Tina Fey and Amy Poehler possess two of the most distinctive voices in comedy. But in their third and last Golden Globes hosting stint, they channeled the once-comforting tones of scandal-plagued Bill Cosby with scathing dueling impressions destined to echo far beyond Sunday’s awards show broadcast on NBC.
One thing came through loud and clear from start to finish, as the hosting team skewered America’s ex-dad, "The Interview" fiasco and Hollywood sexism: Fey and Poehler were unwilling to coast through their final go-around. They delivered their boldest, most memorable – and likely most controversial – Globes performance.
Fey set the sharp tone by gleefully greeting the ballroom full of "despicable spoiled, minimally talented brats" – a reference to producer Scott Rudin’s unflattering assessment of Angelina Jolie, as revealed in the hacked Sony emails.
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In a line that could have come out of her old “Weekend Update” gig with Poehler on “Saturday Night Live,” Fey heralded the Globes as an opportunity to recognize “all the movies North Korea was okay with.” The duo invoked “The Interview” mess throughout, via a running gag featuring Margaret Cho as a dour North Korean film fan magazine reporter clad like Kim Jong-un.
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Fey knocked Hollywood unrealistic beauty standards by mocking Steve Carell’s daily two-hour stint in the make-up chair for his role as killer John du Pont in “Foxcatcher”: “It took me three hours today to prepare for my role as ‘human woman,’” she said. Amid Russell Crowe’s recent comments about older actresses refusing to act their age, Poehler quipped, “’Boyhood’ proves there are still great roles for women over 40 – as long as you get hired when you’re under 40.”
That line got applause. But Poehler drew gasps when, while summarizing “Into the Woods,” she invoked the numerous sexual assault accusations against Cosby by women who charge the comedian drugged them. “Sleeping Beauty just thought she was getting coffee with Bill Cosby,” Poehler said.
She and Fey then traded imitations of Cosby, in full Jell-O pudding pop commercial mode: “I put the pills in the people, the people did not want the pills in them,” Fey-as-Cosby bellowed.
Then in was Poehler’s turn: “I got the pills in the bathroom, and I put them in the people.”
It marked a daring bit by Fey and Poehler, who were enlisted to host the Golden Globes two years ago, in part, as a gentler alternative to Ricky Gervais’ 2010-2012 trilogy of irreverence, which rankled some of the Hollywood elite.
On Sunday, the roles were reversed, with Gervais proving almost subtle when presenting an award, teasing the “over-privileged” crowd and taking a thinly veiled swipe at Cosby. “If we’ve learned one thing, it’s that famous people are above the law – as it should be,” a grinning Gervais said, assuming his faux pompous celebrity persona, beverage in hand.
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Fey and Poehler’s most audacious Globes performance could be seen as a reflection of the material provided by a tough few months for the entertainment business, or perhaps a desire to exit by turning up the heat from roast to broil.
Either way, they again set the buzz bar high for the Oscars, to be hosted next month by first timer Neil Patrick Harris. Along with Gervais, Fey and Poehler made the Golden Globes matter – not just as a bellwether of Academy Awards winners, but as a major TV event that promises edge, unpredictability and laughs.
There’s no word on next year’s host (Jimmy Fallon? Stephen Colbert? Chelsea Handler?). But Fey and Poehler solidified their spot Sunday as an act impossible to imitate.
Jere Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multimedia NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.