Much of Ricky Gervais' success – and a big reason the Golden Globes is must-watch TV on Sunday – rests in that he keeps things fast and funny, with little concern for what anybody else thinks.
He could have listened to others and endlessly milked his original UK version of "The Office," but wisely moved on after a dozen episodes and a special. Ditto for "Extras," which used celebrity cameos to tackle the superficiality of stardom and gaining fame through too many cheap laughs.
Gervais should seriously consider sticking to his formula: Declare victory and leave after Sunday’s Golden Globes – or risk becoming a parody of himself.
Don't get us wrong: His great stints over the last two years punctured the Hollywood egos mushrooming in every corner of the Beverly Hilton. Gervais knows he’s there to entertain the anonymous folks at home, not the big names in the crowd. His approach takes on an almost performance art aspect – he’s running the game while mocking the players and the absurdity of awards season.
His takedowns last year of everyone from Mel Gibson ("I like a drink as much as the next man – unless the next man is Mel Gibson.") to Bruce Willis ("Please welcome Ashton Kutcher's dad!”) to Hollywood Foreign Press Association head Philip Berk ("I just had to help him off the toilet and pop his teeth in.”) sparked a controversy that's built anticipation over the last year leading to Sunday night's show.
We expect Gervais to come out swinging. But he would be wise to remember that even Ali and Frazier only fought three times.
Gervais' strength comes, in part, in the unpredictably of a man who is justifiably proud that he’s “never really succumbed to peer pressure.” But playing the same game too long could edge him dangerously close to his worst nightmare: becoming the catchphrase spouting character from the show within a show on "Extras" ("Are you having a laugh?").
Gervais, who once swore he’d never return to the Golden Globes podium, has been less than definitive on possible a fourth go-around next year: "This is – no one believes me now – this will be the last time,” he recently told NBC’s Matt Lauer. “The last time for a while, at least. "
In a little over a decade, Gervais has created comedy not only on "The Office" and "Extras," but in podcasts and animated shows with writing partner Stephen Merchant and their oddball pal Karl Pilkington. He's made Pilkington the star of an unlikely comedy travel show, and cast a dwarf to star in his latest effort, "Life's Too Short." He's appeared in some movies (including the underappreciated "The Invention of Lying") and has offered a variation on standup that isn’t about telling jokes as much as offering observations on everything from Humpty Dumpty to Noah's Ark, with much unprintable material in between.
Gervais is a comic shark who thrives on constant motion, swimming through the shallow pool of celebrity, with no one sure where he'll strike next. If he finds himself looking for new waters, hey, there are always the Oscars...
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.