CNN  — 

Ricky Gervais is a talented, funny guy. But if you sense a whiff of desperation about having him emcee the Golden Globes again – on the order of “Forget the awards, tune in to see what outrageous things the host might say” – NBC’s promos, promising “We have no idea what he’s going to do,” sort of gave the game away.

Declining ratings for award shows have prompted various responses, including the Oscars’ much-discussed but ultimately rather successful host-free format last year. Kicking off the latest flurry of back-patting leading up to that crowning event, the Globes – which air Sunday – have chosen to stick with a host, while trying to foster a sense of danger around Gervais, in an encore to his four prior appearances from 2010-12 and again in 2016.

Lest anyone have forgotten – and clearly, NBC and the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., the small group of roughly 90 journalists that selects the awards, are hoping people haven’t – Gervais’ past routines demonstrated that Hollywood doesn’t always have much sense of humor when the jokes come at its expense. Playing a bit like a cross between Don Rickles and Jimmy Kimmel’s “mean tweets,” his comedy targeted, among others, Mel Gibson, Caitlyn Jenner (or more specifically, her driving after a fatal car accident), Tim Allen, and the cast of “Sex and the City,” among others.

The main rap on Gervais was that some of the material sounded “mean-spirited,” as Robert Downey Jr. described it after his introduction – which cited the actor’s history of substance abuse – in 2011.

In the intervening years, Gervais has only honed his reputation as a comedic provocateur. When criticized for his material, he has returned to the argument that comedy can’t be safe or designate areas as completely off-limits.

Ricky Gervais hosting the Golden Globes in 2016. (Photo by Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal via Getty Images)

“People like the idea of freedom of speech until they hear something they don’t like,” he recently told the Hollywood Reporter, adding, “When people say, ‘He crossed the line,’ I say, ‘I didn’t draw a line, you did.’ It’s relative. It’s subjective.”

The question remain whether an awards ceremony – one whose significance is largely tethered to the celebrities that attend – is the ideal place for administering such a lesson or engaging in a debate about the subjective nature of comedy; still, Gervais has been perfectly upfront about his approach, which he insists is in good fun and ultimately about entering the audience at home, not catering to the black-tie crowd in the room.

One of the challenges in booking an Oscar host has been that it now seems like such a thankless task, with logical A-list names shying away from being placed under that microscope (see Kevin Hart’s experience), in a “Life’s too short” manner.

To the extent that a host’s contribution is, largely, to generate media attention and provide potential viewers with some inducement to watch in the first place, Gervais – who boasts a loyal core of fans and 13.5 million Twitter followers – has already accomplished what the Globe organizers set out to do.

As for the response when – more likely than if – Gervais ruffles some well-adorned feathers, any protestations of surprise from NBC or the HFPA will have less credibility than a fictional character’s long-ago assertion that he was shocked, shocked to discover that gambling was going on at a certain Casablanca café.

The Golden Globes air Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.