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Jon Stewart served sharp

The host touted telecast as a rare "place where you can watch your favorite stars without having to donate any money to the Democratic Party."

india Updated: Mar 06, 2006 14:55 IST

Acerbic comedian Jon Stewart made his debut as Oscar host on Sunday with lots of good-natured jokes about gay cowboys and Hollywood excess while aiming his sharpest barbs at his two favorite targets -- journalists and politicians.

Stewart, 43, drafted by Oscar producers to help spark greater interest in an awards show that has declined in the TV ratings, was largely even-handed in his political humor, mocking both Hollywood support for Democrats and Republican Vice President Dick Cheney's recent hunting mishap.

He also presented a montage of faux campaign ads featuring best-actress nominees attacking each other.

But he drew some of the evening's biggest laughs with an homage to Brokeback Mountain, a love story about two gay sheepherders, with a collection of old western film clips presented in a way that suggested many of Hollywood's biggest cowboy stars were in the closet with the door ajar.

Stewart, who regularly skewers the Washington establishment as star of the satirical newscast The Daily Show on U.S. cable TV, kept his opening monologue fairly light, contrary to some predictions that he might prove too provocative for Hollywood's biggest insider event.

His opening line on the stage of the Kodak Theatre took a self-deprecating jab at his own spare film credits.

"Tonight is the night we celebrate excellence in films, with me, the fourth male lead in 'Death to Smoochy,'" he said.

Then, in an allusion to Hollywood's traditional place as a bastion of liberal-leaning causes, he touted the Oscar telecast as a rare "place where you can watch all your favorite stars without having to donate any money to the Democratic Party."

A few moments later, Stewart took aim at the opposite end of the political spectrum with a joke about Dick Cheney's recent quail-hunting mishap and Bjork, an Icelandic singer who once raised eyebrows by attending the Oscars in a garish swan-like outfit.

"I do have some sad news to report," Stewart said. "Bjork could not be here. She was trying on her Oscars dress and Dick Cheney shot her."

In a pointed barb at another of his favorite usual targets, the news media, Stewart saluted both Good Night, and Good Luck and Capote as important films about journalism's "relentless pursuit of the truth," adding, "Needless to say, both are period pieces."

But Hollywood and its excesses took plenty of gentle ribbing.

Mentioning that box office receipts in 2005 were down from the year before, while studios continued to fight copyright infringement, he launched into a brief tirade against the economic consequences of movie piracy.

"There are women here who could barely afford enough gown to cover their breasts," he shouted at the camera in mock indignation.

Saluting director Steven Spielberg for his Oscar-winning Holocaust drama and a newly nominated film about the slaying of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics, Stewart quipped: "Schindler's List and Munich. I think I speak for all Jews when I say I can't wait to see what happens to us next."

Turning his attention to triple nominee, self-acknowledged ladies' man George Clooney, Stewart joked that the title of Clooney's film about newsman Edward R. Murrow, Good Night, and Good Luck, was "not only the sign-off of Mr. Murrow, it's also how Mr. Clooney ends all his dates."

And in a reference to the gay themes prevalent in Brokeback Mountain and Capote, two of this year's most nominated films, Stewart said Capote broke taboos because it "showed America that not all gay people are virile cowboys. Some are actually effete New York intellectuals."

At one point Stewart asked the cameras to point to a huge statue of the Oscar image above the stage.

And, in obvious reference to the toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein in the days after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, he said, "Do you think if we all got together and pulled this down, democracy would flourish in Hollywood?"

First Published: Mar 06, 2006 14:55 IST