We know two things to be true: One, Beto O’Rourke is one of the most-watched people in America right now, with seemingly endless speculation regarding his next move. Two, seemingly nobody wants to host the Oscars, with a number of high-profile figures declining the opportunity and Kevin Hart—who agreed to take the job on Wednesday—out as of Thursday night.
As what we are certain was a joke, comedian Billy Eichner tweeted a suggestion shortly after Hart’s resignation:
Let @BetoORourke host the Oscars. We all like him and it’ll be a real test to see if he can handle an impossible job in front of the world!
— billy eichner (@billyeichner) December 7, 2018
Eichner’s suggestion isn’t serious, but we’re going to indulge it anyway. O’Rourke’s rise to prominence came about through decidedly unconventional means, so making an unconventional move wouldn’t be out of character. Since he lost the Senate race, he’s been busy livestreaming himself cutting steak and making slime with his kids, which means he doesn’t mind being goofy and doesn’t have a lot going on at the moment. He might never say it, but a guy who wants his followers to watch him make German pancakes definitely would not mind hosting the Oscars for an audience of millions.
So why not host the Oscars? The suggestions have gone from dream-team names like Oprah and Lin-Manuel Miranda to increasingly bizarre suggestions like Paddington or Ryan Reynolds, in-character as Deadpool—and it’s no wonder why most entertainers who aren’t CGI or a superhero aren’t interested. As the Hollywood Reporter notes, landing the gig requires someone who “is expected to boost the ratings, which means he or she must have wide name recognition; must be funny (without being tawdry), topical (without being controversial), politically savvy (without being too partisan), young (but not so young as to scare the Academy’s governors) and satisfactory to a coalition of competing interests.”
The gig takes weeks of work, pays in the low six-figures (not great money for Oprah), and “usually results in a media flaying,” according to the Reporter (and any observant viewers of Oscars past).
On all of those notes, though, Beto makes sense. The Oscars are already firmly on the liberal side of the Great American Culture War, so his politics are unlikely to turn off viewers. He was a novel candidate, and he’d definitely be a novel host—people who would snooze through another attempt by Neil Patrick Harris or Hugh Jackman would probably tune in out of sheer curiosity. Even if he’s not exactly funny, he’s got enough public speaking experience that he could probably fake his way through reading a comedy monologue off of a teleprompter, and he’s personable enough that viewers would probably tolerate watching him sweat through his tuxedo during the boring parts of the ceremony.
Now let’s look at the incentives for O’Rourke. He’ll be out of a job by the time the Oscars roll around, and spending a couple weeks in Hollywood in February likely sounds more appealing than spending that time in Iowa (or perfecting his slime recipe in El Paso). Besides, we have to assume that the post-election break will wear thin before too long, and while we don’t know the details of his personal finances, a few hundred grand isn’t small potatoes to someone who’s unemployed. He’d definitely get a profile boost from the gig—even if most Democratic primary voters already know who he is, they’d definitely feel like they know him better than they do Cory Booker or Sherrod Brown after watching him hand statues to celebrities for three hours. Besides, the expectations for him would be so astonishingly low that a passable job would probably be praised as the greatest Oscar hosting performance in a generation. (The general effusiveness around O’Rourke that appeared in the final months of the senate campaign would work in his favor, too.) We’ve already seen that he is keen to take advantage of the opportunity to spend time on television without his rivals, and the press coverage would pay dividends in what’s sure to be a crowded Democratic primary field. Besides, he’s a civic-minded politician, and the Oscars ceremony that looms if they can’t find anybody else sounds bleak. We’re about about three days away from a #DraftGritty campaign getting taken seriously by a desperate Academy, so volunteering to host would almost be a public service.
Okay, so Beto O’Rourke isn’t actually going to host the Oscars. It’ll probably be James Corden or Jimmy Kimmel or somebody of their ilk, and O’Rourke will just post Instagram stories of watching with his kids as they make homemade pizzas. That’s probably the right call. The “Beto is a celebrity, not a politician” line was used against him by Ted Cruz in the Senate race, and giving that ammo to the Democratic primary field—and potentially to the Trump campaign, who would likely use it without a hint of irony—would make taking a left-field gig like this high risk more than high-reward.
Nonetheless, a few things remain true: The Oscars can’t seem to find anybody to host, Beto O’Rourke likes attention and seems bored, the line between “politician” and “celebrity” in the age of Trump is increasingly blurry, and he couldn’t do a worse job than James Franco. Eichner wasn’t serious with his suggestion, but still—there are (at least a couple) worse ideas.