The British are coming! The British are coming!
Actually, at this point, with the announcement Monday that Eddie Izzard will be hosting the 25th Annual Film Independent Spirit Awards on March 5, Paul Revere has become positively passé as Hollywood surrenders without a shot to the latest British Host Invasion.
Last year it was Russell Brand at MTV, last week it was “Office” creator Ricky Gervais as the first host of the Golden Globes in 15 years, and now it’s Izzard’s turn to fly the Union Jack over Tinseltown.
Despite once being called “the funniest man in pretty much all of the known universe” by one critic, despite an HBO special and various late-night appearances, Izzard, whose latest tour hits L.A. this week, is better known to most Americans as an actor – the FX series “The Riches,” the “Ocean’s Eleven” franchise and his voiceovers in the “Narnia” films — than for his pitched and rambling absurdist comedy, much of it conducted in drag.
Which means on March 5, IFC viewers at home and a giant tent full of hard-partying Hollywood stars won’t know what hit them.
That’s kinda what happened in 2008, when Brit Russell Brand shocked the sensibilities of the MTV Awards with his irreverent and provocative asides on George W. Bush — whom he called a “retard” and that “in England, he wouldn’t be trusted with a pair of scissors” — and the Jonas Brothers’ purity rings.
Outrage and the resulting death threats is one thing, but surging viewership is another. No wonder the former junkie and self-confessed sex addict, who became a movie star off appearing in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” in the interim, was asked back to host the 2009 MTV Awards, the highest rated in years. Now he’s got a multi-picture deal, eats at Dominick’s in West Hollywood and is engaged to songstress Katy Perry.
Still hate the hair, but well done, Russell – cause that’s the thing — Brits have been pillaging America for years onstage and on air.
Brits are in love with America’s largesse, and Americans seem to love to be made fun of by people who — based on an Empire they actually helped dismantle, the stage directions of ole Bill Shakespeare, the witticisms of Oscar Wilde and the tunes of John, Paul, George and Ringo, among others — they trick themselves into feeling less intelligent, sophisticated and canny than.
We forget that it was Ed Sullivan who made the Beatles superstars and gave ravenous working class boys like the Rolling Stones, the Who, Led Zeppelin and later the Sex Pistols, the Clash, Oasis, the Streets, the Libertines and now the Cribs, who are on a West Coast tour this week, the keys to the American Kingdom.
It was a Dallas PBS station in the mid-’70s that made Monty Python the worldwide sensation that they nearly did not become after a meandering couple of seasons on British TV. "Pop Idol" may have made record company hack Simon Cowell just another well-known git with an extremely punchable face, America and “American Idol” made him an international icon of the mean-spirited.
Then again, success isn’t always measured by the same standards after it has passed enough event horizons.
Almost no one cared to hear about the Morgans, if recent box office was any indication, but that hasn’t diminished the cynically self deprecating Hugh Grant as one of the all time truly great talk-show guests. And she might not be able to open an envelope let alone a movie on her own, but the naughty yet prim and proper poise of Kate Beckinsale straddles those late night couches almost as well as … you get the point I’m making.
In fact, the two could be some of the more upmarket guests on Jeremy Kyle, an incendiary UK daytime talk show host who’s making his guttersniping way to America this year.
While it’s true that A.A. Gill and Christopher Hitchens are the only thing worth reading in “Vanity Fair” now that the late Dominick Dunne is gone, you really don’t trust any TV cooks other than Jamie Oliver and the hellish Gordon Ramsey, and that Echo and the Bunnymen and the Smiths records sound just as good and more current today than when they came out in 1984, Britain’s so-called Special Relationship with America is still rather one-sided.
London, not New York, may be the true financial capitol of the world, but let’s not fool ourselves: the U.K. is still primarily, as George Orwell noted in "1984," Airstrip One in the Pax Americana — and everyone in Britain thinks Tony Blair is a poodle while Stateside he’s treated like a statesmen.
Perhaps it is because Britain realized after WWII that it had to become the Greece to America’s Rome (to avoid becoming Britain’s Britain to America’s Rome) that Craig Ferguson is by far the funniest and most refreshing thing on late night TV today. The Scotsman certainly has the braveheart to talk truth to power — at least he did in the middle of the NBC Conan/Leno debacle.
The true saving grace is that Brits, who are granted the wherewithal to seem extremely polite while being terribly rude — I will at this point, in the interest of the American need for full journalistic disclosure, cop to my own Albion heritage — don’t take themselves anywhere nearly as seriously as Americans do.
Don’t believe me?
Consider that Ricky Gervais thought he was being “nice and cheeky” at the Golden Globes the other week with his pokes at the sacred cow likes of Paul McCartney for his costly divorce, Colin Farrell for his drinking and Mel Gibson for his 2006 arrest.
Gibson was warned that an on-air beer sipping Ricky would introduce the actor, who was arrested three and a half years ago on a DUI with a tirade of anti-Semitic slurs as a soundtrack, with “I like a drink as much as the next man — unless the next man is Mel Gibson.”
Even with the heads-up, that nice-and-cheeky for the affable Gervais was more caustic and honest than most American comics would ever be. As a rule, Americans worship celebrity for its intrinsically gravitational sense of success. On the whole, Brits like celebrity for a bit of fun, an almost unshakable belief that it’s all doomed anyway, because all is never anything but rotten in the state of Denmark no matter how many blockbusters you’ve been in.
Now, ask yourself, America — who would you honestly rather watch?
You wait — the Brits are here, and if Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin stumble, it’s going to be Rule Britannia at the Oscars next year.
About bloody time!