Is The HFPA To Blame For Gervais ‘Storm’?

I didn’t stay up for the Golden Globes at the weekend. I’m not overly interested in awards or awards season as a rule. The Academy Awards are the standard, and as such I will reference winners and nominees in articles, but there are so many different awards ceremonies in the industry, both big and small, that it is impossible to stay interested in them all. So the next morning, I checked my Twitter feed, and got a quick rundown of the winners. No surprises, hence no story, so i decided against covering them on Fluent in Film. That is, until it became clear the real story wasn’t the winners, but the host, Ricky Gervais. It seems the British funnyman has stirred up a storm amongst certain parties with his jokes and humourous intros. Whilst the shots of the audience suggested the A-list crowd found his witty banter amusing, it seems not everyone was so enamoured by his performance.

Measured against something like the British comedy awards, nothing Gervais said could be considered particularly cruel, outrageous, cutting, or even all that funny. There is, however, a big difference between an awards ceremony celebrating British humour, and one acknowledging merits in the Hollywood film industry. It is a large part of our British sense of humour to mock each other, whether lightly or cruelly. As a lot of the comedy we produce follows this comedic sensibility, it is expected, and even applauded when a presenter makes these types of jibes. This is the very atmosphere that Gervais is used to.

In America, particularly amongst actors who, ironically, can be amongst the most self conscious, insecure and sensitive of people, there is less of this type of humour. There is certainly more than there once was, as can be seen with some of the more popular sitcoms and comedy shows on air such as The Big Bang Theory. However, it is important to remember that most of the movers and shakers in the industry tend to be more senior in years, and used to the old way of doing things. So for Ricky Gervais’ humourous taunts and pokes to upset a large portion of those involved with the Golden Globes is no great surprise. So you could argue that he should have assessed his audience, and adapted accordingly. Personally, I wouldn’t.

Ricky Gervais is very well known now on both sides of the pond. He is almost a British comedy hero, and as his style is so against the traditional stylings of American mainstream comedy, he has made a massive impact in the US as something of a novelty to them. So they are well aware of what to expect. They know he is dry, sarcastic, with a hard edge to his humour. He has presented the awards once before, and those involved know the risks associated with hiring him, or any other British comedian with similar sensibilities, like Russell Brand who caused a storm after presenting the MTV VMA awards a couple of years ago. Gervais just presented himself, which is what he is paid for, so can take no flack for his jokes.

It is those that hired him for the job that showed poor judgement. Hollywood stars do not want biting satire or mean-spirited ribbing from their award ceremonies. They want back slapping, hand holding and honorable mention. Ricky Gervais’ humour is not a fit for a star-studded film industry awards ceremony, and it is surely luck that he had managed to get through last year’s ceremony unscathed. The organisers are clearly attempting to be trendy and cutting edge by hiring someone like Gervais, to maybe paint themselves more as the hip alternative to the Oscars, but they would be much better off hiring an inoffensive American cologne comic. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association have only themselves to blame for any fall out, and that is why they are embarrassed.

To be honest, a mountain has been made out of a molehill. Gervais was not particularly controversial, and the jokes he made would pass on any prime time British chat show. It has only been one or two entities that have made any real complaint, and if there had been any major surprises within the awards themselves, any other story worth writing, Gervais’s presenting style would most likely have passed by the media undocumented. It will be interesting to see who presents the Golden Globes next year however. That will tell whether Gervais has really upset the powers that be enough to make them change their selection policy, or if it is all just media hype.

 Bazmann – You can follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/baz_mann

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