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Ricky Gervais rich with putdowns at the Golden Globes

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Updated: January 16, 2012 12:27PM

On a Golden Globes telecast Sunday night with few surprises, host Ricky Gervais wasted no time and started with the insults right from the get-go.

He started with the show itself, its sponsor — the Hollywood Foreign Press Association — and NBC, the presenting network.

Gervais, who caught flak last year for his many insulting remarks, said the audiences on TV and in the Beverly Hilton Hotel ballroom were getting “Britain’s biggest comedian, hosting the world’s second-biggest awards show, on America’s third-biggest network. Sorry, forgive me. It’s fourth, it’s fourth.”

Meanwhile, the big winners were “The Artist,” with three awards, including best comedy/musical, and “The Descendants,” which took best drama and actor.

Later, Gervais went on to say “the Golden Globes are just like the Oscars, but without all that esteem. The Golden Globes are to the Oscars what Kim Kardashian is to Kate Middleton. A bit louder, a bit trashier, a bit drunker and more easily bought — allegedly.”

Gervais also took the opportunity to bring up an old Hollywood joke — and give it new life.

“Who needs the Oscars? Not me and not Eddie Murphy. He walked out on them,” said Gervais, reminding everyone of Murphy’s quick exit from the 2007 Academy Awards after his category (best supporting actor) was announced and he didn’t win for “Dreamgirls.”

Tweaking Murphy for the bad luck or bad choice of starring in the criticallypanned “Norbit” — released during the voting for that year’s Oscars — Gervais quipped, “But when the man who said ‘Yes’ to ‘Norbit’ says no to you, you know you’re in trouble.”

As for the awards themselves, there were few true surprises from the HFPA voters — a group often criticized, given the less-than lofty journalistic credentials of a significant portion of its membership.

One surprise did have a Chicago connection: Kelsey Grammer’s win for best actor in a TV series/drama for “Boss,” totally filmed in Chicago and slated to return for a second season later this year.

The actor best known for his comedic roles, especially “Frasier,” beat out a prestigious lineup: Steve Buscemi (“Boardwalk Empire”), Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad”), Jeremy Irons (“The Borgias”) and Damian Lewis (“Homeland”).

Grammer himself seemed happily taken aback and appeared to not have prepared any remarks, but did manage to thank key “Boss” producers and his new wife, Kayte, adding, “it’s been a magnificent year.”

While most of the presenters or winners did not go after Gervais, as Robert Downey Jr. did last year, when he called the British comic “hugely mean-spirited,” Madonna didn’t let Gervais get away with his introduction of her.

The host had said she’s “always in Vogue, she’s the Material Girl and she’s just ‘Like a Virgin,’ ” rolling his eyes and exhaling a big cough.

Madonna calmly replied, “Ricky, if I’m just like a virgin, why don’t you come over here and do something about it? I haven’t kissed a girl in a few years — at least not on TV.”

Gervais missed the opportunity for a huge laugh — by not taking her up on it.

Another “payback” moment came after Gervais made a crack while introducing Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek. It was bleeped by the network, thanks the seven-second delay to prevent inappropriate language being aired.

Banderas came onstage and launched into a spirited retort in rapid-fire Spanish, leading fellow Spanish speaker Hayek to interrupt him with, “Ricky, I don’t understand him, either!”

Gerard Butler did make a safe swipe at Gervais, earlier in the show by saying, “The only thing worse than not hearing your name as a nominee [at the Globes] is hearing your name mentioned by the host.”

Gervais himself continued with his tweaking ways as he introduced presenter and Plainfield native Melissa McCarthy by reminding everyone of her “Bridesmaids” character “defecating in a toilet,” adding that it “was probably less demeaning that what many of you here had to do to make it in show business.”

As for presenters’ funny moments, one of the biggest laughs came from Seth Rogen when he entered with the beautiful Kate Beckinsale — claiming he was “trying to conceal a massive erection.”

When Madonna’s name was called for winning the Golden Globe for best original film song in her movie “W.E.,” she seemed to be unprepared, but made a good comeback, referring to the previous winner, French native Ludovic Bource, who won best score for “The Artist.”

“Um, um, I’m not French. So I have no excuse,” said the entertainment superstar, joking about her mind momentarily going blank.

Ever the suave humorist, George Clooney, nominated in both acting and directing categories Sunday, got a big laugh when he walked onstage swinging a cane to introduce his good pal Brad Pitt’s film, “Moneyball.” The cane was a reference to Pitt needing one for real after a recent skiing accident.

Clooney couldn’t resist joking about the well-known practice of stars imbibing at what has long been touted as “Hollywood’s biggest party,” saying he had to immediately return the cane to Pitt, because “he can’t make it to the bar otherwise.”

Perhaps the most clever award presentation came from married actors William H. Macy, who stars in the Chicago-set “Shameless,” and his wife, Felicity Huffman of “Desperate Housewives,” who harmonized a witty duet about the losing nominees. They ended their little ditty by warbling “it’s an honor just to be nominated — blah, blah, blah,” skewering that politically correct line that actors always offer when asked about awards.

Another surprise win was Matt LeBlanc for basically playing himself on “Episodes” — beating out Alec Baldwin (“30 Rock”), David Duchovny (“Californication”), Johnny Galecki (“The Big Bang Theory”) and Thomas Jane (“Hung”). He admitted the writers for his show “wrote a Matt LeBlanc a lot more interesting than the real one — I wish I was like him.”

Considering the awards were presented on the eve of the Martin Luther King holiday, it was especially poignant when Octavia Spencer accepted the best supporting film actress prize for playing a maid in “The Help.” She paid tribute to King’s legacy by reminding the audience he had honored the work of people in “domestic service” and all people who worked hard for a living.

Another touching moment came when the legendary Sidney Poitier presented Morgan Freeman with the Cecil B. de Mille Lifetime Achievement Award. While Poitier made the appropriately serious comments about how right it was for the acclaimed actor to be receiving the honor Poitier himself had won, Oscar and Golden Globe winner Helen Mirren took a comedic turn with her half of the presentation.

The actress kidded Freeman that while he had “made more than 50 films, he only has made one with me,” with “Red.” Mirren then led into a montage of Freeman films, or as she put it, “those films I didn’t make with Morgan.”

A big part of the importance of the Golden Globes is its timing. Though only voted on by 90-some HFPA members, the Globes can be a big boost for films vying for Oscars.

Along those lines, Jean Dujardin’s best actor award for a film comedy or musical greatly improved his Oscar chances. Ditto for the film itself, which won the Globe for best film comedy or musical. With its additional win for best score, the three Globe wins by “The Artist” make it likely to receive multiple Oscar nominations when they are announced Jan. 24.

Michelle Williams’ best actress win in a motion picture/comedy or musical for “My Week With Marilyn” also boosts her Oscar chances. The same could be said for Christopher Plummer and Octavia Spencer’s supporting acting Globes for “Beginners” and “The Help,” Martin Scorsese’s directing win for “Hugo” and Steven Spielberg’s best animated film award for “The Adventures of Tintin.”

Given she has received so many honors for her acting, Meryl Streep rarely needs a “boost” in the awards world, but her best actress Golden Globe for film/drama for “The Iron Lady,” especially in what she noted was an extremely strong year for women’s performances, means she has a good chance to win that elusive third Academy Award.

Another frequent award winner, George Clooney, also likely didn’t need that Golden Globe win in the drama film category to cinch his shot at an Oscar nomination this year, but that now is almost a certainty — as is the case for ”The Descendants,” considering it won the evening’s capstone award: best motion picture/drama.

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