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When Ricky Gervais was asked to return as host of the 73rd Golden Globe Awards — his first since a 2010-2012 run that raised both ratings and eyebrows for zingers aimed at everyone from Johnny Depp to Scientology to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association itself — he said no.
The British writer-producer-actor was busy in post-production on his Netflix movie The Special Correspondents, which premieres in April, while prepping his next film, Life on the Road (featuring his The Office alter ego David Brent). But a bit of cajoling convinced Gervais, 54, to follow Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s successful three-year stint and bring his bomb-dropping wit back to the Beverly Hilton.
He spoke exclusively to The Hollywood Reporter in December as he began putting together his material for the Jan. 10 show on NBC.
So, why come back?
Well, you could say that about everything nowadays. It is really exciting. It’s fun. It’s in 215 countries around the world, about 200 million people watch it, which is very irresistible to a comedian. It’s a challenge. I always write my own jokes, I can say what I want — and it’s live.
Do you feel pressure to push the envelope further each time you do this?
I’ve never understood the controversy around the Golden Globes. That stuff I did, I was shocked that people thought that was shocking. Genuinely. I thought, what have I said wrong? I didn’t say anything outrageous or libelous. I didn’t say anything against broadcasting rules. It was on network television, late afternoon, it couldn’t have been that bad.
Well, you did insult Scientology in front of prominent Scientologists and you said you needed to help the HFPA president put in his dentures and get off the toilet.
That’s clearly a joke! And as for Scientology, if you can’t make fun of religion, what can you make fun of? Also, I don’t think what Scientology believes is any weirder than any other belief in a magical sky wizard or deity. So, I wasn’t even picking on them. I wasn’t trying to bring anyone down, I wasn’t trying to undermine the moral fabric of America. I was making jokes. I suppose they weren’t used to it being a bit of a tease and a bit of a roast. But I made the decision: Do I pander to 200 fragile egos in the room or 200 million people watching at home? There’s nothing in it for the people watching at home. They’re not winning awards. It’s not a spectator sport watching other people win awards, so I tried to make it one.
Has anyone in Hollywood reached out to complain after a joke they didn’t like?
I did hear Kim Cattrall say [I told] an ageist joke, and it wasn’t. I said, “I think the award for special effects should go to the team that airbrushed the Sex and the City 2 poster.” It was ludicrous, they tried to make them look 25! I said, “Look, we know how old you are, I saw one of you in an episode of Bonanza.” Now, the target of that joke was airbrushing the truth for Hollywood. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being 50. I’m 54. I’m a very considered comedian. Every word in the joke matters to me. I’m not one of these comedians who go out there and go, “F— you, it’s just a joke.” Some people think that comedy is your conscience taking a day off, but my conscience never takes a day off. I can justify every joke I’ve ever done and if the joke is about someone, I can do it in front of them and tell them after why it’s justified.
Who are your favorite awards show hosts of all time?
I love the old guys, Bob Hope and Dean Martin and those guys. Of the new breed, the people I like often don’t do [awards shows.] I love Louis C.K. and Doug Stanhope. But I don’t really judge people, I just turn it off. I don’t watch it again if I don’t like it. There’s a new era of people who are professionally offended, you know what I mean? I don’t know whether it comes from social media or clickbait, where it’s better to say someone was outrageous than, “He did a good job, yeah it was fun.” But just because you are offended doesn’t mean you’re right. Anything you say, any joke you make, someone, somewhere, could get offended, right? Justified or not. Somewhere there is a chicken who crossed the road and got seriously injured and he doesn’t like that joke. [Laughs]
This year, Hollywood has given you a lot of fodder. Everything from the actress salary issue to the fake “bear rape” controversy with The Revenant. Will you be a bit more topical this year?
It’s all going to be topical. It’s all going to be justified. [But] I’m not going to go out there and do half an hour on Syria. I’m not a political comedian.
What about Donald Trump?
Well, Trump might get a mention. He’s put his head in a basket. I think he’s volunteered for that, you know? You can joke about anyone’s willful behavior. I don’t really joke about things that people can’t help. Hopefully, and this is honest now, I’d love the person it’s about to like it, too. Unless they’re some sort of murdering dictator.
NBC is the only broadcast network with zero nominations this year.
Yeah, well, I’m surprised they did that well. That’s a joke, don’t print that! [Laughs].
Is it true that you were the one who brought John Oliver to Jon Stewart’s attention for The Daily Show?
Yeah, I think my input has probably been greatly exaggerated. I don’t think I had any influence other than Jon asking me if someone might fit in.
You carry a pint of beer onstage at the Globes. Do you bring that yourself or does the Beverly Hilton provide it?
I think it’s a half. I don’t think it’s a full pint. I just keep having them top it off backstage. [Laughs] They provide my beer for me. I do love the idea of me turning up with a six pack, like I’m having a barbecue. Shorts, six pack, and then it’s straight out on stage. That’s sort of what I want to be like. I don’t like the fuss. I don’t want rehearsals, I don’t sit down and have a team of writers. I come up with ideas as I go along — if they’re good enough I remember them, and then I go out there and do it.
Have you looked at the nominations this year? Are you rooting for anything?
No, I haven’t seen a lot of films. The first film I’ve seen and I absolutely love was Black Mass.
Johnny Depp was snubbed, actually.
Wait, they nominated The Tourist but not this one? What’s going on!?
Well, The Martian is nominated for best comedy.
I haven’t seen that yet. I haven’t got my screeners yet.
It’s great but it’s not very funny.
Well, that’s subjective. I might find it hilarious. [Laughs]
How often do you toss a joke because you think it goes a little over the edge?
Lots of times. Not because I think more people will find it offensive [but] because I can’t justify it morally. Often there’s collateral damage. I probably wouldn’t have a go at someone’s affair if their partner was still there — you know, it’s not their fault. That’s collateral damage for me.
You’ve never done any musical numbers or skits. Why?
Who wants to see that? Who wants to see someone showing me they can sing and dance? I don’t care. Tell me a joke.