When the Speaker Turns a Toast into a Roast

Sunday night we watched the Golden Globe awards spiral downward into a verbal slapfest. Ricky Gervais, the emcee for the evening, pushed the envelope and went beyond edgy to offensive. A comedian is supposed to be funny, witty, and a little risque. However, as a public speaker, Gervais seemed to be oblivious to the fact that he was speaking in public. Rather than being funny, his comments and barbs were insulting and at times downright mean. Although others may disagree, an awards ceremony should honor the winners while using wit and humor to poke fun at the recipients and film industry. Think Billy Crystal. What makes the commentary funny is that there is a kernel of truth in the joke which makes the audience laugh. When introducing actor Robert Downey Jr, Gervais  said, "But many of you in this room probably know him best from such facilities as the Betty Ford Clinic and Los Angeles County Jail." Ouch. As a listener, it didn't feel good and it didn't make me laugh. It felt like an attack. The real humor was missing because the comments lacked a lightness.

Downey shot back, "Aside from the fact that it's been hugely mean-spirited with mildly sinister undertones, I'd say the vibe of the show has been pretty good so far, wouldn't you?"  As a coach, I must say that this was a good comeback. It was quick, clever, and he acknowledged the elephant in the room. I've attended roasts at the Friar's Club in New York City and they can be brutal. But one thing is different. Most of the jokes are funny and there's a lot of laughter. When hosting an awards ceremony or even a roast, it's not about the emcee. It's about the honorees.

Gervais was not alone in his bad behavior. After accepting the Cecil B. DeMille award, Robert De Niro  hurled a zinger at the foreign press.  " I'm sorry more members of the Hollywood Foreign Press aren't with us tonight, but most of them got deported right before the show. Along with most of the waiters. And Javier Bardem." De Niro was not gracious. This kind of poor judgment is exactly the kind of communication that causes people to lose their jobs. As a public speaker, your presentation is your brand. And your words will live on long after you exit the stage.