Gervais upsets Hollywood celebs at Golden Globes
Robert Downey Jr hits back onstage, while viewers wonder why host Gervais disappeared for an hour
Ricky Gervais warned the Hollywood Foreign Press Association that he wouldn't hold back for his second stint as the host of the Golden Globes award ceremony - and he was true to his word, prompting denunciations in the US entertainment press and from his hapless celebrity targets on the night.
"It's going to be a night of partying and heavy drinking. Or, as Charlie Sheen calls it, breakfast," said Gervais in his brilliant opening monologue (see video above) - brilliant if you like your humour close to the bone.
Observing that there had been a preponderance of 3D movies released this year, Gervais added: "It seems like everything this year was three-dimensional. Except the characters in The Tourist."
Gervais then apologised for jumping on the bandwagon in slating The Tourist: "I haven't even seen The Tourist... Who has?"
Gervais was doing an excellent impression of David Brent, his socially awkward boss from The Office, the series that made him. And if the people who were paying him for his appearance thought they would be let off the hook, they thought wrong.
"I'd also like to quash the rumours that the only reason The Tourist was nominated was so that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association can hang out with Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. That is rubbish, that is not the only reason. They also accepted bribes."
Gervais was referring to an actual, recent HFPA bribery scandal.
Johnny Depp took the ribbing well, while Robert de Niro and Halle Berry roared with laughter. Alec Baldwin appeared to wipe a tear from his eye.
But Gervais's most daring joke of the night was probably one concerning Tom Cruise: "Also not nominated, I Love You Phillip Morris. Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor. Two heterosexual actors pretending to be gay, so the complete opposite of some famous scientologists then."
After a collective intake of breath, Gervais went on: "Probably... My lawyers helped me with the wording of that joke."
Gervais also targeted Robert Downey Jr, who is renowned for his brushes with the law and addiction, by saying: "Many of you in this room probably know him best from such facilities as the Betty Ford Clinic and Los Angeles County Jail."
Downey Jr shot back when he came onstage, saying: "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?"
Gervais then disappeared from the awards show for more than an hour, prompting viewers to take to Twitter to speculate that he was being tortured for crimes against Hollywood and to demand his return. The 'hashtag' #freerickygervais became one of the site's most popular topics.
Finally Gervais returned to offer what many saw as a somewhat tamer presentational style. That didn't stop him from upsetting the actor and comedian Tim Allen, who he introduced onstage by suggesting his achievements were unimpressive.
Tom Hanks, who along with Allen was presenting an award, said: "We can recall back when Ricky Gervais was a slightly chubby but very kind comedian."
"Neither of which he is now," added Allen.
One man who had no problem with Gervais was Paul Giamatti, who won best actor in a comedy or musical for his performance in Barney's Version.
Asked what he thought of Gervais's efforts, he said the Englishman was "very darkly funny. Kind of nasty. Mordantly funny. I thought he was great."
However, the general reaction in the entertainment press has been that a "snarky" Gervais went too far. The Los Angeles Times said that Gervais's opening remarks "set a corrosive tone for this year's ceremony that was reflected by both onstage repartee and in backstage opprobrium".
Pop Eater, meanwhile, suggested that Gervais shouldn't have gone for the people he went for because they can't take a joke: "There's a reason every Oscar host gives Jack Nicholson hell every year - it's because Jack laughs back from behind his shades and knows how to play along."
But perhaps the most telling joke of the evening was Gervais's last, when, in true Hollywood style, he thanked everyone for everything, but then ruined it all by adding, and "thank you God for making me an atheist".