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January 29th 2011 print

James Allan

Gervais bites Hollywood

Ricky Gervais is not the most popular man in Hollywood at the moment. He may have even fewer friends at present than Mel Gibson, which is saying something.

Pompous, puffed-up and thin-skinned

It’s not too great a stretch to say that Ricky Gervais, the British comedian and brains behind The Office comedy series, is not the most popular man in Hollywood right now. He may have even fewer friends at present than Mel Gibson, which is saying something.

Just last week Gervais hosted or compered the celebrity love-in Golden Globes movie and television award evening. And he brought to the task a very hard-edged and self-mocking British sensibility, one that I think it is fair to say is completely unknown to the pampered stars of Tinseltown (with the exception, of course, of British transplant Hugh Laurie, the versatile British comic who plays the doctor in the eponymously named House television show, and who does so with such a perfect American accent that few Americans realise he’s not American).

Gervais’s opening monologue went after Charlie Sheen, Mel Gibson, Cher, Scientology-connected stars, Hugh Hefner and more. 84 year old Hefner was ridiculed for planning to marry a 24 year old, the punch line being that the young woman is now complaining that he lied to her about his age. He said he was 94. (Think about it for a second. It’s very good.)

The acerbic jokes kept coming, and so did the victims. Bruce Willis was called “Ashton Kutcher’s dad”. Robert Downey Jr.’s struggles with drug and alcohol addiction were alluded to, and this was done in the course of introducing him. Gervais even commented on the age of the Sex and the City 2 stars, claiming that he could remember one of them appearing in an episode of Bonanza.

And then there was the Gervais mocking of the sponsors of the Golden Globes themselves, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Gervais went after the president of this body, and then called it corrupt and bribe-taking. How else could anyone explain their nomination of The Tourist for best picture, a fair point to all those of us who made the mistake of sitting through that awful movie.

In no way at all could any of this be described as kind. It was biting, even mean-spirited stuff. I only saw it after-the-fact on the internet. But despite the acerbic nature of the Gervais comedy, I thought it was wonderfully good stuff. And it was good for two reasons. First off, all of the humour was grounded in truth. Gervais was basically dealing in home truths, though wrapped up in funny ways.

That was what so many of the stars and big names who sat there in stunned silence didn’t like. Gervais was reminding people that these are no less flawed human beings than the rest of us, although they do have a lot more scope to act on those flaws. And being reminded of that in public to millions and millions of viewers is pretty uncomfortable when you’re used to being doted on by teams or armies of sycophantic Uriah Heeps who would put to shame even the genuflecting entourages that surround top judges.

You can sum up this first virtue of the Gervais comedy as being a variant on the old Harry Truman maxim ‘if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen’. Put differently, these people live off the viewing public. If they go off the rails and do distasteful, dumb, or wayward things, then having to sit through a public teasing every once in a blue moon seems like a pretty healthy thing to me.

Sure, it’s impolite. And it betrays a certain absence of class, for lack of a better way of putting it. But it’s also funny and revealing. It’s not just comedians who can be too polite in some circumstances.

The second reason I enjoyed the Gervais Golden Globe onslaught relates to the celebrity culture we live in these days, and the tendency for these actors and actresses not only to attach themselves to passing fads and ‘good causes’. It is the flip side of that, the even worse tendency of the rest of us to think such celebrity endorsements and attachments are worth anything much at all.

Does the situation in Sudan change because George Clooney visits? Does Jemima Khan’s support for WikiLeaks supremo Julian Assange make any difference to the issues in any way at all?

I guess, then, I see a certain value in taking a group of puffed-up, pompous and pampered stars and cutting them down to size, even if it’s only for a few minutes and even if it’s only those of them who are the most egregious targets.

And anyway, when the Golden Globes awards night was all over these stars no doubt all carried on for a night of partying and heavy drinking. Or as Charlie Sheen calls it, ‘breakfast’. (I stole that one. Readers can work out from whom on their own.)