"I can say what I want, I can drink. . . . I think it's the similar… (Todd Antony / NBC )
Although — or perhaps because — he ruffled so many feathers when he hosted the Golden Globes in January, comedian Ricky Gervais will return to the podium at the annual awards gala in 2012, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. announced Wednesday.
The group, composed of 83 entertainment journalists from around the world, voted Wednesday to bring back the performer for a third consecutive year, though a small but vocal minority dissented. Sixteen out of the 62 members who voted were opposed to Gervais' return, according to a person who was present at the meeting but asked not to be identified because of the confidential nature of the proceedings. In a statement on the Golden Globes website, the HFPA said the group was moved to bring back Gervais after meeting with NBC official Doug Vaughan.
According to the person at the vote, the majority of the dissenters were older members who found Gervais' material in January insulting and were concerned that some of the A-list stars on the receiving end of the jokes wouldn't return for more abuse. "My worry was that he was insulting, and when I invite someone to my house, they don't insult me," said longtime HFPA member Judy Solomon, who writes for an Israeli publication. "But this is show business. I guess I'm old-fashioned."
A blog post on the HFPA site acknowledged that "while many welcome Gervais' return, not everyone is happy with the decision because last year his blunt one-liners targeting big-name celebrities caused anger and resentment in some quarters." The upcoming ceremony is set for Jan. 15 and will air on NBC.
The Globes usually bring a certain amount of hijinks. But Gervais' performance last January was particularly barbed.
"It seemed like everything was three-dimensional this year, except the characters in 'The Tourist,'" he quipped, taking a shot at that film's stars, Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, whose nominations he joked were the product of bribery. While Depp smiled grimly, Gervais moved on to laud the un-nominated "I Love You Phillip Morris" as being a movie in which two heterosexual men play two gay men "so the opposite of some famous Scientologists."
And after the actor introduced Robert Downey Jr. with references to Betty Ford and correctional facilities, the "Iron Man" actor — who battled drug addiction and served time in prison — smiled at the audience and said: "Aside from the fact that it's been unusually mean-spirited with mildly sinister undertones, I'd say the vibe of the show is pretty good."
Gervais also took a shot at the HFPA leadership. "I had to help the HFPA president off the toilet and pop his teeth back in," he said of the then-HFPA President Philip Berk. The HFPA sent strong signals immediately after the show that it would not invite Gervais back. Berk said afterward that Gervais "definitely crossed the line" and that "some of the things were totally unacceptable."
However, the members who voted for Gervais said that the actor's quips, and the buzz that came with them, in fact informed their vote.
"This is a very clever decision," said HFPA member Gabriel Lerman, who represents Spain at the organization. "Gervais was very funny, and we were very enthusiastic to bring him back." Lerman did acknowledge that he thought the actor "maybe did cross the line a few times" with his material last year. But, he added, "this is a night to have a good time."
The HFPA might also have been concerned that declining to bring Gervais back could lead to some unexpected competition. In September, the actor wrote on his blog that he would host a live podcast during the Golden Globes with famous friends such as Louis CK, Chris Rock, Jon Stewart and Larry David.
As for Gervais, the HFPA blog post said that the actor "dismissed the possibility of coming back for a third time, but he gradually warmed to the idea and last month met with HFPA President Dr. Aida Takla-O'Reilly in Paris to discuss it."
The Gervais issue, which comes on the heels of a host change at the Oscars from Eddie Murphy to Billy Crystal, points up the Globes' dual and at times contradictory identity. On the one hand they seek to be a far looser and less predictable affair than the Academy Awards. But they also must preserve a sense of gladhanding that comes standard at Hollywood awards events.
Gervais' performance in January generated flat ratings, with the three-hour NBC telecast drawing 17 million total viewers. However, the program did dip 5% in the key category of adults ages 18 to 49, to a 5.2 rating. The curiosity or train-wreck factor could goose that number this year.
A 2011 nominee who was in the Beverly Hilton ballroom in January acknowledged that the awkwardness could be felt at the ceremony. But the person also speculated that ratings may have triumphed ego. "This is a question of which master is being served, and the network is a big one," said the nominee, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the relationship with the HFPA.
The person added that the HFPA was in a tight spot. "If they brought Ricky back, they knew they could face a backlash from some people in Hollywood," the person said. "But if they didn't bring him back, they'd look like they didn't have a sense of humor."