It’s the morning after the Golden Globes, and the big story is: How big of an asshole was Ricky Gervais? Most of the host’s bloodletting happened in the opening monologue, in which Charlie Sheen, The Tourist, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Cher, and Scientology came in for a beatdown in quick succession. (Sample: I Love You Phillip Morris was about “two heterosexual actors pretending to be gay — so the complete opposite of some famous Scientologists then.” Beat. “Probably.”) Gervais was less of a presence after the opener (even disappearing for long enough toward the end of the show for people to hypothesize on Twitter he’d gotten yanked. He hadn’t), but he did manage to get in some zingers, especially at the president of the Hollywood Foreign Press (“I just had to help him off the toilet and pop his teeth in”), who seemed peeved. And instead of going with the typical, sweet, cuddly, and now “the beautiful Halle Berry!” intros, Gervais took the piss out of most of the presenters, often calling out their worst credits, a habit that elicited onstage reactions from Robert Downey Jr., Tom Hanks, and Tim Allen, who all mentioned Gervais’s nastiness. (In Downey Jr.’s case, Gervais had mentioned his stints in “the Betty Ford Clinic and the L.A. County Jail.”) So, in the light of day, with a consensus building he won’t be asked back for a third year of hosting, did Gervais go too far?
The celebrities in the room seemed to think so. Despite promising he would be brutally honest, the L.A. Times explains that no one was really expecting Gervais to be that brutally honest: “A visible contingent in the glitzy crowd on Sunday night was palpably discomfited by the British comic’s full-frontal joke assault, which set a corrosive tone for this year’s ceremony that was reflected by both on-stage repartee and backstage opprobrium.” Matt Zoller Seitz, writing for Salon, designated Gervais the “bad mojo patsy of the disastrous 68th annual Golden Globes telecast,” and the man who presided over an “awkward and sour” show. But if some thought Gervais had gone too far (including Judd Apatow and the HFPA) so, in a sense, did Gervais himself. He doesn’t expect to be asked back for a third year, though he also wasn’t trying to be more mean-spirited than usual. “For three hours every year, Hollywood is scared to death of me. It’s great. I just did what I do.”
But if everyone basically agrees Gervais was more cutting than hosts usually are, not everyone agrees that was a bad thing. As Alessandra Stanley said in her review for the Times, talking about Gervais’s digs at the HFPA in particular, “It’s so rare for presenters to be at open war with their host, and at times it almost looked as if Mr. Gervais and Mr. Bale were intent on bringing to Hollywood some of the incivility and extremism that veins political discourse.” That’s a lot more fun to watch than banal awards show patter. Caryn James, in her positive review for Indiewire, even credits Gervais’s banter with “inspiring some sharper replies that made the show even more volatile,” from the likes of Downey Jr. and Hanks. And speaking up for everyone who is generally suspicious of the Globes as a meaningless, glorified party (after all, Gervais wasn’t the one who nominated The Tourist in the first place), Deadline’s Nikki Finke writes, Gervais “was even more blasphemous towards the antics of Hollywood and especially the tarnished reputation of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association than he was last year. I love it.” Also, Jimmy Fallon and Jason Bateman were both fans.
For us, it boils down to this: How much more boring would the Golden Globes have been without Gervais? So, so much more boring! On a night when almost everyone who was supposed to win did, we’d have fallen asleep without him. Yes, some of the jokes were mean and in bad taste (Why you gotta call Cher old, Ricky? Why you gotta call out Heather Mills? This is America! We barely know who she is anyway!), but the one in the worst taste — Ricky Gervais pretending to be a 24-year-old giving Hugh Hefner a hummer, while looking at his watch — we would be happy to watch on continuous loop for the rest of the day.
It may not be “polite” to invite someone to show up to a party and make fun of them to their face, but which of these topics — Charlie Sheen, The Tourist, the HFPA, Scientologists, Tim Allen — doesn’t deserve to be joked about? And which of Gervais’s jokes was even slightly off target? Sure, Robert Downey Jr. is, as he proved yet again with his bit last night, a national treasure, and it’s not nice to talk about his years as an addict, but, it’s not untrue, and, besides, Downey Jr. seemed fully capable of defending himself. Sure, it may be momentarily uncomfortable for Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp to have to hear their very bad movie mocked, but they’re Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, and, well, it was a very bad movie. They’ll survive. Hopefully, Ricky Gervais’s hosting career will too.