Q&A: Neil Patrick Harris on hosting the Oscars and good karma

On hosting the Oscars, Neil Patrick Harris says, "The most important thing is to establish a tone. It's well worth over-thinking."
On hosting the Oscars, Neil Patrick Harris says, “The most important thing is to establish a tone. It’s well worth over-thinking.”
(Walter McBride / Getty Images)

After hosting the Tonys four times and the Emmys twice, this year’s Oscar emcee, Neil Patrick Harris, talks about the genius of Billy Crystal and his R-rated selfie idea as he weaves through Manhattan in the back of a taxi.

You brought the house down at the Tonys. What makes the Oscar crowd different?

With the Tonys, you’re dealing with an audience that’s seen all the shows. Everyone’s excited to see performance after performance. You do one too many performances at the Oscars and they’ll turn on you. It’s more about the awards and the honoring. And yet, if you do too many awards … it may become derivative. That’s the tricky part. It’s masochistic fun.

FULL COVERAGE: Oscars 2015


Can you talk about the team of writers you’ve brought with you?

Paul Greenberg has been my go-to writer for every single awards show I’ve ever done going way back in the L.A. theater awards 15 years ago. Oh! [pauses] I just spilled coffee in my taxi. That’s bad karma. I’ve got to wipe that up. I need all the good karma I can get.

Dave Boone [this year’s Golden Globes writer] I’ve brought in to be our head writer. …Derek DelGaudio, the magician, creative imagineer, that I’ve worked with as a director. We did “Nothing to Hide” [off-Broadway and at the Geffen Playhouse]. … Liz Feldman. She show-runs [Ellen DeGeneres’] new show [NBC’s “One Big Happy”]. Tim Carvell from “The Daily Show” is on board. And [“Lopez Tonight” writer ] Mason Steinberg.

The most important thing is to establish a tone. It’s well worth over-thinking. …

You don’t want to be too [Johnny] Carson, though his jokes are funny. You don’t want to be too [Ricky] Gervais, though his jokes are funny too. …I want jokes to be smart. Biting if necessary. …I don’t have much interest in punch lines that make them feel bad about themselves. That being said, there’s lots of fodder this year. How many hacking jokes is too many? One? How many “Selma” jokes is overkill? Seven? We’ll soon see.

“Frozen” composers Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez will write a number described as “an original multimedia, musical sequence.” What’s that about?

I’ve been jonesing to work with them for a long time. One of my favorite pieces of musical theater of recent note is “Finding Nemo: The Musical” that plays at the Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World. The songs are fantastic. It makes me cry every time I see it. Which is 12, 15 times. Our kids are on the “Frozen” bandwagon, and so I’ve just been a fan of theirs. … It’s their first number for an awards show. I think we’ve got something pretty cool planned out.

OSCARS 2015: Complete list | Ballot | Cheat Sheet | Top nominees | Presenters | Timeline


Who’s your favorite Oscar host and why?

Billy Crystal became the most brilliant Oscar host in my memory. He brought an element of musicality to it. … It felt like he was one of them. And yet he could parody movies and songs. He always had a twinkle in his eye, and it felt accessible. … We’ve had to abandon great ideas because Billy Crystal came up with them a decade ago…. He’s really the great archetype.

You’re a huge Twitter fan. And DeGeneres famously “broke” Twitter last year at the Oscars. How do you want to involve the online audience?

I’m not locked into any kind of social media competition. While the numbers are impressive, you can’t really seek them. That’s what’s so fun about Twitter: When something catches on, it just catches on because it did. Not because it was planned. That’s what made that selfie moment so watchable. Knowing how the show was written, that was not the end result of that bit. …


We’ve got things planned that will allow you to watch your own camera shot the entire show if you’d like to. I’m going to be seeking people’s information for various bits. As far as a selfie goes, a junk pic might be good at a certain point. I got some high-end hair trimmers. A beard trimmer. I’m planning on making the shape of the Oscar statues above my stuff. I feel like that will get some hits.

Have any past hosts offered you any tips?

I may be reaching out to players in the next few weeks with potential monologues and comedy to see if they’re really funny and solid jokes. I’ve been reading things people have said when asked about me hosting the Oscars. Always makes me chuckle. … Whether you liked the particular performance by a host or not, you have to appreciate [the effort]. I’ve been watching all of them on a loop. I’m well versed on who’s done what and why.