If something’s worth doing once, goes the old adage, it’s worth doing twice. As such, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) apparently had no qualms about re-hiring erstwhile maverick employee Ricky Gervais to host its flagship event, the Golden Globes, following the cheeky comic’s previous shot at the gig in 2011.
On that occasion, Gervais had unleashed a short-term scandal by giving the over-preened feathers of Hollywood’s great and good a savage ruffling. In his smattering of monologues, the Brentmeister took potshots at every conceivable frailty in town – from the bigotry of Mel Gibson, to the recreational drug use of one-man quote factory Charlie Sheen and the rehabbed and sober Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr. He also milled a lifetime’s supply of schadenfreude out of the box-office failure of The Tourist, starring the hitherto untouchable Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, and perhaps most searingly of all, raised an IMAX-sized question mark over the sexuality of a certain film-industry top gun.
Results were mixed, to say the least. Jaws dropped and eyes bulged among some of the more incredulous attendees, and Downey – mounting the stage to present an award – dubbed Gervais’s comments “disturbing and unethical”. On the other hand, the wisecracks led to this thoroughly priceless surrender of Robert DeNiro’s face to the irresistible crumpling of unchecked amusement.
This year’s Globes, however, saw Gervais in a more subdued mode. As well as returning to the topic of Gibson’s eccentric worldview (as I said, if something’s worth doing once, it’s worth doing twice), the comic had the brass neck – or perhaps lack thereof – to trot out a series of Madonna song titles to describe her (“Like A Virgin”; “Material Girl”, etc) as a prelude to her onstage appearance: mouldy schtick that was meant to have died out with ham-fisted links spouted by hyperactive presenters on Saturday-morning kids’ TV shows.
Another gag saw Gervais in nigh-on reverential mode towards Hollywood’s right-on liberal-in-chief George Clooney – a tone utterly at odds with last year’s indiscriminate machine-gunning – and in short order Clooney was onstage praising certain performance assets of fellow actor Michael Fassbender in a way that, while not exactly in keeping with family entertainment, did much to reframe the Globes as one, giant backslapping convention. After a break of one year, normal service had more or less resumed.
So, what does this say about the relationship between big-league employer the HFPA and its formerly wayward freelance contractor? Well, the main revelation seems to be that marquee value was consensually diluted in the name of convenience.
In the run-up to the Globes, the burning question was whether Gervais would be re-hired at all after last year’s fireworks. Once that question was answered, it was a matter of waiting to see whether the comic had any more gunpowder up his sleeve. But now we know that he was invited back purely to pull in a curious audience, and that he accepted purely to pull in a (presumably sizeable) paycheque, it looks as though managerial negotiations worked out entirely for mutual benefit.
Gervais was never meant to set the world on fire this year. Just keep it luke-warmed over.