Monday, January 16, 2012

Ricky Gervais

Courtesy NBC
Like millions of other people, last night I watched the annual Golden Globe Awards telecast.  I enjoy it each year for its more relaxed party atmosphere, and its quirky celebration of the movies from the previous year.  The Hollywood Foreign Press Association puts on a fun party.  One of the quirkiest elements of that party is the host, Ricky Gervais, who's hosted for the past three years. 

Gervais has impressive comedy chops, no doubt about that.  He's a good-looking guy, too, and reminds me a lot of the mischievous kid in the back row who's pushing at the teacher's patience.  When he sticks to playful jabs, he's hilarious.  It's when he strays into the mean-spiritedness of jokes at the expense of other people that I lose patience with him.  That kind of humor requires no imagination or creativity, and I believe Gervais is far more capable than that.

The interesting thing about his mean-spirited humor is that he chooses things about people that are true.  In other words, he avoids a libel lawsuit or two or three.  He makes it clear up front that he's just joking around, but seems to be clueless that jokes have just as much of a hurtful and damaging effect as the cutting put-down.  He balances on a tightrope between funny and totally inappropriate.  The thing is, people usually do not want their flaws and foibles highlighted with jokes.  By choosing that kind of humor, Gervais does little to endear himself to his audience...or, more accurately, victims.

Humor has an abusive side.  It's the joke that puts down, diminishes, or otherwise hurts another person.  I have no patience with this kind of humor and find it not humor at all.  Gervais walks a fine line between humor that's funny and humor that's abusive. 

The good news: He toned down his joke attacks last night compared with last year's telecast.  The bad news: While he may have toned down most of his comments, he still landed some penetrating stabs at NBC and others.  Wow, go ahead, Ricky.  Make NBC's day!  Of course, the network can take it, that's not the point.  The "bad boy" thing gets old fast with such bad taste.  Not that criticism is out of line.  But it depends on how it's delivered and there was nothing constructive about Gervais' NBC comments last night.

More good news: The audience had prepared for Gervais and gave as good as it got, but in a much classier way than Gervais.  I particularly loved Colin Firth's description of demonstrators outside the hotel and their placards sending the audience to perish in fire and brimstone...ignorant of Gervais' devilish presence inside the hotel.  Or maybe that was exactly the demonstrators' point?

Gervais' comment comparing the Golden Globe telecast with the Academy Awards may backfire on him.  Saying the Oscars have more esteem than the Golden Globes hits the Hollywood Foreign Press squarely between the eyes.  Again, the audience members countered Gervais with their outpouring of appreciation for the Hollywood Foreign Press in acceptance speech after acceptance speech.  The Hollywood Foreign Press' efforts in support of the Hollywood community and film industry includes the Golden Globes, a little fact that Gervais managed to forget last night.

On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd give Ricky Gervais a 3.  He wasn't that funny, his abusive humor fell flat, and he could have kept the show moving.  At least he wasn't as over the top nasty as he was last year.  Of course, serving alcohol before and during the telecast tends to slow acceptance speeches, so it's always something of a miracle that the show never runs over its allotted time.  Gervais contributed to a lack of discipline last night in maintaining the show's pace -- before he began hosting, this telecast was playful fun, unpredictable fun, and respectful fun.  And it was especially fun to watch.

My vote for host next year is Nikki Finke from Deadline.com......

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