The Golden Globes award show hosted by Ricky Gervais last night holds a couple of important creative lessons worth calling out. In case you haven’t seen the show the last two years, in 2010, new Golden Globes host Ricky Gervais was brought in to make the show edgier, which he certainly did. Gervais is hilarious with his humor coming through sarcasm, cynicism, and his willingness to skewer anyone with an inflated ego (himself excluded though). His 2010 Golden Globes performance was funny and edgy as promised, going after all the big celebrities including Paul McCartney (who everybody seems to like) with a dig about his divorce settlement with Heather Mills. Ouch! As a viewer, you walked away with the sense that this was a different type of awards show and were able to put the awkward moments in the background.

Last night, Gervais returned as Golden Globes host, with the obvious creative challenges that presents: you have to top what you’ve done before creatively. This is a fairly typical creative conundrum, and how you choose to address it strategically means everything for whether you’re a creative success or failure the second time around.

Gervais went with the easy answer: do MORE of what you did before, which in this case was going after the celebrities attending even harder than he did in 2010.

This year’s results were a lot less favorable, with noticeable boos during his opening monologue from the audience, his obvious absence during the second half of the Golden Globes, and prompting everybody’s nice guy Tom Hanks (who had been spared any barbs) to go after Gervais when presenting an award late in the show.

The three creative lessons:

1. Think long and hard before returning to previous creative triumphs.

It may seem like the simple answer to keep coming back, but the right answer could very well be to move on and keep finding successes in new places.

2. If you do return creatively, doing more of what you did isn’t always the right creative answer.

Novelty is an important part of an audience’s reaction to creativity. The second time around, you have to maintain the novelty. Doing more of what you’ve done creatively is an easy creative answer. But when you work the creative edges (as Gervais does), more can get old quickly. Gervais would have been advised to go against his strengths and used subtlety or even some self-deprecation to shoot for some comedic novelty.

3. Watch yourself when dividing your target audiences and pitting them against one another.

Gervais wound up upping the ante in insulting the celebrities. For me as an at-home audience member, there were awkward moments that were potentially even funnier than last year. But then again, the in-room celebrity audience is an even more important target audience and helps set the tone of the show through their reactions. If it’s not a creative success with them, it makes it harder to seem like a creative success on the broadcast.

My prediction – Ricky Gervais won’t get a chance to employ the Rule of 3 to try going even further, or even in another creative direction next year. His last Golden Globes moment will likely be the one Sunday evening where the cameras had already left him alone on the stage as he skewered God, the ultimate big guy. – Mike Brown

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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14 Responses to “Ricky Gervais, the Golden Globes, and 3 Creative Lessons”

  1. I agree with you. I watched for a while last night, but changed channels after a while. Although I like Ricky, the humor was a bit too much after a while.

    In my corporate days we had a saying, “don’t burn your bridges.” I think Ricky might’ve done just that last night.

    • Mike Brown says:

      Great point Karen about burning bridges, although I think Ricky Gervais revels in burning bridges and then still being able to walk across them!

      BTW, thanks to Helen Cousins (@xcelbusiness on Twitter) for tweeting the link to highlights video!

  2. They knew full well who they were getting when they hired him. I love Gervais and though I found some of his humor a little too on the nose, I have to say I was entertained. The people he skewered deserve to be treated with the dignity any other human being deserves, but they also are in professions that I assume would give them a sense of humor about the ridiculousness of celebrity. Gervais’ stock in trade is puncturing that particular balloon. To your bigger point about the hazards of returning to your first creative success, well, that’s Hollywood for you–always a sequel in there somewhere.

    • Mike Brown says:

      He was definitely funny. His rips on Tom Cruise and John Travolta, Robert Downey, Jr., and Tim Allen all stand out for me. You’re also definitely right about them knowing what they were getting…in the promos Ricky even said as much. But unless it was planned for him to be absent for much of the show, something wasn’t working right in the mix.

  3. Subtlety probably doesn’t come easily to Ricky and he has made a career out of making jokes that make folk uncomfortable. It would have been very effective if he had reined it in this year and he might have had the dilemma of what to do in Year 3. There are lessons here for all of us, including that honesty isn’t always the best policy, (especially when publicly delivered with a crusher). I’m a big fan of Ricky but feel that making fun of a rehabilitated addict is just too close to the bone. Nicely observed Mike, thank you.

    • Mike Brown says:

      It would have been interesting Helen for him to pick out some common targets not part of Hollywood (he was getting there with Hugh Hefner, sort of), perhaps some political or societal targets. If he did at least a couple of self-deprecating comments, it would also provide more latitude.

      Once again though, without a celebrity-laden audience, I don’t think anything would have necessarily had to be changed. The audiences reaction shaped the overall perception.

  4. Jim Joseph says:

    Love your thinking, Mike. And something we should all learn as we try to repeat our performances, what ever they may be. It’s one of the reasons why Oprah states that she left her show and started OWN. She didn’t want to keep repeating the same success over and over, and ultimately stop being successful. She wanted to move onto something new, a bigger challenge. JIM

    • Mike Brown says:

      It’s so tough to move on to something new Jim. Witness all the well-publicized entertainment and sports retirements which seem to be quickly forgotten. It still makes me mad that I supposedly saw The Who’s last outdoor show ever at the Cotton Bowl, only to have them come back again and again to the point where it’s just pathetic. Congratulations to Oprah for moving on!


  5. I love British humor, it’s more subtle than American sitcoms, makes you think, not slaps you in the face. And yes, if he had been more self-deprecating, it would have gone down better but his trailers said he’d never be asked back.

    It’s a shame if he was censored. Guess he should have not bitten the hand feeding him but he doesn’t look like he’ll starve. Let’s hear it for free speech and funny MCs who might not be politically correct! We need to laugh more – especially at ourselves.

    • Mike Brown says:

      Thanks for commenting Patti!

      I read this morning where it was the shot at the head of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association that was the final straw. From Ricky Gervais’ perspective, the night may have been a wonderful creative success. He was definitely funny. I think I was so focused on the topic because of some recent work with a client on their collaborative blog where one of the writers did a post that essentially attacked the target audience. From a business standpoint, it just didn’t work, but it was a real challenge to help the person understand that. It really hit on the idea of pitting part of your audience against another. Funny from a comedian; potentially a disaster from a business writer/blogger.

      • hi Mike,

        His jib about the HFPA President might have been as a result of him being pulled off stage for part of the night?

        I’ve been in sales all my life and you really shouldn’t bite the hand that pays you, especially not on live TV!

        I’ve also been an MC a few times and it’s hard work, so who will they get to replace him? Better be someone funny as that was the only reason I PVRed the Globes was to see Ricky.


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