comedy review

Jerrod Carmichael Couldn’t Make the Golden Globes Settle Down

Jerrod Carmichael at the 2023 Golden Globes. Photo: Rich Polk/NBC via Getty Images

NBC’s clip of Jerrod Carmichael’s opening monologue at the Golden Globes begins several seconds in with the standard “Welcome to the 80th annual Golden Globe awards,” but in the first moments when the cameras went live to the ballroom at 8 p.m. ET and Carmichael walked out, his first words were actually “Settle! Settle, settle, settle. People in the back. Let’s be a little quiet here, everybody.” He strode across the stage like a well-seasoned high-school teacher trying to regain control in the first class back after a lunch break, waiting for the raucous group to come down to his energy level rather than trying to talk over them. But a teacher in that position knows they have time: They’ll ultimately have a long relationship with these students and can afford to earn their attention through quiet power. The trouble for Carmichael was that the Globes were never going to give him the time.

Carmichael’s opening, seven-minute monologue was the closest the Globes got to the mood the stand-up seemed to want to establish. It was a mode of frank disclosure, in which he aimed to create a sense of intimacy with the audience, quickly naming all the elephants in the room but notably refusing to turn them into easy, dismissive joke lines. “I’ll tell you why I’m here. I’m here because I’m Black,” he said. “The Golden Globe awards did not air last year, because the Hollywood Foreign Press Association — which, I won’t say they were a racist organization, but they didn’t have a single Black member until George Floyd died.” Somewhere in the room, voices tittered with laughter, and they were the first step toward Carmichael achieving something interesting: intimate awkwardness uncloaked by familiar awards patter. Eventually, as Carmichael casually sat down on the stage steps and started telling the story of his involvement in the show, he got to the sound he seemed most interested in trying to elicit. During a few moments as Carmichael paused between lines, the room was silent.

For awards-show hosts and most short comedy sets, silence is the enemy. Silence is the absence of approval. Silence is a halted rhythm, a deadened room, an energy level plummeting to unrecoverable lows. Deliberate performer silence is the purview of the one-man show and the long-form comedic personal reflection, and do you know what the famously booze-soaked Golden Globes are not historically about as an awards show? Deep introspection spurred by the sensation of everyone quietly in a room together held captive by one person’s insistence on stomping on the brakes. But as Carmichael has demonstrated again and again in his work, he appreciates approval but is ultimately just as interested in what happens when people who expect comedy are denied any easy outlets for relief. Carmichael fans would’ve turned on the Globes already knowing that he’d made 8, a special that purposely dismantles audience laughter, and more recently Rothaniel, which begins as stand-up, then creates opportunities for its viewers to ask themselves what comedy even is. But for worse (and for better, because ultimately Carmichael wanted those silences), a large segment of the in-room Globes audience and viewers at home were not prepared for his total disinterest in the usual awards-monologue format.

He described his process in agreeing to host the show: his “moral, racial dilemma” about doing it, how much he got paid (half a million dollars, reportedly, which is much more than Wanda Sykes told Jimmy Kimmel she was paid for the Oscars in 2022), and his refusal to have a one-on-one sit-down with the president of the HFPA. “Or what? Are they going to fire me?” Carmichael said. “They haven’t had a Black host in 79 years. They’re going to fire the first one? I’m unfireable.” The crowd laughed, a bit, but it was not a relaxed laughter. In a few stretches during those opening seven minutes, Carmichael created the awards show he seemed to be aiming for: an intimate show, off-putting and hilarious, and a show that is, at its core, largely focused on his own presence as its host. It is honestly impressive that Carmichael managed to wrangle any of that rowdy ceremony into his purposely off-balance, full-attention space.

But then, like Cinderella at midnight or an unfireable employee who suddenly remembered he still had to do his job, Carmichael had to revert to hosting an awards show. “I look out into this room, and I see a lot of talented people — like, people that I admire, people that I would like to be like,” he said. “This is an evening where we get to celebrate, and I think this industry deserves evenings like these.” It was a straw-man transition, a sudden appeal to decorum that somehow suggested that everyone should be happy not because of the HFPA but somehow in spite of them. Nevermind that for the rest of the night, winners would breathlessly thank the HFPA for their consideration and that at no point did anyone suggest that all awards ceremonies should be canceled because this one was. Carmichael had successfully stopped the show for a moment but could not help but eventually concede to the most ancient and obnoxious truism that the show must go on.

If that had been the total of Carmichael’s contribution, the fun dissonance of those two motivations might have stayed in striking balance with one another. Except that Carmichael had to keep coming back occasionally to introduce new presenters, scold people on Twitter for being angry that pianist Chloe Flower was cutting off acceptance speeches, and debut beautiful new outfit changes every few commercial breaks. More than once, he seemed disoriented or slightly annoyed that the room was paying him so little attention, again and again asking members of the audience to settle down or take their seats. In one return from commercial break, Carmichael was situated in the middle of the room glancing off to the side at a security person as if wishing they would help him still the ever-increasing uproar. He seemed to want to return to the room as he’d left it: quiet, unsure, taken with him, uneasy about him. The Globes had no patience for it and never would’ve. The sense memory for awards jollity is too strong, and the congratulatory mechanisms are too powerful — especially when fueled by a room full of people just wanting to be normal and bottles of sponsorship Moët.

As the show rolled on, Carmichael did better in the moments when he slid in sharper hits — like his joke about mysteriously missing Scientologist Shelly Miscavige. This may have been an unusual target, but it was Carmichael operating in a more familiar Globes-host playbook: Show up, do a joke that’s clearly shaped like a joke, exit stage left. The audience gasped, but it was a gasp of pleasurable outrage, not of quiet wariness. By the end, whatever weird distinctive Carmichael magic he’d built in that opening had dissipated and it became the Golden Globes it was always going to be: an awards show — no less but also no more.

Jerrod Carmichael Couldn’t Make the Globes Settle Down