LOS ANGELES (AP) — In the tradition of Bob Hope and Johnny Carson, and later Billy Crystal, Steve Martin and Whoopi Goldberg, Oscar is going back to its comedic roots with Eddie Murphy as host.
The actor and comedian will host the 84th annual Academy Awards, producers Brett Ratner and Don Mischer said Tuesday — and even they were surprised the reclusive star agreed to the gig.
The last comic to host the show alone was Jon Stewart in 2008. A singing, dancing Hugh Jackman took over in 2009, and in recent years, pairs of actors have helmed the show.
This is Murphy’s first time hosting the Academy Awards. He said in a statement that he’s “enormously honored” to join the ranks of the aforementioned Oscar hosts.
Ratner and Murphy worked together on their latest film, “Tower Heist,” and the director casually floated the notion of hosting the Oscars by the star.
“And Eddie said, ‘Wow, that would be a brilliant idea for you and me to do the Oscars together,’” Ratner recalled.
“I was like, ‘Are you serious?’” Ratner said in an interview. He called Mischer, his co-producer, who immediately warned him not to get his hopes up.
“I said, ‘Not a chance,’” the veteran TV director and producer said. “Everybody wants Eddie Murphy. He’s a comedic genius, he’s a brilliant impersonator. He’s just the kind of guy who would make any television show wonderful. So many times through the years I’ve tried to get Eddie Murphy to agree to come be on a show, and generally he kind of stays to himself and has not been interested in it.”
Murphy made a rare TV appearance in April on the inaugural Comedy Awards, which Mischer produced, when the 50-year-old entertainer accepted the Comedy Icon award.
By contrast, when Murphy was nominated for an Oscar for 2006’s “Dreamgirls,” he did very few interviews and reportedly left the ceremony as soon as his category was announced. (Alan Arkin won for “Little Miss Sunshine.”)
“I think that Eddie probably gave this serious consideration because of the experience he did have with Brett (on “Tower Heist),” Mischer said. “When we did decide to ask him, I think Eddie felt secure with Brett.”
Ratner called Murphy “one of the greatest and most influential live performers ever” and cited him as an inspiration for his filmmaking career.
“’Rush Hour’ exists because of Eddie Murphy,” Ratner said. “Chris Tucker was to 12-year-old kids when I was doing ‘Rush Hour’ what Eddie Murphy was to me when I was 12. I have such love and idolize the guy.”
Murphy’s stint as Oscar host marks a return to the single-host format the show has employed most often over the past two decades. Pairs of actors hosted the two most recent Oscar shows: Anne Hathaway and James Franco helmed the 2011 telecast, and Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin hosted last year.
Mischer said having just one host will help streamline the show, which typically stretches over more than three hours.
He and Ratner were “trying to really keep the show moving briskly and keep pacing up,” he said, “and you can really focus on that when you have one host. You don’t have dialog with two hosts or more hosts.”
The producers said Murphy will likely select a writing team and contribute his own jokes and material to the Oscar show, set for Feb. 26, 2012, at the Kodak Theatre.
Both “Eddie Murphy” and “Academy Awards” were trending topics on Twitter after the announcement was made, and Ratner posted his own tweet saying, “So excited to have Eddie Murphy for the (hash)oscars.” But the producer said Murphy doesn’t follow social media when it comes to his own projects, including the Oscar show.
“I don’t want to cloud my thinking with other people’s opinions,” he said.
He and Mischer will get down to serious show planning in a few weeks, when Ratner finishes “Tower Heist” and Mischer clears the TV special he’s doing for the 10th anniversary of 9/11. But the two producers are already fired up.
“Eddie Murphy is what makes it,” Ratner said. “It’s surprising even for us. We’re sitting here surprised that it’s actually happening, that’s the exciting part. It’s something we can really get excited about.”