The measure of any awards show host is revealed in the opening volley. It’s a love affair with the audience which is won or lost in a moment. That’s why Billy Crystal, and the pairing of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, are remembered with reverence. And why Seth McFarlane doesn’t get asked back any more.
Ricky Gervais was returning to the Golden Globes this year after three winning turns as host, having set the bar impossibly high, and a three year absence during which the awards were hosted by the brilliant pairing of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.
He recovered in the end, just, but for one perilous moment it nearly skidded off the rails.
Gervais’ first outings as host of film and television’s bridesmaid of awards shows were sharp, and took aim at Hollywood’s most exalted stars and most taboo subjects. This year, after much pre-hype, his opening monologue was filled with easy targets and crude humour which seemed to fall flat with the star-studded audience.
Early on in the show Gervais had posted on Facebook and Twitter “Can’t wait for people to start reporting that I offended some people at The Golden Globes. Of course I f—ing did.”
During the awards the 54-year-old British comedian took shots at NBC, the US network airing the Globes – “they have zero nominations … there is nothing in it for them tonight” – as well as the awards organising body, the eccentric and often-maligned Hollywood Foreign Press Association.
He poked fun at the HFPA’s decision to nominate The Martian as a comedy. “To be fair, The Martian was lot funnier than Pixels, but then so was Schindler’s List,” he said, adding – under his breath, when the joke fell flat – “it’s just a film.”
He also said: “The president of the HFPA just told me if I say anything offensive, or crass … he’s going to come out here personally and pull me off.” The joke took a moment to hit the audience. “Yes, that is the level [of the jokes],” Gervais added, “An old man pulling me off.”
Another easy target: former Olympian Bruce Jenner, now trans celebrity Caitlyn Jenner. “I’ve changed,” Gervais said, “Not as much as Bruce Jenner. She became a role model for trans people everywhere. She didn’t do a lot for women drivers.” (Jenner was involved in a car accident which resulted in a fatality.)
And another: the reputation of the HFPA as journalists whose vote can be swayed with gifts. “As if film companies would say away from the chance of winning a Golden Globe,” Gervais said, “Particularly if their film company has already paid for it.”
It made for an awkward handover to the organisation’s president, Lorenzo Soria, who writes for the Italian magazine L’Espresso, but it was Soria’s speech which brought a curious, and unexpected, dignity to an otherwise patchy opening.
“We can all use our influence to shine a spotlight on violence, injustice and intolerance,” Soria said, as the television cameras cut somewhat predictably to actor and activist Brad Pitt, “[and] in doing so we can make our world a more hopeful, and a better, place.”
In some respects Soria’s words were soft, but they offered a fascinating juxtaposition to the older, more serious Academy Awards where political statements and such issue-based spotlight-aiming has, at times, been frowned upon by organisers.
Overall, Gervais was sharp, though his kick-off was off-target and a little too crude for his audience, in the room, at home and even online. He clawed back some ground later in the show, fencing with n actor Mel Gibson who deserves a Golden Globe just for turning on the charm through gritted teeth.
In most respects the Golden Globes telecast was scripted down to the last detail, though the event – a sit-down-dinner as opposed to the more usual auditorium style – has a reputation for unpredictability and celebrity mischief, typically of the actress-caught-in-the-loo-as-their-name-is-announced variety.
And Gervais’ toilet humour proved persistent if not entirely persuasive, as he revealed the fate of the three Golden Globes he has, himself, won.
“One’s a doorstop, one I use to hit burglars with, and one I keep by the bed to … it doesn’t matter, it’s mine,” he said, adding: “To be clear, that was a joke about me shoving Golden Globes I have won up my ass.”