It’s a little early for baseball season, but Ricky Gervais didn’t care.
Throwing all caution to the wind, the cheeky Brit knocked it out of the park as host of Sunday’s 68th Annual Golden Globes, aired on NBC.
Back for a second year — and thank goodness for it — Gervais came loaded for bear and wasted no time setting the tone for an awards show recognized as much for its revelry as its prizes.
“It’s going to be a night of partying and heavy drinking,” he began his monologue, sipping from a glass of what looked like beer. “Or, as Charlie Sheen calls it, breakfast.”
He lobbed a compound zinger at nominated film “The Tourist.”
“I feel bad about that joke,” he said after his first gibe. “I’m jumping on the bandwagon, because I haven’t even seen ‘The Tourist.’” (Beat.) “Who has?”
He was just warming up. He went on to assure the audience that “The Tourist” had not been nominated by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association just because its members wanted to hang out with the film’s stars, Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie.
“That is not the only reason,” Gervais insisted with a saucy smile. “They also accepted bribes.” (A lawsuit filed last week claims the HFPA has engaged in payola schemes for nominations and awards.)
Then, having already bitten the hand that was feeding him, Gervais soon bit the HFPA’s other hand.
He announced that Eva Longoria would be on next with “the daunting task” of introducing HFPA president Philip Berk.
“That’s nothing,” Gervais confided. “I just had to help him off the toilet and pop his teeth in.”
Unlike most everyone else, Berk was unamused.
Before offering his greetings to the audience, Berk, wearing a tight smile, said, “Ricky, next time you want me to help you qualify your movie, go to another guy.”
“Oooooooooo,” went the audience.
A bit later, Gervais had doffed his jacket. Look out now!
Introducing presenter Robert Downey Jr., Gervais listed a few of the actor’s many film credits, then said, “But many of you in this room probably know him best from such facilities as the Betty Ford Clinic and Los Angeles County Jail.”
Sauntering on stage, Downey took a little bow, then returned the favor, quipping,“Aside from the fact that it’s been hugely mean-spirited, with mildly sinister undertones, I’d say the vibe of the show is pretty good so far, wouldn’t you?”
The vibe was pretty entertaining, all right. Thanks to Gervais’ inspired — and, yes, occasionally scathing — stewardship, the Globes steered clear of the pretension and self-worship to which awards shows so often fall victim.
Matt Damon did his part, delivering a respectful but ironically funny tribute to Robert De Niro, recipient of the Cecil B. DeMille Award for career achievement.
“I asked around,” said Damon, pretending not to be familiar with De Niro’s work, “and I was surprised to find that many people consider him to be the greatest actor alive. A lot of you probably don’t know this, but the guy’s been in like 70 movies.”
Damon then went on to mis-credit the roles De Niro played in some of his greatest films: “Who could ever forget ‘Taxi Driver,’ where he was literally unrecognizable as a blond, 13-year-old hooker?”
Even De Niro himself, who no one will mistake for a stand-up comic, made a game attempt at humor in his acceptance remarks.
“I’m sorry more members of the foreign press aren’t with us tonight, but many of them were deported right before the show,” he said. “For the rest of you, I hope your papers are in order, because Homeland Security will be checking them just as soon as they’re through with the full-body scans of Megan Fox.”
Perpetually good-natured Tom Hanks, one of the final presenters, declared, “Like many of you, we recall back when Ricky Gervais was a slightly chubby but very kind comedian.”
“Neither of which is he now,” chimed in co-presenter Tim Allen.
Maybe not. But Gervais did his job, and deliciously.
Saying goodnight, he thanked everyone, including God, “for making me an atheist.”
Gervais may have left a few casualties, but he made sure the Globes was a party.