Gervais’ provocative gem rankles some American feathers

Golden Globes performance brings back my own memories of U.S. xenophobia


Published:

Finally, another scandal in the comedy world! Insults hurled, feelings hurt, friendships betrayed, careers at stake.

It was the second time British comedian Ricky Gervais was tapped for the Golden Globe hosting honours, and he did not disappoint. He had, as the job requires, zingers at the ready for the celebrities in the crowd. But the severe reaction was unanticipated.

Mogul Harvey Weinstein growled that Gervais would never work in Hollywood again. Executives from the Hollywood Foreign Press apologized and suggested Gervais would not be asked back. A lot of huffing and puffing from the only awards show with the nerve to nominate the atrocious movie Burlesque for a serious award.

I didn’t see anything worth getting worked up about. A Charlie Sheen joke? Really? Since when is Robert Downey an off-limits target? Or Sylvester Stallone, who should be thrilled to be mentioned, let alone made fun of, at this point.

Gervais turned the evening into a bit of a roast, which awards shows have always flirted with, anyway. Wasn’t part of the fun of watching Johnny Carson or Billy Crystal on the Oscars poking fun at the stars, seeing how close to the edge they could get?

I’m not one to think Gervais can do no wrong. I’m a huge fan of The Office, but I found his next series, Extras, to be tedious and self-indulgent. And both his movies, Ghost Town and The Invention of Lying, have brilliant premises, but run out of steam halfway through. But I think he did a great job hosting the Globes.

Perhaps the Globes, always the poor cousin to more serious awards shows, may be a little touchy. If your awards show isn’t taken too seriously to begin with, fighting for credibility might not be unexpected.

But maybe it’s a deeper issue. Gervais, for all his achievements, is still an outsider in Hollywood. He’s a Brit, after all, and not seen as one who’s earned the right to poke fun at L.A. royalty. Gervais was threatened with excommunication, ironic since you can’t exclude someone who really isn’t included to start with.

Many years ago, I experienced a similar U.S. xenophobia. It was 1981 and I was hired to write on the first season of Evening at the Improv in L.A. My agent had also negotiated an appearance on the show as part of the contract. It was all going well until the evening of my taping. John Belushi had just died a few months before, having had a mixture of cocaine and heroin injected into him by a fan, Cathy Evelyn Smith. Of course, the comic in me needed to make a dark joke about it. So my opening line to the cameras was a twist on the old chestnut: “Hi, I just got back from a date with Cathy Evelyn Smith, and boy, are my arms tired!”

The crowd stared in silence and then slowly, collectively, began to boo and hiss. After the show I went into the bar at the Improv where I dealt with a torrent of abuse from audience members and producers. “How could you?” they kept asking. I thought it was my job, and I told them so. The next day I was fired.

The irony is that Belushi would have loved the joke. If an American comic had done the joke, he would have been thought of as cheeky, even tasteless, but as an outsider, I had broken the code. So a word of warning when doing comedy, then: it isn’t just about who is made fun of, but also who’s doing the funny.

Join the conversation and have your say by commenting below. Our comment system uses a Facebook plugin. Please note that you'll have to turn off some ad-blockers in order to see the comments.

Edit Module

Follow us on Twitter @PostCity for more on what to eat, where to shop and what to do in Toronto.

Edit ModuleShow Tags

You may also like...

A guide to the 2017 edition of JFL42

A guide to the 2017 edition of JFL42

JFL42, which now hits our city every late September, has evolved into a greatest hits version of the full-blown Just for Laughs in Montreal. There may only be 42 acts to see, but increasingly they’ve become the 42 acts audiences most want to see.
Posted 5 days ago
Thornhill mom-and-pop shop fights back

Thornhill mom-and-pop shop fights back

Posted 1 week ago
Old rivalries emerge in Thornhill council

Old rivalries emerge in Thornhill council

A Thornhill councillor and upstart community firebrand face off on social media and in council.
Posted 4 weeks ago
Comic Stripped: Jim Carrey’s latest ‘I’m Dying Up Here’ a drama about early days of LA stand-up

Comic Stripped: Jim Carrey’s latest ‘I’m Dying Up Here’ a drama about early days of LA stand-up

Posted 1 month ago
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module