It's not easy being mean! The curmudgeonly comedian makes a surprisingly tame return as host

Although he opened the 69th Annual Globes by quipping ”Where was I?” Ricky Gervais didn’t exactly pick up where he left off last year. Gone were the rude gags about Robert Downey Jr.’s criminal history or introducing Bruce Willis as ”Ashton Kutcher’s dad.” On Sunday, Gervais — who recently wrote in an EW column that ”offense is taken, not given” and ”It’s up to you if you’re offended or not. And remember, just because you’re offended, it doesn’t mean you’re right” — took to shooting fish in a barrel by making predictable cracks about the length of Kim Kardashian’s marriage (”I’ve sat through longer James Cameron acceptance speeches”) and Justin Bieber (”the only way that he could impregnate a girl was if he borrowed one of Martha Stewart’s old turkey basters”). While some celebs probably breathed sighs of relief, many of those who boozed it up at the three-hour fete were disappointed by the Brit’s softball snark and long absences from center stage. ”Ricky needed to rip on more people,” complained Wendi McLendon-Covey, who played the sex-starved suburbanite in Bridesmaids. ”He was very safe. If you can’t laugh at yourself, what the hell are you in this business for?” Others weren’t quite so critical. ”I don’t think he was restrained. As a joke writer, I thought those were all really good jokes,” said überproducer Judd Apatow. And even if this year’s barbs weren’t quite as vicious — or as satisfying — as last time, that may be just fine by NBC brass. ”If you start the comparison game with the edge-o-meter, you’re in big trouble,” said the network’s broadcasting chairman, Ted Harbert. ”Comparisons to last year, that’s just not what viewers do. All that matters is whether his jokes were funny.”