Judging by recent events, the answer is to that question is obviously no. The incident that everyone has been talking about these last few weeks is the monologue of Golden Globes host, Ricky Gervais, at the start of the 77th annual edition of the event. Gervais lambasted the Hollywood elite throughout his eight-minute speech, and boy, he did not hold any punches. In front of Apple CEO Tim Cook, the host called out Apple for operating sweatshops in China. He then turned it on the rest of the room, quipping that “If ISIS started a streaming service, you’d call your agent, wouldn’t you?” He also made an “Epstein didn’t kill himself” reference, and responded to the pearl-clutching by saying, “I know he’s your friend, but I don’t care.”
The part that got the most press, however, was when he chastised the celebrities in the room for using awards shows to make political statements. “You know nothing about the real world,” Gervais told the already cringing crowd. “Most of you spent less time in school than Greta Thunberg. So if you win, come up, accept your little award, thank your agent, and your god, and [expletive] off. Okay?” This is the kind of message much of America has been waiting to hear. The powerful people in Hollywood love to lecture the rest of the country about morality, despite cultivating and participating in a culture that is so far removed from morality that it produced Harvey Weinstein. It was finally time for the tables to be turned.
This was so effective that it completely overshadowed the rest of the evening. Do you know which shows won? Or which actors? I don’t. Did you hear any political speech made by a winner? I certainly didn’t. NBC must have been at least a little perturbed by the fact that the highlight of a three-hour show came eight minutes in. If you look at the YouTube numbers on the individual videos from the Golden Globes, the opening monologue has more than 12 million views. The runner-up barely scratched 1 million at the time of recording. You can even compare this to last year’s monologue by cohosts Andy Samberg and Sandra Oh, which now have an accumulated 1.2 million views on YouTube. Make no mistake about it, this performance from Gervais was very popular.
Unless you were in the room. Perhaps the best part of the whole episode was the celebrity reactions caught on camera. The amount of cringe-worthy facial expressions was proof as to how seriously Hollywood takes itself. The highlighted celebrities were the aforementioned Tim Cook, as well as Cate Blanchett, Lauren Graham, and Tom Hanks. And some of these reactions were so good that they dominated the internet meme game for a week. Don’t believe me? Go on WhatsApp and search in the gif section for “Golden Globes 2020,” and see how many you can use in the course of daily correspondence.
Of course, the reaction wasn’t limited to the celebrities in the room. Media elites also didn’t find Gervais funny. LA Times television critic Lorraine Ali wrote that “The last thing anyone needed was for the smirking master of ceremonies to reprimand them for having hope, or taunt the room for trying to use their influence to change things for the better.” Oh, the irony of someone complaining about being reprimanded for telling others not to reprimand.
You see, Ali, like all the cringing celebrities in that room, missed the point of Hollywood. America sees celebrities neither as politicians nor as role models. We see them as entertainment. Their purpose is for us to escape reality. When we watch these awards shows, we don’t tune in to hear actors’ and directors’ opinions on abortion, Iran, and Trump, or - and I can’t stress this one enough - fair wages, when they, as Gervais said “know nothing about the real world.” Their purpose is to entertain me. Some of them are masterful at entertaining me. In fact, some of them are so good that they can win golden statues to commemorate just how good they are. When they speak of their craft, and all the work that went into getting you to that stage, we listen. We want to hear the human element behind the actor, but when they use that time to lecture us about global warming, we tune out. But because Hollywood doesn’t want to hear that from anyone, especially one of their own, they find the message in bad taste.
The irony here is that nobody is pointing out the bravery of Gervais here. Here he is, in front of his peers and superiors, all of whom will vehemently disagree with his message, and he delivers it anyway. There were representatives from all the major networks and production companies at this event, and he eviscerated all of them. Do you know what a risk that is for an entertainer? Comedian Kevin Hart was removed from hosting the Oscars last year for a few decades-old tweets. You think this performance won’t have ramifications on Gervais’ future employment? It says a lot about the state of Hollywood when bravery is defined as saying something controversial to a room full of people who agree with you, and it’s often something that furthers a career. Caitlyn Jenner’s career was advanced following her surgery and subsequent 60 Minutes interview and ESPYS Award. Yet Caitlyn is the “bravest” person in existence today. Gervais spoke the truth to the most powerful people in his industry for eight minutes and didn’t see a single accolade for it.
Sadly, this is nothing new for Hollywood. They just don’t like being lectured to. Kevin Hart stood his ground when the Academy told him that he could have his job back if he just apologized. He chose not to apologize, and in the process broke the Oscars, who for a second straight year will be going hostless. Another comedian, Dave Chappelle, received flack for making the following observation on his aptly-named 2019 special “Sticks and Stones”: “If you do anything wrong in your life, and I find out about it, I’m gonna try and take everything away from you… if I find out, you’re finished.” That was a remark about the audience, and, by extension, Hollywood.
Comedians seem to be stuck between a rock and a hard place on this one. On the one hand, it is definitionally their job to poke fun at previously conceived taboos. The problem is that they are apparently barred from certain topics. Certain areas are protected from ridicule. And when a comedian approaches these topics, he or she is shot down, and potentially fired. If you watch “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” on Amazon, you may be familiar with Lenny Bruce. Bruce was a real comedian in the ’50s and ’60s, and one who was often arrested and charged with crimes related to the topics he spoke about in his standup. To be clear, those topics are things I personally wouldn’t touch at any point in my life, but they are certainly topics that are no longer off-limits. The way Bruce was shunned during his lifetime is similar to the way comedians are being treated today. Only instead of the law being used against them, it is highly powerful individuals and corporations who don’t want to be ridiculed, and hold the power to remove any derision directed at them. We have entered a time where the powerful have the ability to silence those who speak truth to power, and that is a scary place to be.
Izzo Zwiren is the host of The Jewish Living Podcast, where he and his guests delve into any and all areas of Orthodox Judaism.