Was it something he said?
Ricky Gervais, the acerbic British comic behind “The Office,” “Derek,” “Extras” and three outrageously sharp-tongued stints hosting the Golden Globe Awards, has been the stuff of controversy ever since his return to the ceremony (Sunday, Jan. 10, at 8 p.m. on NBC) was announced in October. And while insult comedy and celebrity roasts have long been commonplace, society in the four years since he last hosted seems, contradictorily, more easily offended by comedians and more tolerant of outrageous comments by others. Can Gervais still shock when simply making Cate Blanchett or Bryan Cranston jokes?
The comedian seems to anticipate so. “Because I can see the future,” Gervais, 54, tweeted New Year’s Day, “I’d like to apologise now for the things I said at next week’s Golden Globes. I was drunk & didn’t give a [expletive].” Pal Seth MacFarlane fed the spirit of things a couple of days later, tweeting, “Social media is already pre-outraged over Ricky Gervais’ Helen Mirren joke at the Golden Globes” — to which Gervais responded, “And they should be. It’s a doozy.”
The inherent joke is, how could one offend the stately yet bawdy Dame Helen? In fact, Gervais’ jibes, such as 2011’s “It’s going to be a night of partying and heavy drinking — or as Charlie Sheen calls it: breakfast,” aren’t half as hard-hitting as what John Oliver says on his HBO show. And Don Rickles would famously tell Frank Sinatra, “Make yourself comfortable, Frank — hit somebody.” So perhaps it’s not so much what Gervais says but the way he says it — as Robert Downey Jr. described it, “hugely mean-spirited with mildly sinister undertones.”
The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which bestows the awards, seems OK with that. “They enjoy the Golden Globes’ status as a looser room than other award shows,” NBC’s head of late night and alternative programming, Paul Telegdy, told Variety. “It’s got a little bit of a maverick personality. It’s one of the reasons I think it’s preferred to many other award shows, whether you’re lucky enough to attend or to watch, it’s got a very different feel. That maverick status blends nicely with Ricky’s own approach to the evening.”
The show’s executive producer, Barry Adelman of Dick Clark Productions, told the trade magazine that after three-time hosting duo Tina Fey and Amy Poehler chose not to return, “you look over the landscape and think about, ‘Who is going to give the show the kind of boost that both Ricky and Tina and Amy did for six years in a row? . . . We thought, ‘Why not ask Ricky again?’ We kind of suspected he had an itch to come back. He loves it; he loves stirring the pot.”
“Ricky was always at the top of our list and our thoughts,” Italian journalist Lorenzo Soria, president of the HFPA, told Variety. “The only debate was whether it felt like moving backward than forward. Once we talked with Ricky, we were very excited.” He said Gervais “can make fun of people sitting in the very room. Does that make him controversial? It makes people talk about him and what he says. I think he’s a good draw for the show.”
Gervais himself has given fair warning — or fair trigger-warning, as it were. “You have the right to your opinion,” he tweeted on Jan. 2. “But don’t get offended when someone tells you what they think of your opinion. That’s THEIR opinion. You have the right to offend and be offended. But you don’t have the right to never be offended. The right to an opinion does not include the right to be agreed with, taken seriously or even listened to.”