The monologue heard-round-the-world last night is still reverberating a full day later. Golden Globes host Ricky Gervais pulled no punches and held nothing back. The liberal atheist comedian delivered exactly what he’d been promising for weeks – a scathing, hilarious send-up of Hollywood perverts, free speech hypocrites, and spoiled celebrities. It’s been trending ever since, and rightfully so.
But the true genius of Gervais’ monologue lies in more than just its rawness. Gervais was not just accusing his Hollywood colleagues of being hypocrites, his entire monologue was a critique of his own hypocrisy, though certainly muted.
Gervais knows the deal. He knows damn well that he’s been sitting around for decades pretending perverts like Weinstein and Epstein don’t exist in Hollywood. He crossed the pond to make his money, and make it he did. After importing “The Office” and acting as an executive producer, Gervais could have retired on that royalty check alone. Instead, he continued to break ground in the industry. He partnered with HBO long before it was fashionable to make “Extras”, a hilarious and slightly dark take on the world of showbiz and the “extras” actors who live in it.
A lot of people credit personalities like Joe Rogan and Adam Corolla for basically inventing the podcast craze, but long before either of them had a mic, Gervais and his best friends Steve Merchant and Karl Pilkington exploded onto the nascent podcast scene. In fact, I do believe they were among the first podcasters to figure out how to monetize their broadcasts. I can remember feeling disappointed when they began charging $4.99/month for their show, but now that I’m a podcaster myself I realize just how much work they were doing for free, and these were the days before advertising dollars caught up to podcasting. By the way, it’s worth going and finding those. My sides ache just thinking about those early episodes. It may be some of the best comedy in podcasting to this day…and few people even remember it ever existed.
All this is to say that Gervais has been around and he knows a thing or two about a thing or two. He knows he is just as much a part of the problem as everyone else. After all, he’s been taking their money and their jobs for 20 years or more.
If I’m being honest, I don’t even mind that. There are lots of celebrities – many of them conservative – who have known about Hollywood perversion and kept it to themselves. I don’t feel compelled to judge any of them too harshly, partly because I have no idea what it’s like to be in their position and have your livelihood depend on what secrets you can keep and partly because I work in politics. I am very familiar with the compromises people feel they need to make for “the greater good”.
The thing is, if you’re going to be quiet about it then be quiet about it all. As Gervais said in his monologue, we don’t need rich, sheltered celebrities lecturing us about how we live our lives. Their lives are an unholy mess that sits in the middle of a tangled web of lies and fakery. Most of them didn’t even finish high school and yet presume to scold us about the “uneducated, white voters” that propelled Trump to the White House.
If you feel that you really don’t have enough power or courage to confront the demons in your own industry, then at the very least have the decency to refrain from pointing out the speck in another’s eye while ignoring the beam in your own. I have much more respect for a celebrity who says, “I may not like some things about some Americans, but I have no right to talk” than the celebrity who willfully disconnects from their own indecency in order to ramble on and on about the indecency of others.
In the end, this is the true genius of that monologue. Gervais’ point was about hypocrisy, but also it was about minding your own damn business and being grateful for where you are and the lifestyle you live. Berating the people who pay for your product and your exorbitant lives isn’t some measure of personal worth or intelligence, it’s just arrogant…and clueless.
Gervais doesn’t get out of being a part of the problem with one glorious awards show monologue, but that’s okay because at the very least he’s willing to admit that he has no standing in which to be holier-than-thou towards the people who buy what he’s selling. In this day and age of entertainment, that’s probably the best outcome we could hope for.
We don’t need celebrities to “be on our side”, we just need them to shut up and entertain us.