I love Ricky Gervais’s standup. Hating awards shows as I do, nothing but the prospect of watching him could have moved me to tune into the Golden Globe Awards the other night. Now a lot of pissed-off Hollywood types are saying that Gervais’s opening monologue was beyond the pale. Judge for yourself:
I’ll admit to having been a little put off by Gervais myself. But what line did he cross? It can’t be the one separating good from bad taste. The people who hired him and tuned in especially to watch him already knew that tastelessness is the essence of Gervais’s comedy. He says things out loud that you wished you’d thought of, but would have only muttered silently to yourself if you had. After the words leave his lips, Gervais skips a beat and then shrugs his shoulders as if to say, “there, I’ve said it, but who are you to hold that against me?” You laugh because he has made you into his accomplice in tastelessness.
That’s what made Gervais’s comedy spectacularly ill-suited to the occasion he was presiding over Sunday night. We used to see movies in theaters at roughly the same time, before the awards shows aired on TV. That meant that the Oscars or the Golden Globes were mostly about the movies and the performances themselves. We watched, in large part, to see whether our aesthetic judgments about the movies we liked and disliked would be confirmed.
Now those shows air before most of the movies up for awards have gotten to the front of our Netflix queue or become available on pay-per-view or the internet. Not having seen them, the only reason most of us have for tuning into the show is to gawk at celebrities, to see what they're wearing and keep an eye out for the occasional wardrobe malfunction. That gives the Golden Globes a leg up over the Oscars because a goodly percentage of the winners are already drunk before they accept their Golden Globes.
Every joke in Gervais’s monologue insinuated that these celebrities aren’t worthy of the attention that we were bestowing on them. (For example: "It is an honour to be here in a room full of what I consider to be the most important people on the planet: actors. They’re just better than ordinary people, aren’t they?”) That meant that the only way you could maintain the complicity it takes to enjoy his humor was to turn off the set the second the monologue was over. Maybe the people who did thought that Gervais was hilarious. But if, like me, you kept watching after the monologue, his every reappearance reminded you how pathetic you were for not having anything better to do.