Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Bravo, Ricky Gervais! A risqué attack on self-loving Tinseltown

By Quentin Letts
The Daily Mail
Last updated at 8:39 AM on 18th January 2011

Host Ricky Gervais speaks at the 68th annual Golden Globes Awards in Beverly Hills, California January 16, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Paul Drinkwater/NBC

Tinseltown's taut smiles – you could almost sense the teeth tinkling, Tom and Jerry-style – said it all. They were loathing it. English comedian Ricky Gervais was up on the stage at the Golden Globe film awards, acting as the evening’s compere.

The creator of BBC2’s The Office was doing what any self-respecting satirist does. He was taking the mickey.

He made a risque gay joke, a Jewish joke and a joke about octogenarian Hugh Hefner’s new wife and what she might find under the bedclothes. This was accompanied by Gervais pretending to gag, repeatedly, like a diner confronted by a particularly nasty, shrivelled sausage

There was also some reference to the head of the Foreign Press Association (the evening’s organisers) wearing false teeth. By gum! This was sauciness of a high order. Dangerous, Ricky. You crazy or something?

The assembled lovelies listened to this very British bumptiousness, this naughty insolence, this unprecedented audacity, and at first they did not know how to react.

He introduced ageing actor (and hell-raiser) Robert Downey Jr by saying: ‘Many of you in this room probably know him best from the Betty Ford Clinic and the Los Angeles County Jail.’

The Betty Ford Clinic is where Hollywood drunks go to dry out. In the land of shrinks, where dependency bestows victimhood, you are not meant to jest about such matters. Downey certainly didn’t think so. He was distinctly unchuffed.

As Gervais persisted with his impish performance, creating merry mayhem at every turn, there was the occasional gasp. The microphones picked up a muffled ‘ohmigaaaad’ here, while the TV shots showed the beautiful people covering silent mouths, as though witnessing some horror of the deeps.

Actresses with razor-sharp cheekbones gave uncertain twitters, fiddling with their sequined gowns. Others bulged their eyeballs as though they had just been goosed by Henry Kissinger.

Gervais mentioned a film called I Love You Philip Morris in which, as he put it, ‘two heterosexual actors pretend to be gay – so the complete opposite of some famous Scientologists, then’.

Oooooh, baby, that was bold. A joke which tweaks both closet homosexuality and religion. In America! No wonder the starlets and their square-jawed walkers, not all of them perhaps entirely open about the way they liked to swing, looked around the room while they tried to work out how to react.

You have to recall that these starlings of global glitter are dim birds, prone to following the flock. And the flock did not know what to do because it had never encountered such risky mockery.

You can see why. Hollywood is a town, an industry, built on self-glory, on the dictatorship of appearance. When someone comes along and throws a spanner through that fantasy, like a Tunisian rioter breaking the windows in a dictator’s villa, there was bound to be trepidation.

One of the paradoxes of the American film world is that it purports to celebrate individuality – and indeed rewards certain individuals amazingly well for their work – but it has a terror of independence of mind.

Few Hollywood celebs got where they are today by being the sort of brave, gung-ho, stand-out-from-the-crowd heroes they frequently depict on the big screen. Hollywood and its power brokers hate a rebel. It is a place of groupthink and almost terminal political correctness.

Resentment has fast followed the uncertainty which Gervais provoked. Yesterday some parts of the American media deplored his ‘inappropriate’ wit.

The New York Daily News, itself hardly a temple to aesthetics, cast down its thunderbolts.

There were warnings that Gervais would ‘never work in this town again’. I don’t suppose he is unduly perturbed.

He already had a certain underground appeal, but the Globes appearances will have earned him a cult following around the world: The man who went to Hollywood and told them what a bunch of self-regarding boobies they are!

Take the passage in which he said: ‘It’s 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?’

This was delivered with puckish irony. Americans do not always notice irony but they did this time. Gervais was saying to his audience, ‘stop being so vain, stop being so self-congratulatory’. Good for him. If it took a boy from the back streets of Reading, Berks, to say this, we should be proud of him.

Although, at times, his jibes were so raw that they made you wince.

He may not always have been to everyone’s flavour. After the brilliance of The Office, he had a few dud years. But this was top-class satire, all the more remarkable for the fact that it was delivered in the flesh – right to the heart of the beast.

After pointing out Hollywood’s self-love, he continued by referring to the way some movie stars jaunt out to the world’s poorest countries and pat the heads of starving children. ‘You can be a little child, a little Asian child, with no possessions, no money – but you see a picture of Angelina Jolie and you think, “Mummy!”’

Given the way that Angelina Jolie, one of the biggest names in Hollywood, has toured the world’s dustiest countries, picking up children and giving them fashionable names (the latest, acquired in Ethiopia, has been labelled Zahara), this was amazingly pointed insolence. Well done, Ricky Gervais. No wonder some of them felt uncomfortable at his brave gulling.

His jokes were but the start of the comedy. The ensuing harrumphs and outrage have been every bit as priceless. Imagine the backstage horror as it became clear that Gervais was going for the jugular. He had apparently hinted beforehand that he would not push things too far in the actual show but once he was on stage he was unstoppable. It was prime time and it was live!

The evening was a nightmare for the TV coverage wallahs. What should the producers do with their camera shots? Gervais made a crack about plastic surgery and – oh no! – the screens were at that point focused lovingly on the implausibly youthful face of Meryl Streep, aged lord knows what and as twangy as a flamenco guitar string.

Cue panic in some back-room production suite. Get Meryl off the screens! Now! The shot suddenly gave way to a more generic view of the star-spangled ballroom at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

Johnny Depp, an early victim of the Gervais sauce (about awards and bribes), displayed some marvellously manic mastication worthy of the gum-chewing Olympics. Not even Sir Alex Ferguson in the Manchester United dugout on a bad afternoon chews that fast.

The Foreign Press Association man with (or more likely, now without) the false teeth seems to have had a grave sense of humour failure and declined to say if Gervais would ever again be invited to act as compere at the Globes. There was also talk that Gervais was read the riot act half-way through the event and was told to tone down his remarks.

What stupendous fools these American neck-clutchers are making of themselves. Ricky Gervais achieved the near impossible – he made an awards ceremony fun to watch.

His line about zillionaire Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (‘Heather Mills calls him the one that got away’) would have been funny in its own right but was doubly delicious for the fact that that purpled chump Sir Paul McCartney was in the audience.

Gervais dished up home truths to a Californian showbiz crowd which has long taken itself far too seriously. He did what jesters have done since the days of Shakespeare and before: He held up a mirror to the mighty.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-1348067/Golden-Globes-2011-Ricky-Gervaiss-risqu-attack-self-loving-Tinseltown.html#ixzz1BQpdDyJ4

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