Political news has been grim over the past couple of weeks, but at least we’ve got something to cheer about in entertainment news–the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has signed Amy Poehler and Tina Fey to host the Golden Globes for the next two years. It’s a move that instantly makes the Globes one of the rarest things in entertainment: an awards ceremony that doesn’t immediately sound incredibly painful to watch.
In their first outing at the Globes, Fey and Poehler seemed to strike an incredibly rare balance. They seemed comfortable on the stage without projecting contempt for the audience or for the gig, a la James Franco, or desperate for the audience’s approval in the vein of Anne Hathaway. They weren’t afraid to make fun of each other, or to enlist game members of the audience in jokes–a la Glenn Close, who they called on to play drunk in a bit where they were quaffing cocktails on stage. With the exception of a suggestion that Taylor Swift needed some time for herself, rather than pursuing Michael J. Fox’s son, they largely didn’t choose obvious targets, and they didn’t punch down. They got in some terrific jabs at both so-called edgy humor and the way it’s often received, noting that the HFPA had asked back Ricky Gervais after his ill-received turns in the job. In other words, they neatly skirted all of the potential pitfalls of hosting gigs, and did so while caressing each other’s faces and in Fey’s case, declaring Quentin Tarantino “the star of all my sexual nightmares”:
The thing about hosting awards shows is that most of the people who sign up to do it seem to forget what the word “hosting” actually means. The monologue is meant to set a tone for the evening and make a group of people who don’t actually spend time together comfortable in a new setting. Once the show is rolling, the hosts are supposed to set up the presenters to do well, and to move the show smoothly from bit to bit. And at the end of the evening, if the host is memorable for in any way giving offense or stealing the show, then the host has definitionally failed in their duties. In other words, it’s simultaneously all about you and not about you in the slightest.
Fey and Poehler both spent substantial portions of their careers in the ensemble at Saturday Night Live. And when they moved on to starring roles in television shows, it was as Liz Lemon and Leslie Knope, characters who are in positions of authority at a television show and a city government office, respectively, but whose authorities are substantially constrained, and whose jobs constantly require them to see to other people’s needs.
On 30 Rock, Liz has to answer to Jack Donaghy, her boss at NBC, whose interests are aligned not towards creative integrity, but towards profitability and placating people who complain about content. And she also has to keep a series of irrational actors, including Tracy Jordan and Jenna Maroney, her eccentric stars, and her temperamental writers room happy in order to keep her show functioning at a minimal level. For Liz to get what she wants in broad strokes, she constantly has to make small sacrifices. Similarly, on Parks and Recreation, Leslie may have far more talents at governance and much more energy for and interest in her work than almost anyone else at any level of Pawnee city government. But one of the constant sources of tension on the show is the way Leslie has a tendency to get out ahead of the rest of her colleagues and the needs and constraints of the organizations she’s working for and the constituencies she’s supposed to be serving.
These conditions are part of what made 30 Rock and still makes Parks and Recreation extremely funny television. They’re also the kinds of dilemmas lots of women face in other settings as well. And it just so happens that knowing how to manage these situations with grace and humor also prepare someone to handle a situation like hosting duties, which requires extreme confidence but a reigned-in ego, perfectly. We and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association are lucky to have Fey and Poehler on the Golden Globes stage for the next two years. But plenty of other candidates could learn from their example as well.