'Shop Talk': Golden Globes A Hollywood Roasting

The upswing in President Obama's approval ratings and British comedian Ricky Gervais' eyebrow-raising performance as host of the Golden Globe Awards are two of the topics under discussion in this week's "Barbershop" roundtable. Host Michel Martin chats with author Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar Illustrated Reporter Pablo Torre and NPR Ken Rudin.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

It's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shapeup this week are author Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar, Sports Illustrated reporter Pablo Torre and NPR political editor, our political junkie Ken Rudin. Take it away, Jimi.

Mr. JIMI IZRAEL (Writer): Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellas, welcome to the shop, how are we doing?

Mr. ARSALAN IFTIKHAR (Civil Rights Attorney): Hey, hey, hey.

Mr. PABLO TORRE (Reporter, Sports Illustrated): Yo.

KEN RUDIN: Doing good.

Mr. IZRAEL: Hey. All right, well, let's kick things off with news. I'm sure the White House is excited about. The president's approval ratings are up, according to at least four separate polls. It's now above 50 percent. Wow, he's doing better than me. His highest ratings since 2009, Michel.

MARTIN: Yeah, and four different polls. And I will mention that the House speaker, John Boehner, has seen some - a significant boost in his favorability ratings, too. But you were talking about 53 percent, thereabouts. We talked about this earlier with Ron Christie and with Cornell Belcher. So I'm interested in what the guys have to say about this. Jimi? OK. Arsalan, how about you? What do you think?

Mr. IZRAEL: A-train?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, I think that a great deal of the bump probably came from President Obama's very uplifting speech in Tucson in the wake of the tragedy, which killed six people and had put Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in the hospital. I think that it was a unifying moment for America. It was an arena at the sort of 30,000-foot altitude stratospheric level that President Obama, you know, sort of transcended and actually became a national unifier.

I think it reminded a lot of people why they voted for him - I think independents particularly. It's going to be interesting now to see, you know, obviously with the Republican House how much of the president's agenda he's going to be able to put through. You know, a lot of things are going to have to sort of have to be stepped up from the White House.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: Well, let me ask Ken, though, this. Was - he had a very productive lame-duck session, too, well, before the recent tragedy. So what do you think is the major factor here?

RUDIN: Well, Arsalan is right. I mean, basically it has changed - a lot has changed since Tucson. You know, just as Stella got her groove back, I think President Obama got his groove back, too. And part of it, I guess, is the fact is remember Bill Clinton in 1995, there was the overreaching of the Republican Congress and there was a tragedy in Oklahoma City. Now, I don't know if Tucson is Oklahoma City. I don't know if John Boehner is Newt Gingrich, but there are similarities to see Barack Obama, who was basically counted out after the 2010 election, remember the shellacking - his words - that he took.

And yet he seems to be coming back. If the Republican Party overreaches in the House, if there's some dissatisfaction there, he could rebound just as Bill Clinton did and Bill Clinton won a landslide reelection in '96.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, yeah, he's definitely got some momentum. Go ahead, man.

Mr. TORRE: Well, this is Pablo jumping in. Yeah, and I think, I mean, for GOP at this point, it just seems as far as regaining their control, I mean, they already have the size built in. I mean, they're going to do what they've always inclined to do and that's - now that the lame-duck session - lame-duck Congress, which was so productive for President Obama. Let's not overlook that: "don't ask, don't tell," obviously health care reform, getting those things done, finally. I think the GOP can throw its weight around again. I mean, obviously not overreaching, as Ken said.

But at the same time, the big focus for me is to see how they react to the rehab and the recovery of Gabrielle Giffords. I think that's the thing that everyone's sort of looking at to see as, maybe treating as a bellwether. I mean, what is the tone going to be? What's the messaging going to be? Because everybody is so universally sympathetic towards her and rightfully so.

And the question is, how does the GOP deal with that? Do they even attempt to politicize it at all? I mean, what's their stance? How sensitive can you be without being, you know, too passive almost. I'm curious to see how they react with that.

Mr. IZRAEL: Ken-dog.

MARTIN: Go ahead, Ken.

RUDIN: Well, we heard this rhetoric right after Oklahoma City. We heard it after 9/11 that the nation has to come together, now Democrats are going to sit next to Republicans at the State of the Union meeting. I mean, that's great, but I mean, remember we used to wear WIN buttons in 1975. So whip inflation now. That really was effective. And I sort of think that this might be just as long-lasting, which means not that long.

MARTIN: But before we - before we move on on this topic, though, Ken, I do want to ask, the State of the Union is next week.

RUDIN: Tuesday.

MARTIN: And is there, you know, what should we be looking for there to see, really, whether this is a marked change there? And are there things that both sides are doing to try to capitalize off this kind of moment?

RUDIN: Well, it's interesting. Of course you know that the Republican Party promised to, at least in the House, repeal health care and they voted this week to repeal health care. They've kept their promise. But now it seems to be more popular than it was before. The Democrats seemed to be more united before, and it seems like President Obama is less defensive about his administration than he was before. And I kind of think you'll see a lot of that kind of momentum that he got from the lame-duck session moving into the State of the Union.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, we have the momentum; you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're having our weekly visit to the Barbershop with NPR's Ken Rudin, Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar and Sports Illustrated reporter Pablo Torre.

Back to you Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel.

OK, moving right along to somebody who's not doing so well in the approval ratings, British comedian Ricky Gervais. Now he hosted the Golden Globe Awards this past weekend and he's taking some heat for some of his jokes, which made the ceremony at times sound like a roast of Hollywood's elite.

Now yesterday he offended - he defended - he probably offended a lot more people, but he also defended himself on CNN's "Piers Morgan Tonight."

MARTIN: Well, you know, I just thought for people who didn't watch it, I just want to give you a sense of what it is that people are talking about and why, you know, anybody's talking about this at all. I'll just play a couple of clips. First there's this sort of a typical introduction at an awards show and then the second is how Ricky Gervais decided to handle his hosting duties. So let me just play those back to back. Here it is. Here's the first one.

(Soundbite of Golden Globes 2011)

Mr. RICKY GERVAIS (Comedian): I love this next presenter; he's so cool. He's the star of "Iron Man," "Two Girls and a Guy," "Wonderboys." Sorry, are these porn films? What?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GERVAIS: "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," "Bowfinger?" Really?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GERVAIS: "Up the Academy." Come on. He has done all of those films, but many of you in this room probably know him best from such facilities as The Betty Ford Clinic and the Los Angeles County Jail. Please welcome Robert Downey, Jr.

(Soundbite of music)

(Soundbite of applause)

MARTIN: Actually, I misspoke. That was Ricky Gervais at the Golden Globes to give you some sense of what it is that people thought, you know, look, is this an awards show or is this, as we said, you know, earlier, a roast? And this is a clip from how he described what he was trying to accomplish on CNN. Here it is.

(Soundbite of CNN's "Piers Morgan Tonight")

Mr. GERVAIS: I'm sorry for them being offended, but I'm not sorry for anything I said because I'm not going to apologize for being true to myself. And no one has the right not to be offended. Don't forget, just because you're offended, it doesn't mean you're in the right. A lot of people are offended by mixed marriage; it doesn't mean they're right, you know?

Mr. IZRAEL: Wow.

MARTIN: I think that's a very interesting argument.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Making it a moral issue. I don't know. OK. The fate of the Western world does not hinge upon this. I think we all agree on that.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: But Ken, I'm just curious, what you think?

RUDIN: Well, Arsalan and I were talking about this right before the show. We were - I was laughing hysterically. I mean basically it's so, you know, they're so full of themselves. Who are the Hollywood Foreign Press Association? The fact that they have the movie "The Tourist" nominated for best comedy or musical or comedy, I mean my goodness. So yes, did he go too far? He probably did go too far, as we sometimes go too far. Did I think it was funny? Yes, I think it was irreverent. Absolutely. And did he take some of the wind out of that room? Yes, and deservedly so.

MARTIN: I'm dying to know what Jimi thinks about this.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: You know, it occurs to me that only in America do we hire talents known for their off-color humor and we hire these professional line-steppers, you know, and then browbeat them for doing what we hired them to do. I mean Gervais, beyond being, you know, well, I mean he is a phenomenal writer, you know, not so much an actor. But, you know, but he's a great comedian and we hire him to, I mean he's a rude guy. You know, and he comes and he does the job and then, you know, we give him heck for it, you know. So he has nothing to apologize for except maybe for that one film "Ghost Town."

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: OK.

Mr. IZRAEL: And his stint as a pop singer in the '80s, but beyond that, no apologies coming, brother.

MARTIN: Arsalan, what do you think?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, let's not forget that Ricky Gervais was the inspiration behind the mammoth TV show "The Office," and more importantly, their title lead character Michael Scott, who is known for saying the most uncouth things at all times. And so, you know, it's like, you know, Piers Morgan said during this thing it's sort of like inviting a hammerhead shark to dinner and then being upset when you find out that he's eaten everybody there.

Mr. IZRAEL: And not for nothing...

MARTIN: But let me play devil's advocate here.

Mr. IZRAEL: Wait. Go ahead. Go ahead.

MARTIN: Because I mean I'm thinking about the White House Correspondents' Dinner a couple of years ago when Don Imus was the host and he made, you know, remarks about all these people, and it's a professional event where you have to go. And so here's the question is that, you know, you're invited to this thing and it is understood by your employers like the studios that you will attend, and then so then you have to then sit there and be insulted. That's kind of a question I have for that. It's not, it's kind of an office function, if you will, and that, you know what I mean? It's just would we enjoy that?

Mr. TORRE: And...

MARTIN: Go ahead Pablo, you wanted to...

Mr. IZRAEL: Go ahead, Pablo.

Mr. TORRE: Well, yeah, I mean I think the irony in all this is that the Golden Globes, which Ricky Gervais thankfully revealed to be, you know, an event full of puffery and again, who is the Hollywood Foreign Press? But I think for the Golden Globes, I mean this increased its Q rating almost.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

Mr. TORRE: I mean this made it a topic of conversation. It's more popular among the younger demographics. It was all over the Internet.

MARTIN: Oh, thank you. Oh, so now you're trying to tell me I'm old. Thank you, Pablo. Thank you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TORRE: That's my mission whenever I come on, come to the Barbershop.

Mr. IZRAEL: Michel? Michel?

MARTIN: Go ahead, Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: I'm sorry. Go ahead. Pablo, you want to finish up?

Mr. TORRE: Yeah. Yeah. Basically, I mean the Golden Globes, the Hollywood Foreign Press should ironically be thankful for having Ricky Gervais lift their profile, put them into the national conversation. I mean the guy also, let's remember, hosted once before. They should have been familiar with his body of work even if he wasn't as offensive the first time around, so let's not get too high and mighty about it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Michel, speaking of his body of work, Arsalan mentioned that he was the inspiration behind "The Office." Not for nothing, it's worth mentioning that he created "The Office," along with his collaborator Stephen Merchant, so that dude's a beast.

RUDIN: Yes.

MARTIN: OK. But does that mean you want to sit there and be insulted by him when you have to be there? That's kind of a different issue. That's, you know, he did that but...

Mr. IZRAEL: He's got more money than Davey Crockett. Go for it, brother. Insult everybody in the room. That's my dude.

MARTIN: What does that have to do with anything, how much money you have?

Mr. IZRAEL: He's brilliant.

MARTIN: And so you have a lot of money, you get to be mean? Is that what you're saying?

Mr. IZRAEL: Dude's brilliant.

MARTIN: You get to be mean because you're all right, I don't know. Ken, you're...

Mr. IZRAEL: He's a professional line-stepper. He did his job.

MARTIN: I hear you. OK.

Mr. IZRAEL: Go ahead, Ken.

RUDIN: I guess I remember sitting with Michel Martin at the White House Correspondents' Dinner several years ago.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: That's true. Ken was my seat mate.

RUDIN: Stephen Colbert was the guest and sometimes we laughed uproariously, sometimes we said this is really not funny at all, and a lot people are split on that. And I think we have the right, just as Ricky Gervais has the right to offend people, we have the right to laugh or not laugh, but the fact that this has become a big controversy, it shouldn't be. Is it a roast? Look, who are the Hollywood Foreign Press Association?

I mean some of the awards that they've given out, the nominations they gave out were just to get people to come to the show and be seen on camera.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

RUDIN: It's nothing like the Oscars.

MARTIN: All right. Well, OK. I'm trying to remember what I wore to that dinner. Was it pretty? Was my dress cute? It was pretty, right?

RUDIN: We'll, talk about later.

Mr. IZRAEL: Most certainly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: OK. Well, we can't let you go without getting your picks for the weekend's big games in the NFL. I, of course, am completely impartial about this despite the fact...

RUDIN: Somebody should tell people about what she's wearing.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: She's wearing her New York Jets T-shirt. She has her New York Jets playoff towel right next to her.

MARTIN: The Jets mug. Jets gear for my children.

RUDIN: Can I give you an example of how much she the Jets fan? When came in here she tripped me as I was walking...

MARTIN: Ooh, that wasn't right. That was so...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Just tripped Ken Rudin.

Mr. TORRE: Well played. Well done. Golf clap.

MARTIN: All right, Pablo, tell us, what's up? Tell us what picks you...

Mr. TORRE: You know, I'm, I got to say...

MARTIN: You're with me, right?

Mr. TORRE: I've been converted to the Rex Ryan school of the dark side. I mean this guy - I mean let's make a couple things clear. This guy is an awesome football coach. We knew that going in. He's a defensive wizard and all that, but what he's done in terms of PR, I mean put everything on him. He's can to take the spotlight. He can deflect any bizarre scandal you throw at him, a foot fetish scandal, whatever you want, he's going to win anyway and his players, and the players of other teams, which is what's really amazing.

Giants players, you know, they told me this when I went out training camp, Giants players, on background that there were some that wanted to play for Rex Ryan. They said it again as the Jets are winning. New York has never seen that before. The Jets deserve it. And the other side, I'm going to pick them to meet the Packers. I think Jets-Packers is going to be the Super Bowl.

MARTIN: OK. Well, oh, OK. All right.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Now on the flip side of that, Pablo, it's nothing personal and against Rex Ryan, it's nothing personal but I can't stand the Jets.

MARTIN: Oh no.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: And I think the Steelers...

MARTIN: Oh, I thought we were a team.

RUDIN: Arsalan, congratulations on your last appearance on the show.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Thank you. Thank you. I...

MARTIN: Could you cut his mic please? I'm sorry.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I think Pittsburgh at home at Heinz Field. I mean yes, the Jets have beaten two of the best quarterbacks in the league in two consecutive weeks at their home places. I don't think they get a third. And then, of course, I'm going to have to pick a homer pick for the NFC, Bears and Packers. It doesn't get more historic than that. I'm picking Bears and Steelers in the Super Bowl.

MARTIN: Ken, what do you think?

RUDIN: Well, I'm rooting for the Jets. I don't like Raplesberger(ph) or Rapesleberger(ph) or whatever.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: But I think the Steelers are a better team. Aaron Rodgers is hot.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: He is.

RUDIN: I think the Packers will beat the Bears.

MARTIN: Oh. The Packers will beat the Bears. All right, Jimi, what do you think about that? I understand that there is a Bears fan in your life who is...

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, yeah. My people rock with the Bears so, you know, I got to rock with my people, and I'm rocking with da Bears.

Mr. TORRE: The "Super Bowl Shuffle," baby.

MARTIN: Oh, OK. OK. But before we let you go, can we just ask, talking about controversial comments, I just have one more clip to play and it's about it's a short clip of New York Jets linebacker Bart Scott talking to ESPN's Sal Paolantonio...

Mr. TORRE: Oh, yeah. Wonderful.

MARTIN: ...after last weekend's victory over the heavily favored New England Patriots. And here it is.

Mr. BART SCOTT (New York Jets): We take a lot of flack. People gave us no chance. Like we barely made it in the playoffs. We're a good football team.

Mr. SAL PAOLANTONIO (Bureau reporter, ESPN): It looks like this team played with anger all day. Why, Bart?

Mr. SCOTT: For all you nonbelievers. Disrespect us. Talk crap about the defense, like we're the third-best defense in the league. All we hear is about their defense. They can't stop a nosebleed. Twenty-fifth in the league, and we're the ones getting disrespected.

Mr. PAOLANTONIO: Congratulations. See you in Pittsburgh.

Mr. SCOTT: Can't wait.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Can't wait. I just wish he had more passion about the game.

MARTIN: I know.

RUDIN: That was Rex Ryan in that player.

Mr. TORRE: He's literally drunk with anger. And we actually heard the (unintelligible).

Mr. IFTIKHAR: And the best part is that he said the New England defense couldn't stop a nosebleed. That's hilarious.

MARTIN: Well, what but, so Pablo, what was that? I mean, I don't know. I mean what's that?

Mr. TORRE: That is Rex Ryan avatar in Bart Scott.

RUDIN: Yup. Yup.

Mr. TORRE: I mean that is his mouthpiece - the guy, the player the coaches most like, and that is the behavior that at times has been suppressed in the NFL. I mean this an image league for recent years. They're throwing everything off, they're unloosening...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TORRE: ...the corset, as it were, and they're letting all the commentary hang out. They're not afraid to be blunt and to be obnoxious. And, you know what? If they win, that's what happens in New York.

MARTIN: And finally, Pablo, before we let you go, is the league making any effort in making the game less dangerous? I know that sounds ridiculous. It's a contract sport but just, you know, there's an ethical issue here about whether, you know, this should cost you, you know, long-term damage to your health.

Mr. TORRE: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: Is there any progress being made?

Mr. TORRE: Well, the most interesting data point recently for the NFL's reaction was, Toyota had a commercial where they...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

Mr. TORRE: ...had a montage of kind of things that are analogous to car crashes, to horrible collisions. And they actually had a scene, a small scene with two youth players colliding helmets. And the NFL requested that they remove it and Toyota complied. It was going to be aired during NFL time.

And so, again, it makes you wonder, I mean what is the NFL really trying to hide? Is that something that they think people are naive about at this point? Are they trying to deny that this is exactly what that is? So you wonder.

MARTIN: So ongoing issue.

Mr. TORRE: Yeah.

MARTIN: All right. We'll keep an eye on it. Pablo Torre is a reporter for Sports Illustrated. He was with us from our studios in New York. Jimi Izrael is the author of the book, "The Denzel Principle." He joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Arsalan Iftikhar is the founder of themuslimguy.com and a legal fellow for the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. He was here with us in our Washington, D.C. studio along with Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor.

Thank you all so much. Go Jets.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Peace.

RUDIN: Go, Michel.

Mr. TORRE: Thank you.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yup-yup.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Let's talk more on Monday.

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