While there was some of the usual glass-clinking going on at the Golden Globe Awards last Sunday, the praise was mixed for sophomore host Ricky Gervais. Some applauded his wise-cracks with a hesitant clap while others criticized the comedian for his supposed “bad form,” begging the question: Should comedians hold back when celebs are the target? The negative responses to Gervais were largely based on the warped belief that we should be nice to celebrities. And there’s nothing more offensive than that.
Forget the particular strengths of Gervais as a comedian – timing, voice, etc. – and consider why his jokes were so “shocking” in the first place. It’s because we rarely see it. Most celebrity hosts make cuddly jokes about their friendships with other celebrities, the nerves of competition, or worst of all, comments like “Look over there – it’s Meryl Streep!”
Take the Oscars for example, Hollywood’s biggest night. Last year Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin hosted the ceremony which might have been more aptly titled “Hollywood’s Biggest Love Fest.” From their onstage perch the pair poked fun of each other like the stage was a school playground, and went through the Kodak theatre pointing out the celebs in attendance. I probably wouldn’t have assumed Meryl Streep was in the audience if they hadn’t pointed her out for me, so I do thank them for that. Next month’s ceremonies will be hosted by Anne Hathaway and James Franco. Don’t be surprised if it’s much of the same.
Yes, awards shows are meant for honouring the work of the artist, so the artist should be honoured accordingly. At awards ceremonies like the Globes and the Oscars, the artists are largely celebrities. But forgive me then if celebrities aren’t already the most glorified group of people on the planet. They grace the covers of the magazines we base our style on. They send crowds of commoners into fainting frenzies. The red carpet events they attend are staged like coronations. And most of the time their everyday lives earn our attention more than any politics or human issues.
What Gervais managed to do last Sunday was subvert celebrity culture for a couple hours at the kind of event where celebrity culture is usually at its fullest bloom.
If not only to ease our gag reflex (and sense of inferiority), celebrity jabs should be the favoured hosting approach. Awards shows have enough praise already. They don’t need the hosts to gush over the nominees too.
Nominees can be assured that awards shows are not a Comedy Central Roast. When they walk on stage to accept their statuette, the moment and the mike is all theirs (VMAs sometimes excluded). Gervais’ attempts to turn the night – or at least those few moments between the gushing – into a Comedy Central Roast deserve the biggest statuette of all.
With last week’s ceremony, Gervais has managed to become the firebrand of Hollywood, the Ann Coulter of entertainment, if you will. If you won’t, then allow me to explain. Coulter is a self-proclaimed “polemicist,” an agitator who should not be taken seriously as anything more than an agitator. They agitate to stir up the pot, and stir up the pot they do.
I may have strayed into risky territory here comparing Gervais to Coulter. But neither of them would hold back, so I won’t either. Don’t get me wrong, Gervais is quite a bit more respectable than Coulter, but the two share an ability to subvert the mainstream that makes this comparison important.
Whether you support them or not, both Gervais and Coulter have managed to get our attention. That is probably the most significant thing about the tactic of polemics, whether comedic or political. They get us talking.
Coulter’s subject matter might seem more important, but politics is an arena that will likely always involve more critical engagement than entertainment. What Gervais managed to do at the Golden Globes was as funny as it was subversive. We need people like Gervais.
I used to like the Globes. If only for the escalating drunkenness of the celebrity attendees throughout the night, the Golden Globes used to be fun. But what this year’s ceremony revealed amidst the Gervais controversy was the often sickening narcissism of Hollywood.
Plus, nobody seemed drunk.
With Gervais announcing he will decline an invitation to host next year’s ceremony, the Golden Globes may have nothing left to offer the lowly commoner.