At the Golden Globes, gibe-talking Ricky Gervais delivers the snark

Ricky Gervais hosts the 77th annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Ricky Gervais hosts the 77th annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif.Paul Drinkwater/Associated Press

The Golden Globe Awards likes to keep the telecast perky and filled with laughs and mild indignation. That’s why the Hollywood Foreign Press Association puts Ricky Gervais on its stage, using his outsider status as a Brit as ballast for his opening strikes. They like to be, as Brad Pitt put it during his acceptance speech, “raucous” and “eclectic.”

In Sunday night’s broadcast on NBC, Gervais tried hard to offend during his monologue, with the camera returning to Tom Hanks’s face a few times for reaction, as if he were the Hollywood mood ring. Hanks dutifully issued a non-verbal groan or two during the jokes, one of which came at the expense of Felicity Huffman, who, Gervais suggested, had made his license plate from prison.


Gervais playfully kept telling the audience to “shut up” and not be so outraged, in a way encouraging them to be outraged, because he knows better than anyone that that’s why he got the hosting job. He joked about how the “In Memoriam” segment was not going to be diverse enough, named a group of pedophile movies in which he included “The Two Popes,” and laughed at Martin Scorsese’s height, or lack thereof. He went for broke at one point, in case he wasn’t being convincingly shocking enough, making a joke about Dame Judi Dench that was blue enough to get bleeped out.

And of course he made a point of biting the hand that feeds him, as any self-respecting provocateur would: “Kevin Hart was fired from the Oscars because of some offensive tweets,” he said. “Hello. Lucky for me, the Hollywood Foreign Press can barely speak English and they have no idea what Twitter is, so I got offered this gig by fax.”

Sometimes, keeping viewers watching means dropping oddball surprises on them, such as the award to Ramy Youssef, who won for best comedy actor for Hulu’s “Ramy” over, among others, Paul Rudd, Bill Hader, and Michael Douglas. But the Globes’ TV awards are generally considered value-less. Yes, it was great to see Phoebe Waller-Bridge carrying gold again, as she thanked former president Barack Obama for putting “Fleabag” on his best-of-the-year list because “as some of you may know, he’s always been on mine” (a reference to her character’s sexual attraction to Obama). And it was a pleasure to see the cast of the winning “Succession” onstage together. But it didn’t carry any of the (diminishing) import of the Emmys.


The only real relevance of the Globes — aside from the entertainment value of watching Joaquin Phoenix ramble through an acceptance speech — is its movie coverage, as its winners may help sway Oscar voters (who still have two days to vote). One of the big movie surprises Sunday night was the dominance of “1917,” which won best drama and best director for Sam Mendes (over Quentin Tarantino and Scorsese). It wasn’t at the top of many year-end Top 10 lists, but “1917” now has traction going into Oscar season.

The “1917” win also chipped away at Netflix’s great hopes for Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” which took home no gold. The streaming company has established itself as a TV awards winner, but it’s still reaching for acceptance in the big-screen world.

Pitt’s win for best supporting actor in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” — accompanied by a “Titanic” joke in his acceptance speech — gave him an Oscar bump (and it gave the Globes an opportunity to turn a camera on Jennifer Aniston as he spoke). Taron Egerton, the star of “Rocketman,” is officially in Oscar voters’ sights, as is star of “The Farewell” Awkwafina, whose deadpan stand-up voice distinguished her acceptance speech: “I told you I’d get a job, Dad.”


Kate McKinnon delivered a dryly comic, charming appreciation of Ellen DeGeneres, who won the Carol Burnett Award for Excellence in Television. “Attitudes change, but only because brave people like Ellen jump into the fire to make them change,” McKinnon said. “And if I hadn’t seen her on TV, I would have thought, oh, I could never be on TV, they don’t let LGBTQ people on TV. And more than that, I would have gone on thinking that I was an alien and that I maybe didn’t even have a right to be here.”

“I couldn’t have done it without my husband, Mark,” DeGeneres joked in her shtick-filled stand-up-like acceptance speech. She got all the laughs she set out for. At one point, she thanked Burnett, sitting in the audience. “At the end of the show,” DeGeneres said, “every time she pulled her ear, I knew she was saying: ‘It’s OK, I’m gay too.’ "

She thoroughly enjoyed her time onstage, noting, “They don’t play me off. I don’t have to end, at all, because it’s a special award.”

Hanks, recipient of the Cecil B. DeMille Award, certainly took advantage of the special-award right to go on. He celebrated the small points of movie-making at length, including punctuality; he name-checked a hundred Hollywood cronies (including Meryl, Denzel, Antonio, Meg, Julia, and Sally Field); and he was emotional as he thanked his family, holding back tears.


In his monologue, Gervais insisted that winners not bother getting political or issues-heavy. But yeah, no.

A number of people mentioned the wildfires in Australia. Russell Crowe wasn’t in the house for his “Loudest Voice” win, but he sent an acceptance speech that Aniston read. “Make no mistake,” he wrote, “the tragedy unfolding in Australia is climate-change based.”

Presenter Cate Blanchett also mentioned the “climate disaster facing Australia.” Michelle Williams gave a major shoutout for women’s right to choose (with BFF Busy Philipps sobbing in the audience). And Patricia Arquette didn’t hold back, urging viewers to vote in the next election.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at matthew.gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.