Ever since Jon Stewart was announced as this year's Oscar host, the people who've made careers—or at least full-time hobbies—out of Academy Awards analysis have debated the choice, questioning whether people who live between the coasts even know who Stewart is, let alone whether they'd be more inclined to watch the Oscars because he's part of the show. Leaving aside the validity of this sort of speculation—which, like a lot of stuff on these Oscar blogs, has a roto-league-like fascination with numbers over quality—the knocks on Stewart's "red state" popularity seem pretty blindered to me, as someone who grew up in Tennessee, went to college in Georgia, and currently lives in Arkansas. People forget that even in the middle of the country, people have cable TV, book stores and the internet, and you don't get the ratings that The Daily Show gets or sell as many copies of America: The Book as Stewart and company have sold without there being a significant number of watchers and readers in the Bible Belt. (Besides, even in states where GWB pulled down as much as 60% of the vote, 40% of the people went for the other guy.)

Personally, I'm more concerned with what the Oscar-hosting gig will do to Stewart's comic sensibility. I'm one of the few people who thought that David Letterman was pretty funny during his infamous hosting stint, because Letterman essentially brought The Late Show to Hollywood at a time when it was the funniest and sharpest show in late night. It wasn't entirely Dave's fault that the movie stars stared blankly at him, like they'd never seen a Stupid Pet Trick Before. Letterman himself has been quoted for years as calling show business "high school with money" (a line he swiped from Martin Mull), and in a sense, that's what's going on when a TV star or comedian intrudes into the rarified realm of Oscar nominees. Tom Cruise may cut up with Dave on The Late Show, the way your high school quarterback might've cracked jokes with you in Physics class, but if that QB spots you at the mall, he's going to act like he doesn't know you. (Of course, to be fair, Oscar Night is also the only time of the year that someone like Julia Roberts is going to rise and cheer for someone like Frances McDormand, too.)

For some reason, this principle didn't apply to Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg, because for some reason—and I'll be damned if I can figure out why—Hollywood has decided that those two belong in "the cool crowd." Meanwhile, Steve Martin, who did a fine job as the Oscar host, got kind of a chilly reception from the natives, even though toned down his Steve-Martin-ness for the occasion. (He was basically impersonating Johnny Carson.) And Chris Rock, funny as he often was last year, looked generally overwhelmed by the magnitude of what he was asked to do. Part of the problem is the nature of the hosting gig itself, which requires a comedian to do a snappy monologue and then get the hell out of the way for the next four hours, while looking increasingly irrelevant. Still, there was the unmistakable air of desperation surrounding Rock's gags, as though he dearly wanted to be accepted. (And maybe that's why Whoopi goes over so well with the movie star crowd … she doesn't seem to give a shit whether they like her or not.)

So while I'm looking forward to seeing what Jon Stewart comes up with on Oscar night, I'm not convinced that his "blue state" humor is automatically going to wow the bluest of the blue. For one thing, Stewart tends toward self-deprecation, which doesn't fly so well with awards recipients, who naturally wonder why their greatness must share the stage with someone who acts like he's not that great. But more importantly, Stewart's ultimately just a TV guy—a cable TV guy no less—and no matter how much his perspective on global affairs may match those of the audience, that audience may decide, spontaneously, that it would be a blow against their rarefied artistry to chuckle at some dude who grinds it out for the couch potato crowd.

Hope I'm wrong.

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