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How Ricky Gervais, Our Man on the Inside, Gleefully Imploded the Golden Globes — and Why It Was a Work of Art

January 18, 2011

In case you were too engrossed in CBS’ Undercover Boss on Sunday night — and really, why wouldn’t you have been? — you may be slightly aware by now that something fairly amazing happened on television that very night. What, by all accounts, would have normally been another standard, gladhanding, aren’t-we-all-so-talented-and-fantastic awards show turned into a mesmerizing display by British comedian Ricky Gervais as he single-handedly and unabashedly laid waste to the entire Hollywood landscape.

The rumors you may have heard of the evening are, in fact, all true. Gervais’ second performance as the host of the Golden Globes was harsh, cringe-worthy, scathing and absolutely brilliant. Within five minutes he was pantomiming Hugh Hefner’s new young wife gagging as she touched his penis. Within seven minutes he was referring to a gay scientologist and shooting the audience a look of incredulity, as if to say “oh, come on — are you guys really going to act like you haven’t heard this.” He took swipes at Angelina Jolie, who looked unamused as she sat at table one with Brad Pitt, the pair exhibiting unhappy heirs of self-inflated royalty. He announced that sweetheart Sandra Bullock told him backstage that poor people were “gross” and “smell bad,” and he introduced Bruce Willis as “Ashton Kutcher’s dad.”

During the live telecast, Twitter exploded with comments about Gervais’ performance. “He’s nuking every bridge in Hollywood,” said one. “He must never want to work again,” wrote another. The Detroit Free Press ran a headline the next day exaggeratively announcing “Ricky Gervais Stirs Global Anger!”  and an unnamed member of the Foreign Press told reporters “Ricky will not be invited back to host the show next year, for sure. For sure any movie he makes he can forget about getting nominated. He humiliated the organization last night and went too far with several celebrities whose representatives have already called to complain.” So much for objectivity from the Foreign Press.

Much of Hollywood was aghast.  Though personalities like Christian Bale, Ryan Seacrest and Bruce Willis applauded Gervais, Tom Hanks and Tim Allen both attacked back at him on-stage, noting that they both remember when he was an “slightly chubby but otherwise kind comedian,” adding “neither of which he is now.” Robert Downey Jr. was introduced by Gervais as being famous for his work with “facilities like the Betty Ford Clinic and the Los Angeles Police Department” — to which Downey Jr. reacted by noting “Aside from the fact that it’s been hugely mean-spirited with mildly sinister undertones, I’d say the vibe of the show has been pretty good so far, wouldn’t you?”

Downey Jr. allegedly expressed more displeasure to reporters at the awards after party. This from an actor who made a minor career, up until about five years ago, of spitting on the same Hollywood which spurned him and expected more class from him. The Iron Man star, a great comic maelstrom of his own, was the perfect candidate to play Gervais’ game and give as good as he got. But he didn’t. He played nice. He played by Hollywood rules. Still, the question seemed to remain as the celebrity masses inside the Beverly Hilton groaned uncomfortably at every new fire Gervais lit: how, and why, would he bite the hand which feeds him like this?

An interesting point to note here would be that Gervais is, in fact, not biting the hand which feeds him at all. Gervais — and I don’t think he himself would even argue this point — has never been truly embraced by the Hollywood community proper. His following has always been of a cult-like status, and the none of the three properties for which he’s best known — The Office, Extras and The Ricky Gervais Podcast — have anything to do with Hollywood whatsoever. Both The Office and Extras were BBC productions, the latter in conjunction with HBO after the fact, and the Ricky Gervais Podcast (the virtues of which we’ve extolled in these pages before) was a completely independent production by Gervais that became arguably one of the most popular podcasts in the medium’s history. Furthermore, the entire second season of Extras, which focused on a struggling actor, became a comic diatribe on the ridiculous trappings of fame and celebrity itself.

No one had an excuse for claiming to be blindsided by Gervais’ performance. Our own Lloyd wrote last year of Gervais’ sublime anti-hosting duties, and it’s not as if Gervais has ever given signs he was going to remain polite. Two nights prior, he crowed to his pal Conan  O’Brien that he was going all out, and the NBC promos for the event itself featured Gervais announcing that he won’t be asked back to the Globes. What, oh, he actually meant that? That wasn’t just a cutesy promo to drum up interest? Yikes. That’s another story, apparently. Apparently everyone thought Gervais was just doing the publicist thing when in fact he was quite serious and honest about his impending roast. As one Huffington Post commenter quipped, “If you hire an assassin, don’t act shocked when he does the job.”

But a funny thing also happened Sunday night, something you won’t see in the trade papers or in your Access Hollywood coverage. As Gervais skewered the Hollywood elite to the entertainment community’s chagrin, much of the rest of the country — we lowly , unimportant non-celebrities — seemed to love it. Social media was abuzz with accolades for Ricky’s blitzkrieg, posting youtube montages of his jokes and grinning victoriously at the oh-so-hurt feelings of the thin-skinned celebs. In an era where every other television program exists to garner the appearances of big stars and hear stories of their children, watch their cooking expertise, listen to their hilarious stories, know about their weddings, find out who they’re dating and ogle at what they’re wearing, the clever Gervais took on the role of the everyman, having some fun and yanking on the rope which tenuously connects these lofty celebrities to Earth. Why shouldn’t they be called out? How are they any different from the rest of us? What makes them so impervious? As a result, Hollywood furrowed its brow: this is an awards show, by us, for us; how dare this host not kiss our asses? Doesn’t he know who we are?

So as the Gods threaten to banish Gervais from Olympus for his insolence, he finds himself in the open and affectionate arms of the rest of the world. What can the celebrity and entertainment really do to him, after all? Blackball him from a very special, exclusive club of which Gervais himself never asked to be a member? Send him back to England, where he’s one of the country’s most beloved personalities? The truth is that if the Golden Globes had done their homework in the first place, they’d have realized that one of Gervais’ great causes is the absurdity of fame — why ask him to partake in a superficial awards ceremony which flies in the face of all he claims to despise in the first place?

On Sunday night, Ricky Gervais performed the almost metaphysical task of turning the ridiculous concept of celebrity on its ear by infiltrating it from the inside. It was an awful, beautiful creature created to point its finger at the joke of it all. And it worked. Mightily. Even if everyone involved was too important to get the joke.

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3 Comments
  1. T. Stump permalink
    January 19, 2011 7:32 pm

    If you look closely at Gervais’ performance, one could argue that he actually was quite easy on the Globers. If he really wanted to drop the hammer, he could have avoided the paths to laughter that have largely dogged most of his targets. Think about what he could have done to Tim “Tim Dick” Allen (and not just because of his past powdery indiscretions)! Ricky probably figured they’d already heard these cracks, and would be well-prepared to laugh at themselves. Unfortunately for Gervais (and Louis CK), most people are nowhere near as able to find humo(u)r in their human frailty as he is, hence the overreaction.

    My favorites are his cracks at Mel Gibson, as weird and ridiculous as they are. I would be happy if he introduced every presenter with Gibson jokes, whether they have any basis in reality or not.

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