When Ricky Gervais comes back to host the Golden Globes on Sunday, there’s one thing he’ll be missing: the element of surprise. His acerbic digs were explosive last year because they created such unease in the room, a reaction very different from the easy laughter of all of us at home. Really, those stars were not prepared to laugh at themselves. But now they’re all in on the joke, ready – maybe they’ll even be honored – to be the target of a Gervais insult.
And Gervais isn’t making things easy for himself during the current mega-media blitz leading up to the awards. On talk shows and in NBC ads and promos he has actually raised expectations that he’s be more scathing than ever, beginning with the print ads that show him with scissors cutting away duct tape from his mouth. Bigger, bolder, uncensored – that’s his message, and he’s spreading it everywhere.
He wrote an article called “My Golden Globes Mission” for last week’s EW (his mission: not to play it safe) and is the subject of a long profile in this Sundays New York Times Magazine. He has turned up on NBC’s Dateline (the same dull Matt Lauer interview that was on the Today show) as well as Ellen and is scheduled for tonight's Conan. Through it all, he hasn’t given away much, except to say he came back because people said he never would, and to reinforce the question that everyone in the room and at home will have: how can he top himself?
There’s already skepticism. Willa Paskin wrote a very smart piece for Vulture called “Ricky Gervais Is Losing His Edge by Not Shutting Up About His Edge.” I can’t entirely agree though, because I’ll give him more credit for caginess, and for knowing that the dynamic in the room will have changed, whether he admits that during this media run-up or not.
And there have been some funny, risky moments embedded in his pre-Globes campaign. Maybe it was just a single throwaway observation, like this one from his EW story, commenting on why the audience snarled when he made fun of Robert Downey Jr. -- because “Addiction is a disease. (Except sex addiction. That just means you got caught and if you go to rehab all is forgiven.)” If that’s not calling Hollywood on its hypocrisy I don’t know what is.
Or the photo above, Tweeted with the message “Some last minute preparation so I don't look out of place at the Golden Globes” (a photo also shown on Ellen). The question is whether he’ll come through with more than those embedded gems.
Here’s the essential thing Gervais knows to be true, even if it does come in an NBC promo in which he says: “The best part of watching the Golden Globes is sitting around at home with all your friends making fun of the uptight actors in their fancy clothes.” That is and always has been the fun part, however much anyone pretends that the audience takes those awards seriously. It’s a star-watching spectacle. When he adds, “The only difference is that I’ll actually be there, doing it to their faces,” that’s where he sets himself up for a fall, but I’ll bet he’s smart enough to know what he’s doing.
Here he is on today's Ellen, talking about what happened to the gold lame shorts she gave him to wear on the Globes show last year. (Update: We know there's a much riskier Gervais lurking nearby, because he turned on up Conan. Check him out here.)