Forget the escapist magic of Hollywood. Nihilism was the name of the game when host Ricky Gervais opened the Golden Globes on Sunday night with a gloom-and-doom monologue so cynical it made the effervescent Tom Hanks scowl.
“Let’s go out with a bang. Let’s have a laugh at your expense,” said the snarky British comedian to the crowd of A-listers who’d looked eager to get the party started until he stepped onstage. “Remember, they’re just jokes. We’re all gonna die soon and there’s no sequel, so remember that.”
The 58-year-old former Golden Globe winner (“The Office”) and five-time host also flippantly reminded the packed room, “No one cares about movies anymore,” and advised, “If you do win an award tonight, don’t use it as a platform to make a political speech. You’re in no position to lecture the public about anything. You know nothing about the real world.”
Meryl Streep shook her head. Eddie Murphy refused to smile. Quentin Tarantino looked more disturbed than usual.
The host’s acerbic wit was nothing new. He’d certainly offended in the past from the awards stage, and ads for Sunday’s telecast played on the idea that anything could happen, including Gervais being a jerk. His knack for ripping on Hollywood and offending the glitterati is well known among the thin-skinned in the industry.
But at the Beverly Hilton, where the three-hour-plus ceremony took place, the mood was already sober thanks to an impeachment, the threat of war with Iran and devastating bush fires in Australia.
The last thing anyone needed was for the smirking master of ceremonies to reprimand them for having hope, or taunt the room for trying to use their influence to change things for the better.
Almost immediately, however, it became clear Gervais wasn’t the funniest guy in the room at the 77th Golden Globes — and he wasn’t running the show, either.
Ramy Youssef won the first award of the night for his comedy performance in the Hulu series “Ramy” and used his moment to make a point about diversity, make the audience actually laugh and take a dig at Gervais.
“We made a very specific show about an Arab Muslim family living in New Jersey and [it] means a lot to be recognized on this level,” Youssef said in his acceptance speech. He joked that no one in the room had seen his show, and even his mom wanted competitor Michael Douglas (“The Kominsky Method”) to win because “Egyptians love Michael Douglas.” Youssef also appeared to refer to a demeaning bit from Gervais’ monologue about actors thanking God in acceptance speeches when he opened his with “Allahu Akbar. I want to thank my God.”
Gervais’ disingenuous call for an apolitical evening was also answered by Russell Crowe — in absentia — when he won for actor in a limited series or TV movie for Showtime’s Roger Ailes docudrama “The Loudest Voice.”
“Make no mistake, the tragedy unfolding in Australia is climate-change-based,” the actor wrote in a statement, read by an audibly emotional Jennifer Aniston. “We need to act based on science, move our global workforce to renewable energy and respect our planet for the unique and amazing place it is.”
Others joined the chorus, including “Joker” winner Joaquin Phoenix, Carol Burnett Award recipient Ellen DeGeneres and presenter Cate Blanchett, who, like Crowe, hails from Australia.
Patricia Arquette, a winner for “The Act,” noted that “the continent of Australia is on fire” within a speech condemning President Trump’s recent targeted killing of Iran’s Gen. Qassem Suleimani, while “Fosse/Verdon” winner Michelle Williams used her acceptance speech to defend abortion rights. Even Gervais eventually relented, sending off the telecast with, “Please donate to Australia.”
Politics aside, the telecast’s strongest comedic moment erupted when Gervais was off stage. A dapper Sacha Baron Cohen, introducing film contender “JoJo Rabbit,” got a rousing response from the room. “The hero of this next movie is a naive, misguided child who spreads Nazi propaganda and only has imaginary friends,” he said. “His name is Mark Zuckerberg. Sorry, this is an old intro for ‘Social Network.’ ”
As for spectacle, the most notable moment aside from a few awards upsets was the late arrival of Jay-Z and Beyoncé. The pair stood back during Kate McKinnon’s moving tribute to DeGeneres before taking their seats, but they at least provided a high-voltage moment in a room full of star power.
Big winners in the television categories included “Chernobyl,” “Fleabag” and “Succession,” while “1917” and “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” took home top film prizes.
The Golden Globes were criticized for lacking diversity in their nominations, from the relative dearth of people of color in the performance categories to the total exclusion of female directors. Gervais joked about the lack of representation by explaining, quite simply, that the Golden Globes voting body, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., is “racist.”
The harsh joke landed better than most of his wisecracks. It seemed to show that Gervais might care, at least a bit, about a larger injustice in the industry. His jab at the hypocrisy of Hollywood also resonated: “Apple roared into the TV game with ‘The Morning Show,’ a superb drama about the importance of dignity and doing the right thing, made by a company that runs sweatshops in China,” he said of the new entrant to streaming TV. “Well, you say you’re woke, but the companies you work for in China — unbelievable. Apple, Amazon, Disney. If ISIS started a streaming service you’d call your agent, wouldn’t you?”
The commentary would have meant far more if Gervais himself had been brave enough to drop the tired agitator shtick and, for once, read the room.