OK, so let’s talk about Jerrod Carmichael’s Shelly Miscavige joke at Tuesday night’s 80th Golden Globe Awards. If my Twitter feed is any indication — and I’m well aware that it mostly isn’t — that is the thing people are discussing from the Globes. That and pianist Chloe Flower, who was NOT playing winners off of the stage in the middle portion of the show.
So Carmichael came out cradling a trio of Globe statues in his arm.
“Backstage, I found these three Golden Globe awards that Tom Cruise returned…” Carmichael said. The audience of stars laughed appreciatively. “Look, I’m just the host, briefly or whatever, but I have a pitch: I think maybe we take these three things and exchange them for the safe return of Shelly Miscavige.”
Several members of the audience “Ooh”-ed. Two or three cackled. The primary sound, though, was silence. It isn’t that the audience didn’t get the joke. People in that Beverly Hilton ballroom were well aware that Shelly Miscavige, wife of Scientology leader David Miscavige, hasn’t been seen in public in 15 years, either because she prefers to live a private life or… for other reasons. It was a scathing joke, delivered in Carmichael’s amiably off-handed style, and I’m sure a few people were offended, a few were scared and a lot were too shocked to be sure how to react.
That’s not a bad ratio. I respect the joke and, as always, Carmichael’s delivery of it. But as the telecast began to drag, I got to thinking about the joke, whom it was directed at and why Carmichael was able to make it. The joke was on Scientology, its alleged role in Shelly Miscavige’s alleged disappearance and Hollywood’s silence or even complicity. But that wasn’t what opened the door to the joke. What opened the door was that when the Los Angeles Times ran a report highlighting various misdeeds and failings within the Hollywood Foreign Press, Tom Cruise was one of the only actors in town who announced that he was returning the baubles the HFPA had given him.
Did he actually return the awards? How would I know? Is there hypocrisy in the things Cruise condones versus the things Cruise condemns? Seems right. But the entire joke was facilitated by the fact that when Cruise heard the things that were shady about the Golden Globes — or saw reporting on them — he actually responded and, true at least to the spirit of his word, he was not in the ballroom on Tuesday night, even as Top Gun: Maverick was up for a slew of awards. Was Cruise’s acting snub a voting response to the same public disapproval? I sure don’t know. But on a night that the stars returned to the Globes as if nothing had happened, Cruise was absent, and that allowed the show to do a prepared bit with the sort of public broadside that probably would have been verboten five years ago.
The theme of the telecast wasn’t quite “denial” but it absolutely was “tactical evasion,” and if you’re a conspiracy theorist, one could put the Cruise crack and perhaps even Brendan Fraser’s loss in a similar bucket. There are degrees to which the HFPA and the Globes were prepared to look bad, but… there was also a limit.
Maybe that’s why Carmichael’s opening monologue, while pointedly awkward in certain ways, was laser-focused.
“I’ll tell you why I’m here: I’m here cuz I’m Black,” he said, launching into an explanation of that corner of the HFPA controversy — that they had, as of the time of that L.A. Times story, zero Black members — and his awareness that the show was using him to put a public face on the ways things have changed. He talked about awkward conversations he had with the new head of the HFPA and with his friend/sounding board “Avery,” and reservations that might have been partially allayed by a hefty check and partially allayed by changes the HFPA made. But then he explained that the real reason he was doing the gig was, “This is an evening where we get to celebrate and I think this industry deserves evenings like these.”
Oh. So the monologue wasn’t REALLY making fun of the HFPA for the questionable diversity in its membership or its changes being cosmetic. The monologue was about why Carmichael took the gig, with one corner of the controversy as a backdrop. Justification, not evisceration or flagellation. There were fleeting references to the situation later in the show, but only fleeting, either because the producers didn’t want to dwell or because once the awards were given out and it was easily the most diverse slate of early winners in the show’s history — Ke Huy Quan! Angela Bassett! Quinta Brunson! Tyler James Williams! Michelle Yeoh! — there were other things to concentrate on. The second half of the show was dominated by more predictable Globes-y winners and absent winners, but hey… changes were made!
I’ve been outspoken in my feelings that Ricky Gervais’ mockery of the HFPA became an increasingly repetitive and perfunctory thing after his first couple of hosting stints, but here’s something Gervais unquestionably knew: There have always been MANY reasons to make fun of the HFPA. But for purposes of the 80th Golden Globes ceremony, only one was fair play. The lack of Black members as revealed in the Los Angeles Times report was bad, but the number of other ethical breaches stretched even wider, and I’m still not convinced that solutions to many of those issues are fully in place. But if you watched this telecast, the Globes weren’t televised last year because the HFPA had no Black members and now they do and so this year it was televised. Huzzah?
Carmichael’s monologue wasn’t bad. At all. It was partial. I kept waiting for him to pick up the thread, to continue the conversation. Instead, it was easier to make fun of the Oscars, and so we got multiple Will Smith jokes, one from Carmichael and one from honoree Eddie Murphy. The reason we’ll talk about the Shelly Miscavige joke, though, is that in a toothless telecast, that joke had teeth. Otherwise, I’d just be writing that Carmichael had seven costume changes and that his various blazers, long-coats and even one poncho were spectacular.
*** There were passionate speeches. Ke Huy Quan‘s joy at finding himself winning awards nearly 40 years after his screen debut and subsequent disappearance remains contagious. His speech was matched by those of Bassett and especially Yeoh, who marveled at arriving in Hollywood and being told that she was a minority, at the condescension of people being amazed that she spoke English and at finding herself in this position at 60.
*** There were well-constructed speeches. Colin Farrell having a story tied to each of his co-stars was throughly charming, precise but giving the illusion of being rambling. Quinta Brunson gave multiple speeches, each celebrating her collaborators, her inspirations and the chance to be funny at a moment at which we need humor.
*** There were drunken speeches. Mike White wanted to give his White Lotus acceptance in Italian, he claimed, but instead he was too drunk. And found a way to chide members of the audience for passing on his HBO hit. Guillermo del Toro was Guillermo del Toro only more so. Was Jennifer Coolidge drunk? Who knows? Like del Toro, she was herself, only more so. Keep in mind that drunken speeches were always the thing the Golden Globes delivered most reliably.
*** There was Ryan Murphy‘s speech. Accepting the Carol Burnett Award, Murphy used the time to sing the praises of boundary-breaking collaborators including Michaela Jae Rodriguez, Matthew Bomer, Jeremy Pope and Niecy Nash. He was careful to talk about the opportunities he had given them, but in a moment when the spotlight was on him, Murphy directed the spotlight onto others with grace and depth.
*** There were one or two decent “bits,” some planned, some off-the-cuff and some ambiguous. Natasha Lyonne’s musing on the show’s running over — “Let’s be honest, the only true villain here is time herself, aka, Death’s Chariot” — was great. The storms in Santa Barbara are SERIOUS, but Regina Hall cracking up about Kevin Costner sheltering in place was still funny. And Amanda Seyfried being absent because she is “deep in the process of creating a new musical” is the stuff of future memes and past AOL Instant Message “away” notifications.
*** There was Chloe Flower. Flower’s classically arranged piano compositions of various TV and movie themes were early telecast highlights and she was the belle of Twitter, even if nobody knew her name.
*** Then the telecast threw Chloe Flower under the bus. As always happens, the show started running long almost immediately. It ended up running 20+ minutes over and that meant playing people off. For whatever reason, the decision was made to play them off with piano music, so the immediate assumption was that Flower was playing people off. Even if that were the case, she would have only been doing what the producers told her to do, but various accepters started to good-naturedly make fun of the piano player specifically, with Yeoh even challenging her to a fight. The result was that they had to change play-off music mid-stream and Carmichael had to come out and exonerate Flower and explain that it was a recorded track. Flower had to go on Twitter and explain that she had not, in fact, made a unilateral decision to start playing music over Michelle Yeoh’s speech. It was awkward and took away from a nice thing.
*** My gracious the show ran long. A few sincere speeches and everything goes off of the rails and suddenly you get the winners in the non-English film category getting maybe 15 seconds to talk about the importance of democracy. The telecast producers ended up trapped because while you can always play off the producers of House of the Dragon — the silliest and most HFPA-y of tonight’s winners — if Steven Spielberg wins multiple awards, you let Steven Spielberg talk as long as he wants to. Ditto Ryan Murphy. Ditto Jennifer Coolidge. The rhythm became a horrible thing, where sometimes there was no patter at all and sometimes you had Glen Powell and Jay Ellis doing… whatever they were doing. It’s past 11:00 on the East Coast and Harvey Guillén and Salma Hayek are still doing schtick? No.
*** The telecast was sloppy. One winner after another was seated at the back of the ballroom, wasting precious walking-to-stage time. I can’t count all of the cutaway shots that were to blurry people or not the people the director expected to be in the shot. The most positive spin I can put on the “looseness” is that people had long walks to stage because so many of the winners were surprises and surprise winners make for a good telecast? Nah.
It was not the worst disaster imaginable, but it was not a good telecast. In returning to air with evasions about its absence, the Golden Globes made a pretty compelling case for nobody noticing if maybe they weren’t around next year either.
(The HFPA, which presents the Golden Globes, is owned by Eldridge Industries. is owned by PME Holdings, LLC, a joint venture between Penske Media Corporation and Eldridge.)