Golden Globes: Jerrod Carmichael hosts show short on jokes, long on speeches

It was a night at the 2023 Golden Globe Awards when diversity held sway among the winners, the presenters and the host, and that proved to be the theme of the ceremony and telecast pretty much from beginning to end – no surprise given the fact that the very future of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association was resting on it. Did it make for an interesting show? Yes and no. The ceremony was uneven but serviceable and spirited, with much more earnestness than true laughs. But there were no embarrassing gaffes, either, which has to be a considerable relief for the HFPA.

In case anyone had been wondering how long it would take for the show to call out the elephant in the room,  the answer was less than 30 seconds. Host Jerrod Carmichael is black, and he let it be known at the outset this was pretty much the only reason he was there and the lone weapon in his arsenal.

“I’ll tell you why I’m here. I’m here ’cause I’m black,” he said bluntly to open the show. Indeed, this was the first televised Golden Globes ceremony since the HFPA came under fire in 2021 for issues including a lack of black membership (read: zero) and unethical financial practices. Carmichael walked the audience through his decision to take the job of host. He joked that he was torn but ultimately decided to take the job when they offered him $500,000 for the gig. At least. I think he was joking.

Closing his monologue, Carmichael said, “I’m going to be honest with you, I took this job assuming (the organization) hadn’t changed at all. I heard they got six new black members. Congrats to them. Whatever. Sure. But it’s not why I’m here. I’m here because of all of you. I look into this room and see a lot of talented people. People that I admire. People I would like to be like. People that I’m jealous of. People that are incredible artists. Regardless of whatever the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s past may be, this is an evening where we get to celebrate, and I think this industry deserves evenings like these.”

That was pretty much the high point for Carmichael, who came across in his monologue as jarringly disrespectful and ungrateful. The opening was one-note and certainly fell flat from a comedy perspective. During the thankfully brief moments on camera that followed, he centered few actual bits, trying to get by on his frequent wardrobe changes where he looked undeniably fabulous. His version of humor was to admonish the crowd to “be quiet” and “settle down,” and there’s nothing an industry audience likes more than being told to shut up. He also saw fit to constantly promote the talents of the piano player who would soon be regularly ignored while trying to play winners off the stage. Essentially, Carmichael was out of synch and seemed miscast for the room.

If Carmichael ever had the room, he lost it with his tasteless joke, “So, we are here, live, from the hotel that killed Whitney Houston.”

Fortunately, there were several passionate, if sometimes overlong, acceptance speeches during the show, including the first: Ke Huy Quan’s musical/comedy supporting actor triumph for “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”

“I was raised to never forget where I came from,” Quan said through gathering tears, “and to always remember who gave me my first opportunity. I am so happy to see Steven Spielberg here tonight. When I started my career as a child actor in ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,’ I felt so very lucky to have been chosen. As I grew older, I started to wonder if that was it, if that was just luck. For so many years, I was afraid I had nothing more to offer. No matter what I did, I would never surpass what I achieved as a kid. Thankfully, more than 30 years later, two guys thought of me. They remembered that kid, and they gave me an opportunity to try again.”

Quan continued, tearing up, “Everything that has happened since has been unbelievable. [‘Everything Everywhere’ directors] Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert, thank you so, so much for helping me find my answer. You have given me more than I could have ever hoped.”

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His fellow “Everything Everywhere” castmate, Michelle Yeoh, also gave a heartfelt speech that enlivened the proceedings, first taking a moment “take this all in” before conveying the full measure of what it meant to be standing there after 40 bumpy years in a profession she loves. She also talked back to the play-off music with a well-timed “Shut up, please!”. Well, at least she said please. And miraculously, perhaps due to her politeness, the music stopped. That never happens, but it happened at this Golden Globes. There were other high points. One was producer Ryan Murphy’s profoundly gracious speech while accepting the Carol Burnett Award, when he shifted the attention to numerous people in his orbit who have overcome LGBTQ discrimination like Michaela Jae Rodriguez, Billy Porter (who introduced him), Niecy Nash, Matt Bomer and Jeremy Pope.

Eddie Murphy’s Cecil B. DeMille Award speech seemed somewhat less special and heartfelt. But Murphy did manage to get in a dig at Will Smith and his 2022 Oscar meltdown, closing with, “Pay your taxes, mind your business, and keep Will Smith’s wife’s name out of your f—-n mouth!”.

On a different level entirely, it gave the ceremony undeniable heft to include a recorded speech from Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, introduced by Sean Penn. During Zelensky’s impactful message, he said in part, “The war in Ukraine is not over yet, but the time is coming, and it is already clear who will win. There are still battles and tears ahead, but now I can definitely tell you who was the best in the previous year: It was you. The free people of the free world. Those who united around the support of the free … in our common struggle for freedom, democracy, for the right to live, to love … no matter who you are, no matter where you are from.”
He added that there would be no third World War, talking about his hopes of winning the war with Russia. “The first World War claimed millions of lives. “The second World War claimed tens of millions of them. There will be no third World War. It is not a trilogy. Ukraine will stop the Russian aggression. On our land, we will make it together. … We hope that all of you will be with us on the victorious day. The day of our victory, celebrating.”
Drama actor winner Austin Butler, charming as ever after his win for “Elvis,” seemed to be celebrating his ongoing conversion to being Elvis Presley, the man he portrayed so memorably in the Baz Luhrmann film. He continues to speak with an identical Southern drawl to the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll for no apparent reason and even thanked Priscilla Presley and Lisa Marie Presley, the late singer’s ex-wife and daughter, respectively. Perhaps his contract called for a lifetime performance.

Then, it was back to Carmichael in a new outfit. The man did look sharp, in everything, even if no one can fill out a gown (by her own admission) quite like Jennifer Coolidge, who was a presenter earlier in the evening and a winner for HBO’s “The White Lotus: Sicily” later on. Her presentation droned on so long that it threatened to hijack the telecast altogether, and certainly takes partial blame for the show running 20 minutes over its allotted three hours. When she took the stage a second time to accept her Globe, there was a palpable intake of air in the room as those in attendance feared another meandering, long-winded diatribe. And in some ways, they got it.

But this time, something was different.

Indeed, Coolidge became instantly vulnerable, alluding emotionally to her lean years of acting and how her career was saved first by Ryan Murphy and then by Mike White (who wrote and produced “The White Lotus”) The outpouring of love for White brought tears to his eyes and proved intensely moving. But White was then able to puncture some of it when taking the stage himself to accept a Globe for best limited series/anthology. He admitted to being drunk because there was so little food to sop up the alcohol.

This moment, perhaps more than any other, confirmed that the Golden Globes had returned to something resembling normal. Drinking booze has historically been what attendees do best.

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