Mention the very first MTV VMAs and everyone remembers Madonna’s unforgettable (shocking, for the audience then) performance, dressed in a white lacy wedding gown as she writhed and seduced the audience at the1984 VMAs. Now, who was it that hosted the awards? Most MTV audiences wouldn’t remember such trivial details. No, not Eddie Murphy or Arsenio Hall. Bette Midler and Dan Aykroyd were the hosts of the first ever MTV VMAs (They were quickly forgotten once Madonna took to the stage with Like a Virgin). This was the fate in store for all the hosts to come who couldn’t make their mark on the show.
A Brief History of the VMA Hosts
The VMAs were still young and building on credibility, so for the years 1986-87 they tapped into their system and let their young talented VJs run the show for a couple of years, “Downtown" Julie Brown, Mark Goodman, Alan Hunter, Martha Quinn & Dweezil Zappa had some practice staring at the cameras and by the second year they started to get the hang of it.
Then MTV was introduced to Arsenio Hall, the comic genius the television obsessed America was hooked onto and MTV kept him for four consecutive years, introducing long haired Rock and Roll bands. Maybe if they had a Russell Brand back then he would have been more apt for the era and Hall could’ve switched places with him. Nevertheless he did a pretty good job and no one complained.
MTV dipped their hand into the honey pot they called SNL and came out with Dana Carvey in 1992 and he delivered on what he promised. Brimming with copious amounts of comic energy, the unstoppable Carvey stepped it up with his president Bush imitation and later playing drums as his character Garth from Wayne’s World with U2 who were performing via satellite from Detroit. Now, he deserved a second year at the VMAs!
MTV decide to class it up by bringing Christian Slater in the next year. Slater went on stage and dragged through his scripted speech and jokes. There was no way he was going to match up to the adrenaline and humor rush that kept the previous hosts in charge of the show. By the end of the show MTV realized that they wanted comedians and not actors to host the awards.
In 1994 MTV decided to be reasonable and hand over the reins to a woman comedienne, only it seemed like they picked up the wrong one. Roseanne Barr came out on stage sounding and looking like a healthier version of the very annoying Janice from the hit sitcom Friends which was released later the same year. She was followed by the intellectual Dennis Miller in 95’; big words, even bigger topics, it almost sounded like a political debate in there, everyone kept quiet and listened mostly because more than half of the MTV generation had no clue what he was talking about. The producers shouted encore and had Miller back for another year. Well he certainly made everyone look intellectual just listening to him.
1997 and MTV got it right, Chris Rock hosted the awards and did a really tidy job and made sure MTV had trouble finding someone else like him to host the show, thus ensuring he got called back twice. No complaints, he came, he saw and he took care of business. Now the singers finally had to fight to top the host. Another Eddie Murphy find, Chris went to become a huge hit at the VMAs that he was called onto host the 2005 Academy Awards and was later named the 5th greatest comedian of all time by Comedy Central.
MTV had to get someone worthy to follow up Chris’s performance at the 97 awards, so they got Ben Stiller to come and host the VMAs in 98, his opening monologue was cut short by his dad and fellow comedian Jerry Stiller (Frank Constanza from Seinfeld) and was bullied off stage to “bring on the zing zang”.
Actor, comedian and R&B singer Jamie Foxx was invited to host the 2001 MTV VMAs. MTV picked him up because they were certain about his talents and they were right, the fabulous Mr. Foxx gave the audience quite a show with his operatic performance of all the big hits of the year. He was later to act in Ray, the film depicting the life and career of pianist Ray Charles for he which he won numerous awards including an Academy Award and pretty much every other award for best actor in a leading role in that year.
Jimmy Fallon in the year 2002 gave every previous host a run for their money with his imitations of the year’s biggest hits. This young boy-wonder straight out of SNL blew away any doubts MTV had in their minds with his high adrenaline, hilarious 8 minute medley that sent Nelly, Enrique Iglesias, Dave Matthews, Avril Lavigne all running for cover and finally ended up dancing a jig to a surprise appearance by James Brown. This guy knew what he was doing and he ran straight through it with what will easily be one of the most memorable introductions to the MTV VMAs.
Jack Black had his turn in 2006 and no surprise, he had what it took to make people laugh and he was exceptionally good at it, the folks at MTV had it easy and the audience had a whale of a time. MTV got the crazy British comedian Russell Brand as their host in 2008 and he bought his wackiness on stage and got the producers thinking “had they done the right thing” at some point of time or the other.