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Posted at 5:54 PM ET, 01/18/2011

Regis Philbin, Ricky Gervais, and the lost art of hosting

By Alexandra Petri

Regis Philbin announced today that he was retiring from Live with Regis and Kelly.

regisretiring.jpg (By John Paul Filo -- Cbs)

There are so few good hosts left nowadays.

I recently read a letter to Ask Amy inquiring if it was okay to sleep until eleven when guests were staying over. "The weekends are when I get my beauty sleep," the person explained, "and in a way, it would be ruder to host while ugly, right?"

What has happened to us?

Max Beerbohm once said that the most fundamental division between people is that between hosts and guests. Hosts love putting others at their ease with fine food and conversation. Guests love fine food and conversation, but they couldn't put an evening together to save their lives and have to compensate with their personal charm. Hosts are gracious. Guests are grateful. Hosts are welcoming. Guests are welcome. The negative of guests is that they are mildly amusing freeloaders. The negative of hosts is that they might only be doing it to make themselves look good.

Nowadays, we're a nation of guests. We are superficially amusing and pleasant to have around. But we don't know how to make anyone feel at home, unless that person had a uniquely unpleasant home life.

And this was nowhere more apparent than watching Ricky Gervais attempt to host the Golden Globes -- if that verb applies at all. He was a guest in a host job -- a guest whose peculiar charm consisted of being as rude as possible. Most comedians are guests, their ability to prick humor out of any situation generally a boon. Had he been a guest, the same mean jokes would have gotten a laugh. But he was supposed to be hosting. As a welcoming presence to have at your dinner, he ranks somewhere below the Sword of Damocles and Grendel.

As a consequence, his performance at the Golden Globes was as painful as -- what's the most awkward thing I've witnessed in months? -- as painful as Ricky Gervais hosting the Golden Globes last year.

A host is supposed to make his guests feel at home. Gervais just made them wish they were.

"It's not my fault," he would no doubt exclaim, if I explained this theory. "I'm a congenital guest." But maybe this excuse doesn't hold water. There's an awfully fine line between being a bad host and just being rude. And it's the rare host these days who fails to attempt to upstage his guests. Just look at Conan.

Contrast today's hosts to Regis Philbin. Regis Philbin always managed to put his guests at ease. He was a host among hosts. He never outshone you. He drew you out. He was reassuring, welcoming, congenial -- even as you sat in the hot seat losing thousands of dollars.

You never had the sense that he wanted to be the center of attention. He was there to make you appear more interesting.

Regis is retiring, the headline reads. Yes -- and that was the secret of his success.

By Alexandra Petri  | January 18, 2011; 5:54 PM ET
Categories:  Epic Failures, Petri, Reality? Television  | Tags:  art, hosts, kids these days  
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I know, right? It kind of reminds me of the lost art of column writing.

Posted by: ezekieljams | January 18, 2011 7:12 PM | Report abuse

The 68th Golden Globe Awards was broadcast live from the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California on January 16, 2011, by NBC. The host was Ricky Gervais. The nominations were announced on December 14, 2010, by Josh Duhamel, Katie Holmes and Blair Underwood. Robert De Niro was presented with the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement in motion pictures.

“Ricky Gervais”
Complete High Quality Videos availabe in YouTube:

Posted by: YouTube | January 18, 2011 7:43 PM | Report abuse

I love that this flimsy excuse for an article was structured around mentioning two of the biggest hit generating search terms of the week. If you're going to soullessly pander to advertising traffic dollars, at least spare us this sanctimonious and bizarre Host v. Guest nonsense. "What has happened to us?" and a series of unconsidered generalizations about the American character seems to be a popular formula for an article these days, but I've never seen it executed this transparently.

Posted by: funkdoctorphd | January 19, 2011 1:47 AM | Report abuse

I think there should be a weekly show with actors sitting around while Ricky calls them out for the crap that they do. Gold, baby, gold!

Posted by: pattijor | January 19, 2011 9:47 AM | Report abuse

I agree this column makes me think that journalism is the real lost art. Someone is in dire need of a sense of humor.

It's basically a stand up comedian's job to push the envelope and target relevant current events and pop culture. And nothing Gervais said was not based fact--the HFPA has been investigated for taking bribes, Robert Downey Jr did drugs and jail time, The Tourist received universally bad reviews and bombed at box office, it's creepy and gross that Hugh Hefner is marrying a 24 year old, JLo is insanely rich, etc etc etc.

If the Golden Globes wanted a Regis, they would have hired one. But for a telecast that advertised, marketed and promoted itself as the edgy awards show where anything can happen--Mr. Gervais and his supposed "attempt" to host starts to seem very well planned. Or did you miss the ninety or so commercials that aired in the weeks leading up to it?

When Steve Carrell said after their bit--"it never gets old"--you'd think most would get a clue.

Yet it seems everyone was in on the joke except Ms. Petri.

Posted by: fritz10 | January 19, 2011 12:14 PM | Report abuse

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