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Was Ricky Gervais over the line? How about Sarah Palin? When public utterances are little cause for concern

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Posted: Saturday, January 22, 2011 12:00 am

As host of the Golden Globes, Ricky Gervais said some of the stars of "Sex and the City" are old enough to have been on "Bonanza." He introduced Bruce Willis as, "Ashton Kutcher's dad."

He said of Hugh Hefner: "There's been some great new TV dramas this year, like 'Boardwalk Empire' and 'The Walking Dead.' Talking of the walking dead, congratulations to Hugh Hefner, who is getting married at age 84 to 24-year-old beauty Crystal Harris."

The howls began. Gervais was vicious, salacious, raunchy, said the pundits.

Even the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which sponsors the awards show, seemed indignant.

HFPA president Phil Berk said that Gervais "definitely crossed the line. Some of the things were totally unacceptable."

Sniff, sniff.

As if the HPFA is much more than a glad-handing, self-promoting and Moet-splashing group of Hollywood hacks.

As if they didn't know that Gervais loves to dance on the razor's edge.

He is a comedian, for crying out loud. He is hosting a psuedo-awards ceremony in a room of half-sloshed celebrities for an audience that should know the program is definitely not "Sesame Street."

True, we may in fact be living, as the Eagles' Don Henley said, in "a graceless age."

We are enveloped in ceaseless and discourse, in newspapers, on Facebook, YouTube, on the radio and so and on and on.

No doubt the babble is part of our gracelessness.

Critics are quick to howl, so quick to react. And quick to slam indiscriminately.

Sarah Palin was pilloried for verbally instigating violence in Arizona. How absurd. Politicians have been ranting, raving and insulting since the Romans. How can Sarah Palin be responsible for a distant stranger's psychosis?

Stir things up is what politicians do, and sometimes with a personal bent.

The Brits (and let's not forget that Ricky Gervais is among them) are notorious for their put-downs. Consider this line uttered by British leader Benjamin Disraeli of his rival, William Gladstone:

"If Gladstone fell into the Thames, that would be a misfortune. If anybody pulled him out, that, I suppose, would be a calamity."

We Americans aren't so genteel, either.

"An empty suit that goes to funerals and plays golf," was how Ross Perot described Dan Quayle.

A new civility supposedly settled over Washington this week like a gossamer shroud. If it did, it won't last. Nor should it.

In America, as in England, we like our politicians full-throated and colorful. We like to criticize them with the same creative zeal.

And we have a tradition of applauding comedians of varied stripe, some rather tame, some rather not.

Gervais clearly belongs to the latter camp.

At an event so inflated with egos and faux-gravitas, we found much of Gervais' shtick at the Golden Globes wickedly entertaining.

He even threw a jab at the Hollywood foreign press group, his employer for the evening, coupling the insult with one aimed at the movie "The Tourist":

"But ('The Tourist') must be good because it's nominated, so shut up, OK? And I'd like to crush this ridiculous rumor that the only reason 'The Tourist' was nominated was so that the foreign press could hang out with Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. That was not the only reason; they also accepted bribes."

At least Hugh Hefner has a sense of humor. After the show, he tweeted that it, "was a blast. They made fun of everyone, including Crystal & me. A great night."

Neither Gervais nor Palin incited anything. They weren't anonymous. They were not mean-spirited.

In America, comedians should be allowed to comedians. Politicians should be allowed to speak their minds without being blamed for the acts of the insane.

And if we disagree about that, isn't it splendid that we have that right?

— The Lodi News-Sentinel

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