The Oscars: Can Billy Crystal Still Bring It?

Billy Crystal returns to host Academy Awards

ByABC News
February 23, 2012, 12:52 PM

Feb. 25, 2012 — -- It's been a while since Billy Crystal hosted the Oscars. In the 21 years since he first emceed Hollywood's biggest awards show, a lot has happened. TMZ. Perez Hilton. Twitter. Ricky Gervais. A general sense that movie stars can't be covered in a wholesome, fun for the whole family sort of way.

Crystal was thought of as a vanilla fallback after Eddie Murphy and producer Brett Ratner bowed out of helming the show following Ratner's use of an anti-gay slur. But according to the writer of his Academy Awards routine, the 63-year-old comedian will manage to stay relevant come Sunday night.

"Billy is a really smart host," Carol Leifer told "I don't think most people realize how intensely he works on the show and how seriously he takes it. He is so in the moment and has such a good time that to the audience in the Kodak and out in TV land, it will be obvious."

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Crystal announced that he'd host the show via Twitter and joked about the gig with a tweet on Thursday: "#Oscars are a few days away. Tonight I might tweet winner of best supporting actor. Really,who can stop me?"

Confidentiality clauses barred Leifer from further detailing how Crystal has updated his act. (Poking fun at Facebook? "S**t Oscar Hosts Say?") She did reveal that cell phone video and social networking have prevented Crystal from honing his material in front of a live audience.

"There used to be a time when the hosts would drive over to the Improv and try their material out," Leifer said, referring to the iconic Hollywood comedy club. "Only the people who were there got a taste of what would happen Oscar night. That certainly went by the wayside a few years ago."

Leifer wrote for Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin when they co-hosted in 2010.

"They thought they would smartly try out their material in a room at the Kodak Theater with just crew members and it still got leaked," she said.

Crystal has acknowledged that things have changed since he last hosted the Oscars in 2004. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, he lamented that last year's much-panned hosts, Anne Hathaway and James Franco, didn't roll with the punches when, say, actress Melissa Leo dropped the F-bomb.

"They didn't say a word!" he said. He was backstage watching it happen; he introduced Bob Hope at that show. "That's when I knew maybe I should come back. It's fun to be out there when moments like that happen."

But, he told the magazine, he's not going the way of Gervais, the three-time Golden Globe host infamous for making fun of Hollywood (though Gervais' act fell flat this year).

"That whole concept of 'I want to really go after people' -- I don't understand that," Crystal said. "Is it a roast or is it an awards show?"

He acknowledged that many younger Oscar viewers may never have heard of him, but told EW, "Hopefully, they'll watch the show and they'll say, 'He's really funny.' That's important to me."

Village Voice culture critic Michael Musto thinks Crystal will get more than lukewarm praise.

"When Eddie Murphy left the gig, along with his friend Brett Ratner, it was a good chance to bring back a more feelgood, dependable choice," Musto told "Yes, it is a new landscape out there, but I think Billy's brand of gentle mocking is timeless and after the last debacle, just straightforward gags will score."

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