Jerrod Carmichael Made The Golden Globes Cringe. That Was The Point

Photo: Rich Polk/NBC/Getty Images.
Jerrod Carmichael had the hardest gig in Hollywood last night. Not only was the comedian tasked with helming The 80th Annual Golden Globes, an awards show that didn’t air last year because its governing body, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), was finally found out for being corrupt and racist, he was also supposed to make people laugh. Towing the line between calling out the HFPA for its past indiscretions, pointing out the absurdity and hypocrisy of the industry, and still having fun cracking jokes and celebrating the talent in the room may have seemed like an impossible task. It’s one that Carmichael didn’t pull off flawlessly, but he did a damn good job. Carmichael approached the show with the irreverence — and brutally honest discomfort — it deserved. 
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Carmichael’s opening monologue was his strongest showing of the night. He came out swinging and immediately addressed the elephant in the room. "I'll tell you why I'm here,” Carmichael said slowly, delivering each line in his signature nonchalance, like he’s telling a friend a tale over wine, not hosting an awards broadcast with time constraints. “I'm here 'cause I'm Black,” he continued to hesitant laughter. “The Golden Globe Awards did not air last year because the Hollywood Foreign Press Association — which I won't say they were a racist organization — but they didn't have a single Black member until George Floyd died. So, do with that information what you will.” And there it was. The Golden Globes were a casualty of the supposed “racial reckoning” of 2020-2021 when non-Black people swore now that they knew better, they’d do better, and that their allyship meant more than awards. Tom Cruise returned his statues and Scarlett Johansson and Mark Ruffalo cut ties with the organization. The controversy escalated to the point where the broadcast was canceled and awards were announced awkwardly over Twitter. But like most commitments to anti-racism in the past few years, the industry boycott of The Golden Globes was short-lived. And Carmichael refused to be the face of its redemption. 
“One minute you’re making mint tea at home, the next you’re invited to be the Black face of an embattled white organization. Life really comes at you fast,” Carmichael joked. 
Carmichael’s monologue was very different from what we’re used to seeing at shows like this. It wasn’t an upbeat recap of the year in TV and film. It didn’t lightly jab at the inequality of the industry then move on. It was unrelenting. It was confrontational and specific. And it was brutally honest. Carmichael straight up admitted to taking the job for the money. He recounted a call with his “homegirl Avery,” the person he calls in times when white people are on their bullshit, and as he put it, “for the sake of this monologue, [she] represents every Black person in America.” Shout out to every Black woman who is this call for so many of the people in their lives. "I told her about how last [year's show] didn't air because of the no-Black-people thing. And she was like, 'Well, how much are they paying you?' … And I said $500,000," Carmichael shared. "And she said, 'Boy, if you don't put on a good suit and take them white people's money.'"
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Carmichael’s admission that he took the job for the money is funny and relatable, but it also speaks to the experience of so many Black folks in the industry, and in that room at The Golden Globes last night. They had to put on their “good suits” and take them white people’s recognition. Because, and I know we say this every year, these statues are still currency in Hollywood. And validation from a racist organization attempting to reform is still the co-sign that many executives need to greenlight projects, to keep shows on the air, and keep people employed. For full transparency, Unbothered wasn’t sure how we should cover this show. We are in the business of divesting from white institutions that have historically excluded us. But we are also in the business of covering the entertainment industry, and giving shine to the Black celebs that make films and TV we enjoy. When they show up to these shows, we have to too. Our participation in this cycle that continues to marginalize actors and creators of color (when it’s still rare to see as many non-white winners as we did last night, it’s a system set up for us to fail) is reluctant at best, but it’s also part of our jobs. So, how do we acknowledge our faves winning and root for everybody Black while also holding the HFPA accountable? Carmichael did just that.
While addressing the incremental changes the HFPA has made (they announced they were adding 21 new members to reflect their new commitment to “diversity”), Carmichael showed extreme disinterest. "I heard they got six new Black members, congrats to them, whatever. … But it's not why I'm here," he said. "I look out into this room and I see a lot of talented people, people that I admire, people that I would like to be like, people that I'm jealous of, and people that are actually really incredible artists. And regardless of whatever the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's past may be, this is an evening where we get to celebrate, and I think this industry deserves evenings like these,” Carmichael concluded his monologue sincerely. The intimacy of his delivery, and the low-key nature of his comedic timing (everyone complaining about his energy clearly hasn’t seen Carmichael’s HBO standup special Rothaniel, or, you know, anything he’s ever done) brought a realness that is rare for awards shows. These nights are supposed to be the time when everybody gets drunk and forgets about the transgressions of their peers in favor of a self-congratulatory lovefest (see: everyone shouting out Brad Pitt, who allegedly abused his ex-wife Angelina Jolie and their children). But Carmichael wouldn’t let the HFPA, or the celebs in the room, off the hook. He made people uncomfortable, as they absolutely should have been. 
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Carmichael wouldn’t let the HFPA, or the celebs in the room, off the hook. He made people uncomfortable, as they absolutely should have been. 

It shouldn’t have been business as usual for The Golden Globes. Reckoning with the reality of white supremacist institutions shouldn’t be comfortable. And in the backlash I saw on Twitter to Carmichael’s more cringe-inducing jokes, the desire to skirt past the discomfort was the overwhelming emotion from his haters. “This used to be the FUN awards show,” someone tweeted while denigrating Carmichael’s hosting skills. One white tweeter even had the caucacity to call Carmichael disrespectful. I’m sorry, since when does the HFPA deserve respect? If anything, the disrespect came from the crowd Carmichael was attempting to make laugh, who were chatting amongst themselves and barely listening when the show came back from commercial breaks. That behind-the-scenes chaos is part of Golden Globes lore – it’s the show where everyone gets drunk and hangs out with each other, and we, the audience, desperately squint at the background of shots for a glimpse of Rihanna whispering to Ryan Coogler. The show had plenty of those moments, and it was fun. It was also excruciatingly awkward at times — fitting for an organization who nominated Brendan Fraser for his performance in The Whale after Fraser alleged that former HFPA President Phil Berk sexually assaulted him at a luncheon in 2003 (Berk denies this, calling the incident a “joke.”) Fraser boycotted the ceremony
Photo: Rich Polk/NBC/Getty Images.
There were many times the glaring hypocrisy of Hollywood was on full display, and in most of those moments, Carmichael was right there to call it out. Not all of his jokes throughout the broadcast landed (my least favorite was a jab about the show being held at the same hotel Whitney Houston died in – can we all just let Whitney rest, please?) for the audience in the room. One joke about Tom Cruise, Scientology, and the cult’s alleged missing member Shelly Miscavige was met with deafening silence. Journalist Philip Lewis tweeted that the joke “sucked the air out of the room.” Celebrities scream about cancel culture and how comedians can’t say anything anymore but they want to clutch their pearls at a joke made at the expense of an organization riddled with abuse allegations and a shady scandal-laden history just because Top Gun: Maverick was a good movie? Please. But even if the celebs either didn’t get Carmichael’s cutting humor or were too scared to get caught laughing at it, that doesn’t mean his punchlines weren’t good. 
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Carmichael didn’t seem to care if anybody in the room laughed, or if he was ever invited back to host the show ... [his] priority seemed to be speaking to the Black folks watching, telling the truth, and giving moments that made us gasp.

Carmichael didn’t seem to care if anybody in the room laughed, or if he was ever invited back to host the show (which he made sure he absolutely will not be). Carmichael’s priority seemed to be speaking to the Black folks watching, telling the truth, and giving moments that made us gasp and yell “JERROD” at our TVs. In his opening monologue, Carmichael quipped that he was “unfireable.” After revealing he refused to meet with the HFPA president, he said, “They haven’t had a Black host in 79 years and they’re gonna fire me?” He’s right. Carmichael could have done whatever he wanted leading up to the show, and during, and the HFPA couldn’t say shit. They wanted to trot out a token Black person to make them feel better about being an organization that has contributed to the destructive inequity in Hollywood for decades (80 years to be exact). And viewers who didn’t like Carmichael’s jokes wanted a host who would make them feel better about watching. Like the vibe amongst “allies” since 2021, people wanted racism conversations to be over. They read White Fragility and said, “that’s enough activism for me!” They want the cloak of comfort that comes with watching rich people get dressed up and give nice speeches. But change isn’t comfortable. And we shouldn’t feel better about taking part in the cycle that suppresses Black artists. I think we should all be cringing at how easy it’s been for the Golden Globes to come back from an embarrassment on the brink of ruin to business as usual. 
In promos leading up to the show, Carmichael promised “an evening of joy and devastation.” Joy came in the form of his many on-point outfit changes, his joke about he and Niecy Nash-Betts — “we’re both gay now” — and the many faves who got to accept their Globes and have their much-deserved moments (shout out to my auntie Angela Bassett, my cousin Quinta Brunson, and my boyfriend Tyler James Williams). The devastation was more subtle. Carmichael delivered laughs and discomfort and a burn-it-all-down, no-fucks-given energy that told the HFPA about itself and made Hollywood look in the mirror. And to an industry propped up by the facade of change and the superficial promise of representation only, what’s more devastating than someone telling the truth? Jerrod Carmichael may not have given the performance the HPA wanted, but it was exactly what the 2023 Golden Globes, and Hollywood, needed. 

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