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Ricky Gervais' Golden game plan? Roast, rib, drink

Dale Roe

Dust off your smoking jacket and wash up the brandy glasses it's almost time for the Golden Globes.

The annual awards ceremony, broadcast live Jan. 17, promises to be a relatively swinging affair. It should sport a "celebrity roast"-like quality, but not like the hilariously profane Comedy Central affairs that have desensitized us. No, I'm thinking back to the "Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts" of my youth.

"I want to host it more like someone from the Rat Pack would host it," master of ceremonies Ricky Gervais said in a conference call with television reporters, "just off the cuff and just playing the room and having fun with the people and roasting a few of the A-listers. I'm going to strike a blow for the common man who can't afford, you know, laser surgery and teeth whitening and hair transplants and Armani underpants." In other words, expect a lot of good-natured ribbing but little in the way of pre-recorded shtick or song and dance numbers.

In a theme reminiscent of his turn at the 2009 Emmys, Gervais says he plans to gently target "anyone who's younger and thinner and richer and more attractive than me. ('The Office's') Rainn Wilson is safe again; Steve Carrell's on the cusp."

Gervais created and starred to critical acclaim in the original, British version of "The Office" and the HBO series "Extras." He played to more lukewarm reception in the motion pictures "Ghost Town" and "The Invention of Lying" (though most movie fans will probably recognize him as the curator from "Night at the Museum"). He's funny in all of those things, but Gervais is at his best in improvisational settings — so much so that his popular, impromptu podcasts with creative partner Stephen Merchant and sidekick Karl Pilkington are being turned into an animated series for HBO (and if you haven't seen it, check out austin360.com/tvblog for a hilarious viral video featuring Gervais and "Sesame Street's" Elmo).

So don't expect a lot of advance preparation from Gervais, who thinks (and is probably right) that he is best in small doses. "I want people to feel that anything can happen," Gervais says. "I want to be reactive. It's a party. You don't plan what you're going to say when you go to a party down to the sentence structure. I'm going to keep it loose and fun."

The casual hosting gig — it's the first time the Globes have had a master of ceremonies since 1995 — seems to be a perfect fit for the dry, slyly condescending British comic. He understands his role ("I don't want to overwhelm the show") and he's grateful for the leeway the producers have given him. As he tells it, they said he could show up an hour before the broadcast and gave him permission to say whatever he feels like saying. "It's live, so they couldn't say anything else, really," he notes. "That's the exciting and the scary bit."

How will that translate to an evening of live television?

"Over the three hours, my tie's going to come off and I'm going to get drunker and drunker," he jokes. "So I don't know what the last hour's going to be like, but I hope the first hour's going to be watchable." Come to think of it, Gervais mentions the drinking so many times during the call that he might not be joking, which brings us back to Dean Martin. "They said I could show up and say what I wanted and get drunk. So it really is my kind of gig."

Things that aren't Gervais' kind of gig: other awards shows. "This is the only one I could have ever said yes to, in all honesty," he admitted. "No one wants to see me mucking around at the Oscars — they're there to know if they've won the most important award of their life, you know? It's a pretty thankless task."

Gervais hopes the ceremony, put on by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association ("a small, mysterious group — they're like bank managers by day, but at night they put on goat heads and walk around caves," he says), proves to be a good time for audience, attendees and host alike. "I want it to be interesting and I want it to be different. So of course I'd rather have it go well than to go badly, but if it goes badly, that'll be interesting, too, won't it?"

Hmm. Well, if things get too awkward, he could always share a cocktail with Elmo. I'm thinking Fuzzy Navel.