Do the Golden Globes mean anything to people in Britain? Beyond giving us a few celebrity picture galleries we can flick through the morning after as we stir our morning coffees, probably not.
But the news Ricky Gervais is to host the award ceremony for the fourth time next year should be a cause for celebration, if not national pride. His last stint compering Hollywood’s second biggest annual circle jerk was one of the bravest, most subversive acts of comedy in living memory and it should probably have earned him a knighthood.
People who don’t like Gervais are fond of saying he’s never done anything as good as The Office, as if creating the most successful and influential British comedy of all time – something that reshaped how a generation of people speak to each other, (in a way...) - is an easy feat to repeat. But rewatch those opening monologues and segues from 2010-2012, and it now becomes obvious hosting the Globes ranks among his greatest accomplishments.
What Gervais got away with was astonishing. Here was a little fat bloke from Reading - albeit a very rich one - standing in front of the most beautiful, powerful and famous actors and directors in America, doing an impression of Hugh Hefner’s 24-year-old bride masturbating him while trying not to throw up - a joke you’d just about get away with in the pub.
Hef wasn’t even there, so that was probably the bit they minded the least. Tom Cruise’s sexuality, Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitism, Johnny Depp not making a good film in years - Gervais took aim at Hollywood’s biggest stars and taboos and didn’t hold back.
Normally, with American award ceremonies, we cringe at the endless acceptance speeches and their faux-sincere gratitude and the whole, undignified spectacle of the rich and the famous giving each other meaningless baubles signifying how rich and famous they are - and at ourselves, of course, for watching in the first place.
But thanks to Gervais, we cringed for the reasons he has taught us to know and love to cringe: because we are permanently on the precipice of an embarrassing moment, an unspoken truth unspooled. It was about bringing the high and mighty down to earth, and somehow, it made the Golden Globes ours, more than any gong for Dame Helen Mirren or Benedict Cumberbatch ever could. He infiltrated the apex of celebrity culture’s schmaltzy self-regard and landed a victory for British cynicism.
Some people thought Gervais went too far, or was unfair. Imagine being so enthralled to the cult of celebrity you feel no one should ever be mean to them. You only have to meet a few famous actors to realise that they are, on a whole, kind, well-meaning people who take themselves and their craft insufferably seriously. An almost perfect realisation of this fact was last year’s Oscars when Hollywood decided Birdman, a film about actors and acting, was a more worthy recipient of a Best Film award than Boyhood, a film about everything beautiful and difficult that happens in life.
This is why Ricky Gervais ripping a room of A-listers to pieces was so thrilling. You got to see who could take it, and who couldn’t. Any doubt Johnny Depp was the coolest man in cinema despite a recent run of turkeys was dispelled forever by the way he took his roasting on the chin. On the flip side, Elton John and Robert Downey Jr.’s stony faces said a lot: a small glimpse, perhaps, behind the façade.
But above all else, he made the process of watching the most beautiful, privileged people in the world fawn over one another fun for us, the muppets sat at home who buy the cinema tickets and the merchandise in the first place. Instead of seeking the approval of the popular and powerful, he punctured their pomposity to make the rest of us laugh.
Say what you like about Gervais, but that is comedy at its purest. Let's hope he keeps it up, and that one day they give them the Oscars.