Open Mic

Just Where Did Ricky Gervais Go Wrong in His Stinging Golden Globes Performance?

Hillary Atkin Posted January 17, 2011 at 2:32 PM

Why are people so surprised that Ricky Gervais made a series of (not particularly funny) jokes at a lot of people's expense during his second outing as host of the Golden Globes telecast?

It's the Globes, folks, the awards show best known for its festivities fueled by free-flowing alcohol, leading to a lot of loose lips and funny slips on stage at the Beverly Hilton.

Let's review some of the Gervais gaffes that will almost certainly guarantee he won't be asked back again. Robert Downey Jr. was in rehab? Oh, no--that was the first anyone had ever heard of that … ancient news. Scarlett Johansson Jewish? OK, maybe some new information but not particularly germane to the proceedings except to work in a weak Mel Gibson joke. Bruce Willis, Ashton Kutcher's father? A simple case of getting some familial relationships in the Moore household mixed up. And let's face it: Kutcher could technically be Willis’ child. Suggesting that a bribe scheme was the only reason "The Tourist" was nominated? Cringe-worthy on many levels.

But it was his jab at Philip Berk, the president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, as in, ahem, helping him off the toilet and with putting his teeth back in, that really lost Ricky his pulpit. Since Berk calls the shots of the Golden Globes, he was the wrong man to target with this extremely tasteless and inappropriate barb.

Gervais himself, in a statement released today in the wake of his polarizing performance, said, "I was allowed to choose who I would introduce in advance. I obviously chose presenters who I had the best jokes for, and who I knew had a good sense of humor. Everyone took it well and the atmosphere backstage and at the after-show was great."

Comedians who push the edge of the envelope, as Gervais does, simply don't have a good track record as repeat award show hosts. The poster child: David Letterman hosting the Oscars, and his insipid “Uma, Oprah” routine, still infamous for its inanity--and its inability to draw any laughs. And we’ll note that Chris Rock and Jon Stewart haven't hosted anything for a while, perhaps because despite their popularity, some of their comedic shots landed in the wrong places, politically. Meanwhile, the more mainstream and less offensive Jimmy Fallon and Neil Patrick Harris are the current golden boys when it comes to award show hosting.

Some actors are known for needing a script--and a Teleprompter--and not having any ability to speak, much less makes jokes, extemporaneously--much less on live television. So you have to give credit to Robert Downey Jr., Tom Hanks and Tim Allen for their quick comebacks to Gervais’ zingers.

As for the awards themselves, Steve Buscemi apparently rules not only the Atlantic City boardwalk, but also the hearts and minds of the 80-plus members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. In somewhat of an upset, he took home the trophy for best actor in a drama and HBO’s "Boardwalk Empire" took the gold as top drama in its freshman season, toppling the three-year reign of the highly respected and much-loved “Mad Men.”

In another changing of the guard, Jim Parsons of "The Big Bang Theory" took the comedy acting crown from "30 Rock’s” two-time champ Alec Baldwin.

Last year, HFPA voters showered then-new "Glee" with some of its first major trophies and this year the adoration continued, with the Fox show winning best comedy and stars Jane Lynch and Christopher Colfer taking trophies on the acting side.

Another big story on the TV side was Katey Sagal’s win for her role as a motorcycle mama in FX’s "Sons of Anarchy." She took home the award over such lauded drama actresses as Julianna Margulies and Kyra Sedgwick. Show creator Kurt Sutter, Sagal’s husband, had created a stir at the Emmy Awards in a similar category by blasting voters, and Mariska Hargitay in particular, in a series of scathing tweets--thus nearly guaranteeing the unwelcome mat at that awards show.

Those mats can be rolled out with quite a fury, proving once again that comedy goes down best without being laced with a large dollop of arsenic.