Ricky Gervais

What's this? Ricky Gervais, the new darling of political conservatives? The Brit­ish comic has been criticised following his hosting of the Golden Globes last Sunday night in which he managed to insult Johnny Depp, Hugh Hefner, Cher, Charlie Sheen and the cast of Sex and the City – and that was just in his four-minute opener. But then Reuters reported that the right-wing blogosphere in the US has lit up with superlatives about Gervais's trouncing of celebrity guests. If he had ripped apart "Sarah Palin, Jesus Christ or George W Bush", he would have been hailed as "edgy" and "courageous", wrote John Nolte of the website Big Hollywood. Instead, Gervais delivered "a sucker punch to elitist bullies".

Closer to home, the Daily Mail gushed: "Bravo, Ricky Gervais! A risqué attack on Tinseltown", before going on to lament Hollywood's "terminal political correctness".

Unexpected praise indeed, considering that in director/ lead actor Gervais's 2009 film The Invention of Lying, God was described as one of the biggest lies of all. Such endorsement from conservatives either has the atheist Gervais bemused, or, much more likely, collapsed in one of his trademark fits of giggles.

This year's Golden Globes was second time round as presenter for Gervais. It seems hard to believe now but, last year, critics labelled his humour as host "relatively tame" and "banal". This time round, the response was as if Gervais stopped just short of rushing in, shouting "Fire!" and dousing the assembled glitterati with a giant bucket of water.

Whoever hired him for the job overlooked the fact that the 49-year-old's talent is for the comedy of embarrassment. He grew up in Reading, near London, and following his degree in philosophy had a brief stint singing with the band Seona Dancing. Two singles failed to ignite the charts, although a year after they split, one song became a huge hit in the Phillipines. (You can imagine the giggles over that.) His big comedy break was co-writing and starring in The Office (2001). At times, the antics of silly, annoying boss David Brent made for uncomfortable viewing – simply because so many recognised that character. With his follow-up series Extras, co-written with long-term friend Stephen Merchant, Gervais created a mini-masterpiece. Testament to his reputation is that he attracted an impressive string of A-listers to not only star, but willingly expose themselves to ridicule.

After a furious Harvey Weinstein's worrying you'll-never-work-in-this-town-again response post-Golden Globes, Gervais may not have too many friends in high places. And his hosting does highlight a degree of niggling unease over the direction of comedy. Who, or what, is considered fair game for the modern comic's acid-filled water pistol?

Whatever the answer, for those who tune into these back-slapping awards ceremonies, it's usually the acceptance speeches that prove excruciating rather than the host's one-liners. As for that Ricky Gervais, is he having a laugh? He's surely having a laugh.