Is mean out?

Gosh I like Ricky Gervais. I like his cynicism, I like his self-deprecation, and I do like good snark. But I didn’t like him at the Golden Globes.

Last night he was simply…mean.

Angelina Jolie is a bad actor. The HPFA president is incontinent. Tom Cruise and John Travolta are closet gays. The Sex and the City actresses are old and ugly.

Take that! BOO-YAH.

Some people thought it was funny, if uncomfortable. I just found myself uncomfortable. When I tried to figure out why, it struck me:  he was touching on every person’s greatest insecurity.

Perhaps I’ve gotten wishy-washy in motherhood. Maybe my early forties have mellowed me into a humorless marshmallow. Or maybe it seems that at the same time I am shrinking away from the venom in politics, arming my kids from the early rumblings of mean girls and schoolyard bullies, I just don’t want my entertainment cruel.

At dinner with friends on Friday night, Isabel made a passionate plea for bloggers and media types to stop picking on Justin Bieber. “He’s only 16,” she said, exasperated. “He’s just a kid!”

I thought she had a point.

Do you think 2011 will be a year of kindness? Is mean out? Or will cynicism and snark always get us through the tough times?


65 thoughts on “Is mean out?”

  1. I didn't watch them, after all — it was the FINAL EPISODE of Hannah Montana 😉

    The tweet buzz that I've heard seems to be inline with your thinking. Lines crossed, sticks poked …

    I'm ready for mean to be out, whatever happened to being nice, supportive, respectful?

    Maybe it's because I'm a mom, maybe it's because I'm a marshmallow, however, I'm all for 2011 being the year of nice 🙂

  2. I never think Ricky Gervais is funny. I think he's a total jerk. And, for what it's worth, I think the jokes he makes are too easy. Picking on Tom Cruise for being gay? Oh, gee, that's never been done. Picking on actresses over 40 for their appearance? That's original. I don't see any worth in his humor at all.

  3. There's a difference between being mean and being funny. The two are certainly not parallel, and I agree with you that Gervais didn't do a good job — he sounded more like an insecure kid tearing into others' insecurities to hide his own. That's not funny, that's awful.

  4. I thought he was funny. Every once in a while, Hollywood needs a good deflating. No one better to do it than a Brit.

  5. You hit the nail on the head. Although I did find a few things Gervais said amusing, overall, I was uncomfortable. In my own living room. Not sitting in the audience full of the grin and bear it. Ugh.

    I don't know if 2011 is Year of the Nice, but wouldn't it be a change for the better?

  6. I didn't think he was that funny on the Golden Globes but I do think you need a host who is prepared to push things a bit. Because stars in Hollywood are used to being surrounded by praise, by 'yes' people, the job of the host is to poke fun I think and to prick the little golden bubble a bit. But I agree the jokes sounded spiteful rather than clever.

    In every day real life, I hope kindness triumphs over snark anyday but I think Hollywood needs to calm down about this – they chose him and they knew what he was like.

  7. I was left underwhelmed. His timing stank. He sounded like an amateur comedian at open-mike night, not a professional.

  8. I cringed, and gasped outright at the gay Scientologists dig. Then I turned it off, because Emilia wanted to watch Hannah Montana (so shoot me.) So I was only able to flick back intermittently until the girl was abed. I don't think that I missed much.

    You're right, though. Mean is mean is mean, regardless of who it's directed toward. We wouldn't tell our children that mean is funny, that mean is cool, that mean is the way to go if you want attention, right? So we shouldn't do so with each other.


    (Robert Downey Jr, though, can I say? Did he get away with his sexist joke because he's hot? Or is sexist more okay than mean? DEEP THOUGHTS.)

  9. I didn't watch either since there was no way I would want my children watching it. Funny does not have to be mean.

    I think the world would be much better off if 2011 was the year of nice. It might be too much work for some though…

  10. @Catherine

    I think that RDJ's joke was more a satirical stab at the hollywood system…and flattering at that so I didn't find it uncomfortable.

    @SUEBOB You make a great point. I actually remember at one moment last night thinking, “wow he's not very good at standup. I wonder if he's ever done it before.” Which…duh. Of course he has.

  11. From what I've read (I didn't watch), it sounded funny to me for the most part. Mean? Yes, like a roast. But the past several things I've heard/seen him do (Louis C.K.'s show and Opie and Anthony) have been similar. The Golden Globes should have known what they were getting. And they probably did, because when else do people actually talk about the Golden Globes?

    As far as ripping on Justin Beiber, I agree…it's not his fault and he's just being used. But I'd like to rip on the crappy music industry that pushes that kind of pablum. Blech.

  12. @Bill I've seen that argument quite a bit: “They knew what they were getting into.”

    I'm not defending Hollywood's discomfort with him or saying whether he did or didn't live up to their expectations. I'm just saying as someone with no authority whatsoever, with no indie cred, who paid no money at all, to sit home and watch the show in my pajamas, I didn't laugh. And a comedian should make me laugh, right?

    “Ooh…he did NOT go there,” isn't a great response to a punchline if you're not laughing too.

  13. And that right there is why I've never been able to watch the British version of the Office. I don't laugh, I cringe.

    But I didn't see the Golden Globes, so I have no opinion on his performance there. I suspect the reason we're getting the biting humor in these awards shows, though, is because no one watches them when everyone is nice.

  14. I thought he was funny – that's his style. He always comes across as stammering and awkward and insults everyone, but he says the truth, usually. I think that's what makes it a bit uncomfortable.

    And I only hate on Bieber because I want to BE him.

  15. I love Justin Bieber. There. I'm on the record. But I also adore Nickelback and Billy Ray Cyrus so my tastes are questionable at best.

    I thought Ricky Gervais was harsh. I wouldn't have wanted to been on the sharp end of his jokes and it made me uncomfortable to watch as well. But I'm old. And soft. And want everyone to play nice.

  16. Last year Gervais I think hit the sweet spot between mean & funny; last night he missed completely and just went mean & meaner. It was rather ghastly. I'd just seen him on Jon Stewart and he was funny as hell. But at least that was–sort of–“entertainment.” It's when we get folks like that there governor of Maine telling the NAACP they can “kiss his butt” that I shudder. A comedian being stupid or in bad taste is (sort of) explainable; but a “leader” saying something that would earn my kids a little contemplative time in their rooms… that's a lot harder to contextualize. I would like to believe that nice will become the lingua franca, but I'm not optimistic. Our country seems to have become tone deaf…or rather, people seem only to hear the OTHER person's nasty, never their own.

  17. Funny doesn't involve hacking people at the knees.

    While I don't see us getting any nicer in 2011 (esp. if this was the start), it's a warm fuzzy idea, isn't it?

  18. I only saw his comment about Bruce Willis being Ashton Kutcher's father and I thought it was very funny.

    Because we're all sort of thinking it, aren't we?

    I'm all for civility, but I do think that snark has its place. And Hollywood seems to be as good a place as any for it.

    Because as funny as I thought the comment was, it was Bruce Willis' obvious annoyance with it that made for great entertainment.

  19. @Marinka I thought that was one of the few jokes that worked. But compounded with every other one that was just a dig on someone…I guess I was weary by then.

  20. Yeah, I missed it. My kids got to pick what we watched.

    I hope in some ways that the blatant meanness just for the sake of being mean is out. I doubt it though.

    I do know that my tolerance for listening/reading it, is pretty much gone. How can we tell our kids not to bully, while bullying celebs? I think it's time to remember that they are people too.

    Maybe that makes me a naive idiot. I guess I'm okay with that. I just know that more and more? I go and do something else when people get like that. Whether it's on TV, in real conversations or on Twitter.

  21. Humor only works for a broad audience if it is rooting in a shared WTF at humanity without selling out our shared humanity. Gay jokes, fat jokes, all sorts of taboo jokes–they can all work in the hands of a comic who makes us feel united in how funny we ALL are. But Gervais is just smarmy. He's only funny to people who are in the mood to feel haughty and superior, and eventually that audience creeps itself out and then blames that comic for lowering the bar.

  22. I didn't see it (although it's on the DVR), but in regard to the topic of going soft, I'm totally mellowing out. For years I've prided myself on being cynical and sarcastic, it was fun! Lately, not so much.

    Well, some. Probably more than most, but that's big cut for me.

  23. Even Robert DeNiro was mean in his achievement award speech.. I agree with your post, enough of mean. Except for Fashion Police, it is still fun to make fun of bad fashion.

  24. I didn't see the GG's but have been feeling the same way – we have virtually parallel perspectives being 40 year old moms. But then, you know what – I see Joan Rivers and am in love all over again. It's not necessarily mean spirited but it's a good ribbing and it's really funny.

    I am tired of feeling the need to be OVERLY PC and careful of offending ( like how I read on Dooce today that asking a SAHM wether she's planning on going back to work – and see, here you have to say 'outside the home' – could be construed as being a budinsky). I mean honestly it gives me panic attacks.

    I think generally, we are all pretty nice to each other and careful of each others feelings. But I also think we need to be careful of not taking ourselves and politeness too seriously. Imagine the GG's with Don Rickles – he would have killed.

  25. I had to find video clips since I missed most of the show. His timing was way off, which made me wonder if he was nervous. Even so, the jokes were awful. Paired with his delivery, it was a disaster.

  26. I do't consider myself a softie. I'm simply bored by all the meanness – what online we call snark and in real life we call simply being an asshole.

    I just don't think it takes wit to be mean.

  27. Well you know me… I'm all about minimizing my contact with negative mojo. Maybe I couldn't take watching the Globes last night (anticipating such snark from Gervais) because I'm still recovering from my brother's festivus rant at Christmas…!

  28. I do love Ricky Gervais, but it seemed like he just didn't care last night. I thought just a few were funny, but mostly I cringed at how outdated they seemed, except for the whole Tourist thing, those were kind of funny, maybe because one of my favorite comedians was wondering why it was nominated and why in comedy. I listen to “nerdy comedians” podcasts like the nerdist and paul f tomkins, who really seem to think their humor through and only make fun of their friends and themselves:)

  29. My British ex-pat husband is always going on about how sensitive Americans are and how easily we get offended. The fact that Christian Bale is the only actor I've seen quoted defending Gervais today tells me there might be a kernel of truth there.

    I thought he was funny.

  30. Mean isn't out- not by a long shot. Unfortunately we are living during very angry times and that anger is going to continue to come out in all sorts of places. The Globes are just one of them.

  31. The funniest Ricky Gervais was last night was during his red carpet pre-show chat. He said he was hosting for the second time because “he was the lowest price”, and that “he hoped to do better this time around”. He was self-deprecating and funny, like other times I've seen him interviews. I agree, though, that the “jokes” during the show were cringe-worthy. You could hear crickets in the audience. Yikes.

    I thought Robert Downey Jr. was brilliant. Best part of the show. How did he make sexual jokes like that without being totally offensive? No idea. The delivery?

  32. Best bumper sticker ever?

    “Mean people suck”

    (Spotted on the bedroom wall belonging to a friend's teenage daughter)

  33. I do hope 2011 will be the year “nice” makes a comeback. In fact, just today my office kicked of a “Because Nice Matters” campaign. I'd like to think it is not just because of the Golden Globes, not just because of the tragedy in Arizona, and not just because too many kids and adults feel bullied and belittled every day. But rather because it really does matter, and a little reminder (even in the form of a silly little button) can go a long way.

  34. The part that I watched I thought was funny. (granted, it was only about 20-30 minutes.) what I thought was NOT funny was Robert Downey Jr. YUCK.

  35. I was just saying tonight how since I've become a mother I am such a “mush melon.” Cute commercials are now sometimes bring a tear or two to my eyes. I watched the Golden Globes alone last night because my fiance was working midnights. I found myself actually responding to Ricky Gervais, “that's just mean” and “that's not very nice.”

    To be honest, I felt like I was watching a roast on Comedy Central of a bunch of actors/actresses. Now on Comedy Central it is hilarious usually. But at the Golden Globes it's kind of tacky.

    I'd like to think that 2011 will be the year of kindness but I'm not going to get my hopes up.

  36. It is a tough balance. I'm pro-Daily show type criticism/humor, but very anti-mean. Keep hoping the mean will fade, but sadly still here…I wonder what it will take?

  37. i don't have kids, and am not soft… but i'm sick of the mean too. i didn't watch the golden globes, but part of my problem with the snark there is that it is not a roast – it's a celebration of talent, or it's supposed to be, and i just don't think mean/snarky/sarcastic should have a place at that table.

    one of the things i occasionally ponder is how people can be so mean and awful to each other in person, in the media, in politics and it is totally fine and yet there is this political correctness cloud hovering over the country, waiting to swoop down on the next poor dumb sonofab*tch who says the wrong thing or is taken out of context. *headdesk* no wonder i want to retreat to a cave somewhere…

  38. I TOTALLY AGREE!!! Been interesting to see what others' thought. You said it BEST! Thank you. I am the first to poke fun at celebrities, but this was different. It was flat out mean.

  39. “It's a celebration of talent”
    ERICA. You hit the nail on the head.

    That's what's been bugging me too.

    I keep imagining what some of his supporters I've seen online would say should they be honored at the Blogher Voices of the Year and the host opened by destroying all of their work, making fun of their ages, and generally cutting them down to size.

  40. I didn't watch it, but that little snippet is mean. Not funny at all.

    I think that's one of the big reasons people (me included) like Ellen so much. She's sooo funny, but she's never, never mean about it.

    And *confession* I enjoy Perez Hilton more now that he's stopped being mean. Yeah, it's my guilty pleasure.

  41. Gervais has become an insufferable asshole. The more famous he gets, the more of a bully he becomes.

  42. I generally don't watch those shows. I like him, but it seems that a lot of comedians now think they have to be either mean, or demeaning or vulgar. To me, a brilliant comedian, can use his wit and intelligence in lew of insults, the f bomb or dick jokes a la (Rodney Dangerfield- he only disrespected himself LOL- Bill Cosby et al)

  43. There's smart mean and dumb mean. Jon Stewart is smart mean, and it works. Gervais was dumb mean and it didn't. Conan O'Brien is somewhere in between, but at least he asks people to stop picking on Justin Beiber. Rosie O'Donnell was once dubbed the “Queen of Nice,” and that didn't turn out so great.

    Is it the Year of Nice? The pendulum swings back and forth decade after decade and this year, it's heading back toward nice. Maybe when the recession is over, it'll go back the other way, presumably because we'll all be too busy working to care.

  44. I don't think mean was ever in. You can be funny, dark funny, sarcastic, etc. but mean? that is sooo passe

    (mainly cause as you rightly point out, there is too much of it going round)

  45. I'm hesitant to take the side of mean-spirited, but I think roasts and snark have a much needed place in entertainment. And I thought some of his jokes were really funny. The Tourist ones especially.

    Also thought Robert Downey Jr's barb was fantastic.

    I think timing has as much to do with the reaction as Gervais' go-for-the-jugular brand of humor. His jokes last year weren't much different in tone. This year though, a week after a deeply tragic shooting in Arizona that has us all talking about rhetoric and respect, the whole thing seemed more cutting than clever.

    Then there's the audience.

    Did you see many smiles when they introduced him … before he started his act? I didn't. I think the celebrity audience knew what they were in for.

  46. And here I am thinking Natalie was the portait of graciousness and charm. She thanked her grandma for making her mom!

  47. I can usually handle mean humor – and everyone is always telling me I would find him hilarious. I just didn't find him all that funny. I didn't get it. .

  48. I totally see what you mean but I did think Gervais was funny. However, I enjoyed the humor of Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin at the Oscars so much more. I think it takes more talent to be funny without being mean.

  49. My husband had an interesting point about this. Celebrities go to these shows and get lots of pats on the back, make millions of dollars…. And they can't laugh at themselves? I do think Gervais's humor can be a bit harsh at times (I had to look away repeatedly while watching the British Office), but I think he was pretty funny to turn this thing on its end.

  50. Jeana, I guess I've watched roasts that seem mean, but they come from a place of deep respect and love. And they always end with “…but you're awesome.”

    Looking back on this a week later, I felt like Ricky Gervais was saying, “I hate you all and you all suck and this show is a joke.” How do you have a sense of humor about that?

  51. I think Ricky Gervais' “mean” is only to be taken in context, which in my opinion translates to DON'T BOOK HIM FOR THE GOLDEN GLOBES.

    I find him hilarious in his stand-up specials and cartoon, but he was doing his shtick LIVE at an inappropriate venue and his material had to be about People who are fallible and sensitive artistic types. Then it was freely aired for millions to see. Not a good mix at all.

    I'm hoping the unfortunate booking of him at the GGs and response to the mean streak of his monologue result in people appreciating a little more kindness. A little more 'silly funny' rather than 'mean funny'. I have high hopes for a pleasant 2011.

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