Readers Write In #128: Ricky Gervais’ monologue was the ultimate charade of authenticity

Posted on January 10, 2020


(by Madan Mohan)

Going to lead this with what may seem like a non-sequitur. In 1979, heavy metal band Judas Priest released a live album (that is, pulled from a concert) called Unleashed In The East. It’s one of the most coveted releases of the band with the live versions in some cases surpassing those of the studios. It is also an album where ace vocalist Rob Halford’s vocals were heavily overdubbed separately in the studio because, erm, the ‘real’ live ones weren’t up to ‘expectations’. Those in the know sneeringly refer to the album as Unleashed In The Studio while still spinning it one more time. So much for rock and roll authenticity!

In a similar vein, RIcky Gervais went viral on social media with his Golden Globe monologue (he was hosting it, for the fifth time) as well as other asides delivered during the awards show. Gervais’ Golden Globe emcee turns have always been a riot but this one was notable for its political tone in exceedingly political times. It was also notable for punching back at the (neo)liberal darlings like Hollywood and FAANG (Facebook-Apple-Amazon-Netflix-Google) rather than, well, Trump, Trump and Trump. It was applauded by the plebs, gleefully welcomed by conservatives with no introspection directed towards the follies of their own ilk and pooh-poohed by liberal news outlets. Entirely predictable set of reactions, in other words. So about now is a good time to add that Gervais was, for the most part, reading this brilliant monologue from a teleprompter as all emcees do.

That is, the Hollywood Foreign Press (themselves at the receiving end of his monologue) knew what he was going to say and let him have at it. They even mocked him back a little, saying, “RIcky, just give it to us in writing that this is the last time.” MAYBE some of the esteemed guests for the occasion were genuinely caught off guard by the sharp jibes Gervais was firing. Well, that sounds like the technique Ram Madhvani used for Neerja; he never told the actors acting as the audience exactly when the hijackers would fire, so that their reactions of terror would be more authentic. Within the boundaries of what was, ultimately, a film, a fictional depiction of real events. So too, perhaps, the Globes left the who’s who of Hollywood gasping in seemingly genuine horror as Gervais took digs at both Epstein and Weinstein, reminding them that the former was their friend and that they had worked a lot with the latter.

Gervais himself winked at the grand act he was staging – the ultimate charade of authenticity. He mentioned that he too had come in a limo and proceeded to turn it into a gig at Felicity Huffman. The shocked gasps at the latter barb shrouded the sly first part of the statement. Gervais is simultaneously assuring his flesh-and-blood audience (as opposed to those of us watching on TV or Youtube) that he is, after all, one of them but also mocking them from his bully pulpit of comedian emcee, flaunting the ephemeral privilege he has for these few hours over the otherwise far more illustrious and moneyed Hollywood aristocracy in attendance at the gig.

Yes, Gervais was telling them that the season demanded such barbs even if they were, momentarily, painful to deal with. He reminded (and assured) them that these are just jokes. The jokes deliver temporary solace to the plebs, who derive pleasure from seeing Hollywood squirm. But on the morrow, Hollywood carries on making supposedly crappy, theme park movies that nevertheless rake in the millions because we somehow make our way to theaters in enough numbers when we could be binge-watching Afterlife. Likewise, this purportedly boring as hell award show broke the internet and is still the talk of town (with yours truly herewith adding to the chatter) because Hollywood will let Gervais have digs at their expense. They are actors; they know the routine. Heck, they can even feign disgust far better than we can vent genuine expression of it.

TL DR: The monologue is but yet another act (and an exceedingly clever one) in the great play of showbiz, capturing brilliantly the zeitgeist of the times. Reality TV 2.0.