But at the start of the Globes, as he complained about seeing all the glory of creating The Office go to NBC's Steve Carrell – then upped the ante by suggesting the American version has jumped the shark – a viewer might have realized how tough it is to tell when Gervais actually is joking. I suddenly worried that his faint air of damp anxiety might turn out in this situation to be genuine flop sweat.
Gervais's often discomfiting humor – the fatuous smile, the darting eyes, the giggle, the tinily precise, perfect digs at others and, yes, at himself – operates on the tricky notion that you'll like him most when he's most unlikable. Yet here he was in a room of stars dressed to the nines, with grand projects to promote and wearing ribbons in support of Haiti.
It was as if the ugliest, whiniest mutt in the shelter thought it had a chance of being loved. On those stiffly uncompromising terms, Gervais managed to be very funny, although whenever he came to the podium the Globes suddenly turned into the Gervaisees – the man's own special show on his own special planet. Not a bad thing, necessarily. Three favorite moments:
His opener was an extended riff mocking stars' inflated sense of importance to ordinary people: "You can be in the third world, and you get a glimpse of a Hollywood star, and it makes you feel better. You can be a little child, a little Asian child, with no possessions, and no money, and you see a picture of Angelina Jolie and you think, 'Mummy!'"
Introducing Halle Berry and ticking off her most famous roles, he said: "In X-Men she used her powers to control the elements. In Catwoman she used the power of being able to wash herself all over," then mimicked a cat cleaning itself behind the ears. "Brilliant."
With Paul McCartney in the audience, Gervais first saluted him as a fellow Brit, then joked that the ex-Beatle had been forced to fly coach to save money – a not very kind reference to his expensive divorce from Heather Mills. When the audience both gasped and laughed, Gervais sheepishly fingered the Haiti ribbon on his lapel, as if to save himself from disapproval. "Oh," he muttered distractedly. "My thing." Brilliant.