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Ricky Gervais, as Golden Globes host, has ruffled some feathers, inside the industry and among TV viewers. With impertinent comments ranging from the true (The Tourist was simply not a well-received movie, by critics or the public) to the risky (few Americans joke about Scientology), Gervais reminded viewers once again that the British, they’re not like us. Oh, we can get taken in by the accent and that uncanny ability to speak in complete, grammatically-correct sentences, but then we get sucker-punched by the combination of impertinent tweaking and abrupt honesty that, over the pond and among themselves, English citizens commonly refer to simply as “rude,” as in, “How rude!,” followed by a delighted shriek of laughter.

Anyone scandalized by Gervais’ humor has probably forgotten how refreshingly abrupt his original version of The Office was. His Globes performance also benefited from some viewers’ genuine shock that anyone would tell a movie star to his or her face that his or her movie wasn’t very good. It’s as though the public-relations handlers who oversee so many movie-star interviews to guarantee that nothing revealing is uttered have also trained Americans to be upset when someone dares to say to a star the same kind of joke you’d say to a colleague at work. Remember, folks, celebrities are not your superiors.

Tonight, another Brit will come into some American living rooms, as Piers Morgan takes over for Larry King on CNN. Morgan says he’ll ask questions in a “cheeky, probing way,” and has referred to himself as “this rather annoying Brit.” It’s one thing to be “cheeky” with Howard Stern, his Tuesday-night guest, but it will be interesting to see whether tonight, interviewing Oprah Winfrey on his debut evening, Morgan will really risk rudeness with the queen of equanimity.

Simon Cowell was the figure who reintroduced articulately blunt British humor to American network TV. Cowell’s American Idol critiques were by far the most useful aspect of Idol, at least in its early seasons — a much-needed astringency applied to the gloppy don’t-hurt-anyone’s-feelings remarks that pervaded American competition shows up to that point.

The British have long made an art of impeccably phrased rudeness. The Australian-born, British-raised literary critic Clive James has written some of the finest book and television reviews, many of them pointedly, wittily rude — and true. Reviewing a Liza Minnelli TV special in 1974, he wrote that “Liza can’t even walk up a flight of stairs sincerely (a flight of stairs was wheeled on for the specific purpose of allowing her to prove this), and… she has embraced the standards of excellence proposed by Showbiz, which will agree to love you only if your heart is in the right place — where your brain should be.” That 37-year-old last remark is as accurate today as it was then, and still funny and mean, too.

Twitter: @kentucker

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