The Golden Globes air Sunday, kicking off the awards show’s annual stand as an Oscars oracle (the dueling ceremonies’ movie winners have matched two of the last three years). But this year, the earlier contest could emerge as a bellwether in a perhaps more significant category: hosting.
Following three-year hiatus, Ricky Gervais returns to the Globes Jan. 10 to deliver the first jokes of the Hollywood awards season – giving him a head start on the formidable host of this year's Academy Awards, Chris Rock.
The bold hosting choices appear to guarantee lively shows where controversy is almost a given. Whether that will mean a win for Hollywood is up for argument, but the Gervais-Rock one-two-punch promises a victory for their fans watching from home.
So the biggest question at the Globes might not be who will take home the prizes, but rather how long will it take Gervais, the reigning bad boy of the awards set, to crack his first Charlie Sheen joke. Meanwhile, Rock is set to climb the Academy Awards stage Feb. 28, 11 years after his first go around – and a little over a year after he penned an essay slamming the movie business for its lack of diversity. "It's a white industry," he wrote in The Hollywood Reporter.
Expect Rock, who proved relatively restrained during his 2005 Oscars stint (he offended Sean Penn by teasing Jude Law), to pack more of wallop this time – thanks to him likely tackling the diversity issue and hopefully to some friendly one-upmanship with Gervais, who doesn’t hesitate to skewer self-important Hollywood types.
Gervais’ 2010 Golden Globes debut puffed a cheeky breath of air into the ceremony – and then punctured the clubby bubble, with barbs like, "I like a drink as much as the next man – unless the next man is Mel Gibson." That spirit carried on with three years of comedy tag team Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, who mixed gentle jibes (Poehler’s line about Meryl Streep’s absence in 2013: "She has the flu – and I hear she's amazing in it!") with biting quips (Fey’s 2015 imitation of Bill Cosby: “I put the pills in the people, the people did not want the pills in them”).
This awards season marks the first time the two ceremonies will feature hosts cut from similar comic cloth since "Family Guy" and "Ted" creator Seth MacFarlane helmed the Oscars in 2013, a little over a month after Fey and Poehler’s Globes debut.
MacFarlane, with bits like his musical salute to nudity in film, went too far for much of the Hollywood establishment. His larger sin, though, may have been not being a big enough in-front-of-the-camera name at the time. The negative reaction to his performance yielded tamer Oscar turns by the entertaining likes of Ellen DeGeneres in 2014 and Neil Patrick Harris last February.
Unlike recent years, the next Oscars probably won’t boast a big musical number: As Rock proved in the December Bill Murray Netflix special, "A Very Murray Christmas," he can't sing (even if he knows how to lift laughs from his inability to carry a tune). If past years are any guide, Gervais won't be hoisting his guitar, but more than likely a glass of beer.
He’ll be toasting himself, the home audience – and perhaps Rock. Both are bound to be playing hard for laughs, more concerned about entertaining TV viewers than about offending the stars before their eyes. They care most about landing punch lines, which is an award-worthy goal in itself.
Jere Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.