BEVERLY HILLS - Comedian Ricky Gervais promised to be "nice" but got naughty with Hollywood's top stars on Sunday upon his return as host of the Golden Globe awards.
The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which gives out the film and TV honors, saw its trophy tarnished. Oscar winner Sean Penn took a Gervais hit over his secret interview with Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, and "Passion of the Christ" director Mel Gibson drew a cheeky comparison to comedian Bill Cosby, charged last month with felony sexual assault.
"A few years ago on this show I made a joke about Mel Gibson getting a bit drunk and saying a few unsavory things," Gervais said about Gibson's anti-Semitic statements made in 2009.
"Listen, I still feel a bit bad for it, ...I want to say something nice about Mel before he comes out, so okay, here you go: I'd rather have a drink with him in his hotel room tonight, than with Bill Cosby."
Gervais was referring to allegations of sexual assault, and one criminal charge, against the legendary, 78-year-old comedian by more than 50 women in incidents dating back to the 1970s.
Nobody in an audience that included the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Denzel Washington, Jane Fonda, and Taraji P. Henson, was safe. Gervais opened by hushing their applause and saying"Shut up, you disgusting, pill-popping, sexual deviant scum." His swipe at Penn, who was not in attendance, came shortly after.
"I am going to do this monologue and then go into hiding. Not even Sean Penn will find me," Gervais joked, taking a swig of beer on stage and labeling the actor, "Snitch." "Relax, I'm going to try and be nice," he said after a few quips.
"I've changed. Not as much as Bruce Jenner, obviously, now Caitlyn Jenner, of course." Gervais created the smash hit comedy "The Office" and has built a career with his razor-sharp take on people's foibles - even those of the stars.
In past Golden Globe hosting gigs, he has joked about his penis size and insulted Madonna, Jodie Foster and British royal Kate Middleton.
On Sunday, "Joy" actress and winner Jennifer Lawrence, 25, was pilloried for her $52 million paycheck and Gervais talked of keeping his own Golden Globe statuette for "The Office" by his bed to use as a sex toy. "And they asked me to host four times!" Gervais said with a big smile.
Early reviews of the host, and the overall show, were tepid. "Taking a bit of air out of Hollywood types' egos is one thing. But Gervais wasn't taking down Hollywood: He was telling viewers at home they were stupid even to be watching," Time magazine said.
After he last hosted in 2012, many Hollywood watchers thought he might never be asked to return. The HFPA turned to Tina Fey and Amy Poehler to host for three years, and when they did not return for 2016, Gervais was asked back.
He quickly sought to put the Hollywood awards in perspective. "Listen," he told the stars, "if you do win tonight, remember no one cares about that award as much as you do.