer-producer of the upcoming CBC/Netflix series “Alias Grace.”
“I thought Ricky Gervais was amazing,” says Polley. “I kind of think you want somebody that pisses a lot of people off, otherwise I think the idea of taking something like an awards show too seriously is pretty nauseating.
“So I think you need to have somebody who is respectful — or maybe not even respectful — but irreverent and able to make fun of people.”
Neil Patrick Harris, who’s hosted the Tonys and the Oscars, thinks this year’s Academy Awards host, Jimmy Kimmel, has those qualities.
“He’s got that unique ability to be caustic and still be appealing and that’s a really tricky line and I think that’s a good match. I can’t wait to see what he’ll do,” says Harris, star of the new Netflix series “A Series of Unfortunate Events.”
Hancock reiterates Polley’s thoughts on not taking awards shows too seriously, noting: “it’s essentially a whole bunch of people that are really, really fortunate getting together and celebrating their fortune and good deeds.”
“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that and I think movies and television shows have great power to change the world,” he says.
“But also, let’s be honest — we’re a bunch of relatively successful, fortunate people all in a room having rubber chicken together.”