77th Annual Academy Awards: Sharp-tongued comedian Chris Rock has been chosen to host the 77th annual Academy Awards (news - web sites), the film industry's highest honors, next February, the producer of the show said on Thursday as he reached out to a younger generation of comics.

It will be the first time that Rock, a former "Saturday Night Live" cast member, will host the show watched by millions around the world. He will succeed veteran Oscar emcee Billy Crystal (news), who hosted the awards show earlier this year.

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"I am a huge fan of Chris Rock," Oscar producer Gil Gates said in a statement. "He always makes me laugh and he always has something interesting to say. Chris represents the best of the new generation of comics."

Rock, 39, known for his often-provocative brand of humor, marks a sharp departure from the lower-key style of Crystal, 57, a longtime favorite of Oscar audiences for his deadpan delivery, smooth ad-libs and Hollywood send-ups.

In an era of heightened sensitivity to indecency on the airwaves since Janet Jackson (news)'s breast-baring Super Bowl show last February, Rock might seem a bold choice given the earthy, often profane act he has popularized.

But his selection makes sense from the standpoint of attempts by producers and the Oscar-sponsoring Academy of Television Arts and Sciences to draw greater interest from younger viewers, especially the 18- to 49-year-old age group most prized by TV advertisers, experts said.

Other recent Oscar hosts include Steve Martin, who emceed the show in 2003 and 2001, and Whoopi Goldberg (news) in 1999 and 2002.

Rock, a native of Brooklyn, made his film debut playing a parking valet in the 1987 Eddie Murphy comedy Beverly Hills Cop II" but got his big break when he joined the "Saturday Night Live" ensemble in the early 1990s.

There, he made a name for himself lampooning black celebrities like Michael Jackson (news) and creating such comic characters as Nat X, the militant talk show host.

A three-time Emmy winner for his comedy work on HBO, including the special "Bring the Pain," Rock is currently shooting the feature film "The Longest Yard" with fellow "SNL" alumnus Adam Sandler. Other film credits include "Head of State," "Bad Company" and "Nurse Betty."

He hosted the MTV Video Music Awards last year.

The 77th Academy Awards show will be broadcast live on Feb. 27 on ABC from the Kodak Theater in Hollywood. ABC is a unit of The Walt Disney Co .