Golden Globes 2011: who'd be an awards show presenter?

Ricky Gervais's gags at the Golden Globe awards upset some of the stars. But no presenter can please everyone

Ricky Gervais presents the 2011 Golden Globes
Ricky Gervais presents the 2011 Golden Globes. Photograph: NBCUPHOTOBANK/Rex Features

Who would be an awards show presenter? It's like hosting a rubbish party, with millions of people watching to see how you're doing. Or performing your standup act in front of the most self-conscious crowd ever assembled, people who look as if they wish they could text their publicists to ask whether they should laugh at the last joke or not. You can't win.

For the second year running, Ricky Gervais has drawn criticism and praise in roughly equal measure for his stint fronting the Golden Globes. Some people found him mean-spirited (Robert Downey Jr said as much when he took the stage), and insufferably smug; others found him refreshingly irreverent and acid (James Corden, host of next month's Brits, tweeted that Gervais had been "incredible"). The Washington Post reviewer, Hank Stuever, called the show "lazy and perfunctorily smarmy" and added that Gervais "proved last year that he wasn't the right man for the job".

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the weirdly obsolete organisation responsible for the Golden Globes, must have thought otherwise, although its president, Philip Berk, seemed a little miffed after Gervais made a joke about having to help him off the toilet. One got the feeling there might be no "next year" for Gervais.

So how well did Gervais really do? It's almost impossible to say, given how many constituencies he needs to please, and that he can't please some without displeasing others. It didn't take much to startle his immediate audience, a theatre full of skittish showbiz types. A tame opening gag about Charlie Sheen (an acknowledged, if Teflon-coated scumbag) drew nervous titters, and his joke about the film I Love You Phillip Morris ("two heterosexual actors pretending to be gay. So – the opposite of some Scientologists, then") seemed to draw actual gasps of fright, as if everybody was worried they could be sued just for listening.

In any case, Gervais is pitching his jokes over the heads of the assembled stars, toward a TV audience that enjoys, to a hard-to-gauge extent, watching Hollywood A-listers squirm a little. Of course the stars like to demonstrate they can laugh at themselves, and it's up to Gervais to push past the place where they feel comfortable, but not so far that we start to feel sorry for them. When Gervais introduced Bruce Willis as "Ashton Kutcher's dad", Willis at first seemed put out, then seemed as if he were only pretending to be put out, and wanted us to know he was in on the joke. Did Gervais get the balance right in this case? For whom? Online conspiracy theorists noted that he disappeared from the programme for about an hour in the middle – a sign, perhaps, that he had displeased his employers – although this is apparently not at all unusual. For any absence that served to shorten the evening, we should be grateful.

It was also not lost on his critics that Gervais is foreign. "Are we at war with England?" asked Stuever in the Washington Post. "If not, then why have we been subjected to two years of Gervais hosting the Golden Globe awards, witnessing a growing hostility between the British comedian and a resentful audience of celebs?" One is reminded of Russell Brand's controversial turn as host of the MTV awards, two months before the US election, when he urged viewers to vote for Obama. "I know America to be a forward-thinking country," he said, "because otherwise why would you have let that retarded cowboy fella be president for eight years?" When Gervais labelled the foreign-language film award "the category that no one in America cares about", one couldn't help thinking the criticism would have sounded better coming from an American.

Americans don't much like being satirised by outsiders (even if they can respect the point being made, it's hard to laugh) and as much as they profess to love British humour, it often leaves them bewildered. On stage, Gervais relies on a comic persona that lies somewhere between the characters he plays and the way people imagine he is in real life: smug, misanthropic and a little cowardly. Doubtless some US viewers take this at face value, and just think he's a prick.

But for every person who thought Gervais went too far this time, there will be someone else complaining that he didn't go far enough; in this day and age there's no such thing as a prevailing opinion. Who decides whether he was a success, and on what basis? The folks who run awards ceremonies tend to vacillate between picking edgy presenters and safe ones – Jon Stewart one year, Ellen DeGeneres the next, Stewart the year after. There seems to be a fitful, fruitless search for the perfect "anti-host", someone who can enliven an awards ceremony – one of the most moribund forms of television in existence – with a little danger. In 2005 one-off host Chris Rock took to the Oscar stage saying, "Welcome to the 77th and last Academy Awards!" Sadly, he was unable to bring his promise to pass.

The problem in this case isn't Gervais; it's the Golden Globes – a cheesy, ill-favoured spectacle which is supposed to be a predictor for the Oscars, but is better known for honouring bad films (The Tourist was nominated this year, an anomaly not lost on Gervais) and for an atmosphere of inconsequence that allows the stars to get drunk and act stupid. You can't subvert the vacuous self-congratulation of the Golden Globes by agreeing to host it, by strolling down the red carpet with sunglasses on, or by picking on celebrities when you've been hired to do just that. It's hard to imagine a professional comedian who could give the Golden Globes the treatment they deserve. An arsonist, maybe.


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  • swisstony

    17 January 2011 8:43PM

    there was a heck of a lot of taking the piss out of actors, directly and unequivocally. It seemed a bit harsh, but who watches this stuff anyway.

  • Zerotolerance

    17 January 2011 8:47PM

    If the quotes are anything to go by, he was utterly utterly brilliant.

    KellyCreek

    Gervais. Poor taste.

    Exactly whose publicist are you meant to be?

  • HarryMalarkey

    17 January 2011 8:49PM

    It's good to see cosseted A-listers getting grief for once. Much better than the standard American "you're great I'm great we're all great" formula.

  • Aussieinexcelsis

    17 January 2011 8:49PM

    The closest I get to watching an awards ceremony is reading about them in the paper or seeing the edited bits in the evening news, they're uniformly uninspiring and meaningless really.
    The only interest I show is when someone like Gervais does his stuff and takes the mickey out of the audience, recipients, and the industry, the fact that American audiences don't generally get it is schadenfraude inducing and for those who do get it, it's good to see them squirming.

  • TheCorporal

    17 January 2011 8:52PM

    "Gervais. Poor taste."

    Maybe. Had his targets been third world orphans or cancer victims.

    He was taking pops at the likes of Charlie Sheen and Tim Allen for christs sake.

  • NocturneNyc

    17 January 2011 8:58PM

    I didn't see it - as I can't stand awards shows; however, Gervais is quite funny and I suspect I would have liked his jokes. What is irritating though, is the smug assumptions that Americans didn't "understand" it, rather than just thinking it was inappropriate and unfunny.

  • Contributor
    Rotwatcher

    17 January 2011 8:59PM

    James Corden, host of next month's Brits, tweeted that Gervais had been "incredible".

    Corden's imprimatur must worth what? 32p?

    The problem in this case isn't Gervais

    Oh, but it is, it is.

    Doubtless some US viewers take this at face value, and just think he's a prick.

    Very perceptive of them.

  • xjpx

    17 January 2011 8:59PM

    he was scathing but he wasn't funny. it wasn't the insults that made the audience squirm: it was the dying of some sweaty little british comedian trying too hard to impress his hollywood betters.

  • maxivory

    17 January 2011 9:00PM

    "Just because you're offended, doesn't mean you're right" - Ricky Gervais

    Genius.

    The Globes will forever be in the shadow of the Oscars, so why play it safe? Well done the producers.

  • semiotecs

    17 January 2011 9:06PM

    Maxivory - plus one.

    I suspect most of the contributors on this thread didn't actually see the show on NBC last night or even in its entirety. Gervais was funny and risque. It was televised at an Awards party I went to last night (which was populated almost entirely by Americans) and his comments and gags went down very well indeed.

  • Speechless07

    17 January 2011 9:08PM

    Gervais relies on a comic persona that lies somewhere between the characters he plays and the way people imagine he is in real life: smug, misanthropic and a little cowardly.

    'Comic PERSONA' , ManClad - do you get it now, eh?

  • phillytwilly

    17 January 2011 9:14PM

    Utterly brilliant and brave of Gervais. As he said in an interview " I won't joke about something someone can't help but will certainly about their CHOICES." If professionals in the entertainment industry can't take honesty in the public eye then simply don't do it... Paid too much money?

  • niels2010

    17 January 2011 9:16PM

    He is alright, nothing special, his gags are written by his team, I dont think he delivers them brilliantly, its more like gag after gag like Bruce Forsyth !

  • StuartBooth

    17 January 2011 9:19PM

    My only interest in these events is the host's roasts. Surely, the organizers knew this which explains why they hired him again. Without gervais, how much airtime do you think the awards would get? All publicity and all that...

  • downunderpom

    17 January 2011 9:24PM

    All the moaning and griping here shows what a bunch of Poxford and Swinedon town supporting losers you all are! There! Take that!

    If you fail to see the brilliance of Stavvy Road's finest, then that's your loss. As for the Yanks (Gorbless 'em) - who gives a rat's what they think. Actors only exist to make the rest of us feel normal (-ish).

  • elevenkinds

    17 January 2011 9:25PM

    He knew exactly what he was doing. He looked nervous as it still took a lot of balls to crucify himself and his targets like that. Dying on stage? He's made a career of it, with his deft genius.

    All publicity is good. And he hijacked the headlines and gave the awards huge publicity.

    "And I'd like to end by thanking god....for making me an atheist."

    Perhaps I've got it all wrong. But I thought that was entertainment.

  • Jackanapes

    17 January 2011 9:26PM

    I thought it was great fun. It'll do these overpaid, over-indulged Hollywood arseholes good to have the piss well and truly taken out of them, Brit-style.

  • WillChapman

    17 January 2011 9:28PM

    This will, thankfully, be Gervais last job as award show host.

    Many of his jokes last night were aimed at the defenceless and America doesn't take to comedians who craft their jokes around 'cheap shots'. This may go over in England, but not here in the USA.

    However, his biggest mistake last night was reducing the tone of the evening in Los Angeles.

    For those of you who don't follow American industry, LA is the centre of show business and the film industry in particular. For Gervais to come in and ridicule the (absent) stars that generate a significant amount of the town's revenues is unforgivable. He's coming into the company town and denigrating its assets.

    Goodbye Ricky...and good luck.

  • marado

    17 January 2011 9:29PM

    A tame opening gag about Charlie Sheen (an acknowledged, if Teflon-coated scumbag)....

    sorry, I probably can't understand it. Would anyone explain to me why Charlie Sheen is a scumbag?

  • ATLGuy

    17 January 2011 9:32PM

    Americans don't much like being satirised by outsiders (even if they can respect the point being made, it's hard to laugh) and as much as they profess to love British humour, it often leaves them bewildered.

    I agree with the statement that Americans don't like being satirized by outsiders, had Whoopi Goldberg or Jay Leno made the same jokes no one would have been offended, but part of the blame also lies on Ricky. There's a fine line between being funny and being mean-spirited and Ricky hasn't quite mastered that art. He looked uncomfortable and ill at ease on stage and you got the feeling that he was over his head and was doing his best to impress but realized that he was falling short.

    On a side note, since when did us Yanks ever profess our love for British humor? Is this a myth that the Brits like to tell themselves? Aside from Monty Python and Benny Hill there haven't been any british comics that are well-known over here and British shows never make it over to this side of the pond in their original(i.e. British format). And when we do remake a British sitcom into an American one, one of the many reasons is that we don't quite get British humor.

  • Shadowmind

    17 January 2011 9:36PM

    Gervais/ David Brent are one of the same.
    When ever you see or hear him it's hard to tell if its his character Brent or himself.
    Which leads me to believe he really is the prick he pretends to be.

  • AnonIPs

    17 January 2011 9:37PM

    I would not even have noticed the GGs without the Gervais publicity, so he's done his job. Watched it on YouTube now, he wasn't funny, just snide and nasty, but is anyone really surprised by that?

  • SalmonRusty

    17 January 2011 9:43PM

    The point is that instead of people discussing the winners and losers of the awards they are debating the host. So I think as far as Ricky Gervais is concerned the job is done.

    He probably doesn't give a shit anyway.

  • Daniboi

    17 January 2011 9:43PM

    Wrote something similar on the other blog talking about the Golden Globes, but it's just as relevant here:

    How come no one has even thought to remark on what Robert Downey Jr said in his presentation of the Best Actress award? He said, explicitly, that he'd like to have sex (or had, in fact, had sex) with all of them. And every one of them laughed nervously as the camera came to them. Is that not... you know... a little bit offensive?

    A lot of the comments on the YouTube vid that shows him are fawning about how "ridiculously adorable" he is. Someone even writes "Few people could've pulled that off while being hilarious, edgy, and endearing at the same time."

    Oh, really? What if Hugh Hefner had got up and leered over the five of them like that? Or Gervais, even - what if he'd fantasised about shagging the nominees in the same way? And then Downey Jr has the balls to criticise Gervais's rudeness afterwards. 全然分からないや・・・

  • Jackanapes

    17 January 2011 9:45PM

    @ATL Guy

    On a side note, since when did us Yanks ever profess our love for British humor?

    You need to get out more, my dear American chum. On the internet and in RL (I lived in the States for seven years) I see and hear this all the time. Sadly it's usually followed by a list that goes something like "Monty Python... Benny Hill.... Are You Being Served....". The lumping of those three together seems to indicate that someone isn't really getting Python.

  • OldGreyWhisleTest

    17 January 2011 9:50PM

    Oh all those poor liddle yanks and their over inflated egos,did Ricky hurt your feelings.Nedder mind ,next year you can go back to kissing each others arses or whatever it is you do with them over there

  • MagicBeans

    17 January 2011 9:54PM

    For those of you who don't follow American industry, LA is the centre of show business and the film industry in particular. For Gervais to come in and ridicule the (absent) stars that generate a significant amount of the town's revenues is unforgivable. He's coming into the company town and denigrating its assets.

    Is there anybody on Earth who doesn't know that? The very fact that it's the centre of the film business is all the more reason to stand in the middle of it and ridicule the people that generate a significant portion of the revenue. There'd be bugger all point doing it in Bogata. If the residents of LA can't even laugh at themselves then it just became an even less desirable place to live. The very idea that these folk can look around at their environment and take it seriously brings me out in hives.

  • wutheringshite

    17 January 2011 10:00PM

    I'll bet he crashes in 5 years or so, he'll run out of luck. Is it genius or is it secondary school playground stuff that we all laughed at 30 or 40 years ago recycled ? Perhaps that's what people think is genius. He's no Coogan or Brydon. Too nasty and not clever enough.

  • OlSlov

    17 January 2011 10:00PM

    I watched it and thought it was great. I think people are taking his words too seriously. He's a comedian and he's paid to take pops at people. He says what we all think. It's all in jest. That's what most British comedians do. For those who say "good riddance", well, he's done at least a couple of these shows now and said himself on stage that he's not planning on doing another.

    Gervais is a genius. Love the Office, love the Invention of Lying, love Animals, and all his podcasts.

  • lasvegasbrit

    17 January 2011 10:05PM

    Is there any difference between Letterman getting sure-fire laughs by mentioning Lindsay Lohan's name once a week and Gervais reminding everyone that Robert Downey Jr. went even more off-the-rails after his eary success in "Chaplin"? His smug conceit required just what he got from Gervais - who wasn't even stretching the truth.

  • tyxxzy

    17 January 2011 10:10PM

    As another embarassed brit , may I suggest a Sarah Palin-type blood libel, and remove this moron from our already heavily compromised 'culture' (thanks mainly to modern british 'comedy').

    P.S. capital letters deliberately omitted

  • Susannah27

    17 January 2011 10:15PM

    The problem with Gervais is that he's just warmed over...Charlie Sheen jokes? Hugh Hefner? Really? It's like the low rent talk shows you find channel surfing at 2:00 AM. Robt. DeNiro put him to shame...hire a writer, Ricky!
    I don't really see a big difference between Brit and Yank humor...clever people and not so clever people on both sides...surely it breaks down better that way. There's awful stuff in both places god knows...

  • SoCalLocal

    17 January 2011 10:21PM

    I've always liked Gervais better as a comic actor than a comedian...and felt his best material came from Stephen Merchant, without whom he's quite unfunny.

    It's pretty sad if all he has to say for himself for the second time in a row is that The Office is based on HIS The Office. We get it. Go make something else...

  • SalmonRusty

    17 January 2011 10:22PM

    Oh yeah. And Downey Jr. is a poe faced mumbling cock donkey for what he said. Showing he had no sense of humour by calling Gervais mean spirited and then making a smarmy comment about wanting to f*** the female nominees!!

    What. A. Dick.

  • ArseneKnows

    17 January 2011 10:22PM

    Maybe they should hire Ant and Dec, they're not funnty but they're not offensive personally if i wanted someone to host a roomful of rich hypocrites I'd hire Frankie Boyle.

  • diotavelli

    17 January 2011 10:27PM

    Ricky Gervais was "mean-spirited" and "smug"? Well, that has been his comic persona for pretty much the entire past decade.

    The Golden Globes is a bunch of overpaid, over-rated, self-centred, self-important wankers pretending that what they do is important, rather than simply a bit of simple entertainment for the rest of us. We all know that. Ricky Gervais clearly knows that.

    I got the impression he thought "well, they all know my sense of humour, they all must guess what I think of them - and yet they still hired me. That'll be both barrels then."

  • alastair415

    17 January 2011 10:35PM

    It's funny, Americans are fond of saying "fuck em' if they can't take a joke" They're just lucky Gervais isn't from Belfast where serious banter is like an Olympic level bloodsport.

  • marado

    17 January 2011 10:38PM

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