I can’t remember the last time I sat through an entire award show just for the sake of watching the awards handed out. Yet that’s the position I found myself in on Sunday night, sitting back on my couch watching the 2011 Golden Globe Awards. Then somewhere after Ricky Gervais’ opening monologue, one thought kept tumbling in my mind, “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.”
Gervais (despite his British sense of humor) can be funny, but Sunday night at the Golden Globes was not his night. His opening monologue turned into a case study for all would-be-comics of how when humor fails to illicit laughter all that’s left is someone standing on a stage making observations that can take on various interpretations, from mildly amusing to downright offensive, depending on who’s listening. Proof of this was evident in the reaction shots from the audience throughout the evening – celebrities either grimacing or just straight faced; neither a good sign for any comic.
By Monday morning the Hollywood media was accusing Gervais of coming across as mean-spirited, snarky, or out of line throughout the Golden Globes ceremony. From my couch all I heard was Gervais going for the cheap laughs with a rather stale delivery. Perhaps Gervais was trying to be cheeky (to use a British expression), but his material couldn’t support even that possible intention. Really, all the comic juice was squeezed out of Mel Gibson and Charlie Sheen months ago. There are no more laughs hiding in Scientology, in rumors of Tom Cruise’s sexuality, or in the triangle between Bruce Willis, Demi Moore, and Ashton Kutcher.
However taking Gervais to task for being mean makes no sense, some of the best comedy over the last fifty years contains a mean undertone. Anyone who has ever listen to the great George Carlin knows what I’m talking about. In the right hands meanness becomes insightful and the laughter makes it palatable. Ricky Gervais’ only sin on Sunday night was that he wasn’t funny. But the same could be said about Robert Downey Jr. in his presentation of the Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical award. Downey’s creepy implication of having or wanting to have sex with the nominees fell flat. Downey’s clumsy bit served only to cheapen the award. Comedy is hard, Jr. Not to mention Robert De Niro’s attempt at humorous self-deprecation in his acceptance of the Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement award that was more awkward than humorous. Again, comedy is hard.
Award shows have a difficult task. The intrinsic point of awards shows, like the Golden Globe Awards, is to honor excellence while being entertaining to those of us watching these shows. However the producers of these events need remind their hosts and presenters that these are award shows not celebrity roasts; there is a loud ugly thud between trying to be funny and actually being funny.
The silver lining... James Franco and Anne Hathaway were in the audience on Sunday night. Let’s hope this served as a lesson of what not to do when hosting an awards show, since Franco and Hathaway will share hosting duties at this year’s Academy Awards show. If a good example of how to host an award show is necessary, watch any of the Oscar ceremonies hosted by Billy Crystal. Foremost remember Anne and James… comedy is hard.