Top 5 (Comedy Central) Roasts Roasts are how comedians express their appreciation for one of their brethren or somebody in another form of entertainment. Since the early 2000s, Comedy Central has produced their own roasts, honoring several celebrities via deluge of insults. James Franco, star of films such as Spring Breakers and This Is The End, was roasted Labor Day (Monday, Sept. 2) but if you’re in the mood to reminisce, here is a look back on some of the beset.
Honorable Mention: Joan Rivers – August 9, 2009 Joan Rivers is has one of the biggest, most brazen mouths in Hollywood so a roast seemed right up her alley. But the striking thing about this roast wasn’t how many people it alienated as much as it was the people it included. Joan Rivers has a legendarily big fan base of gay men, as does the roastmaster Kathy Griffin; there were many jokes about gay issues but from the angle of a knowledgeable joker than an ignorant outsider. And the very gay Mario Cantone made his first appearance on a Comedy Central roast ever, despite being on shows such as Comedy Central Presents and Premium Blend in the network’s infancy. Although this roast has not made it to DVD release, it’s still worth watching. The dais is pretty funny and raunchy thanks to the likes of Gilbert Godfried, Greg Giraldo, and Jeff Roast but it’s more of a commentary on how diverse the entertainment business (and hence, America) has become in just the past couple decades.
5) Pamela Anderson – August 14, 2005 Comedy Central knew there would be a day when they had to choose a woman to be roasted and Pamela Anderson is perhaps the perfect choice. She was an iconic American sex symbols in the 1990s (despite her Canadian birthplace) and somehow managed to turn bad publicity into an opportunity her whole career. Ironically, the comedians seemed to throw their sharpest insults toward Courtney Love, who was so wasted on camera, it’s surprising the FCC didn’t complain. However Anderson kept her calm while being roasted and even played along with the dais, which included the likes of Bea Arthur, Nick DiPaolo, and the late Greg Giraldo as well as roastmaster Jimmy Kimmel. If you watch enough roasts, you can tell which guests actually have thick skin and which ones pretend but Pamela Anderson was the picture of grace on this night, so kudos to her.
4) Donald Trump – March 15, 2011 Donald Trump has never been known for his self-aware sense of humor. But he is a self-worshiping, combover-having, airline and casino-bankrupting camera whore, so that’s the next best thing. Sometimes when you want Oreos, you have to eat Hydrox. That said, the Trump roast did bring out some big names such as Larry King, Snoop Dogg (long before he became Snoop Long), and “The Situation” Mike Sorrentino (whose legendary bombing was cut before airing) from Jersey Shore. The Trump roast is also looked back as helping launch the career of Anthony Jeselnik, who once said life changed like “night and day” after this night. Jeselnik made his name launching some of the darkest material from that night. At one point, he told Trump the only difference between him and “Michael Douglas from the movie Wall Street is nobody will be sad when you get cancer.” The joke rocked Trump’s phony tough-skin facade and even got a visceral reaction from Jack Jason, the interpreter for dais member and deaf actress Marlee Matlin.
3) William Shatner – August 20, 2006 Some roasts have strange mixtures of celebrities, such as the Jeff Foxworthy roast from 2005, but this one had spot-on casting. William Shatner is beloved for many shows such as T.J. Hooker and Boston Legal but his legacy will always be that of Captain Kirk fromStar Trek. Comedy Central knew which hand they needed to play and hiring former Trek stars such as George Takei and Nichelle Nichols to be on the dais along with stand-up comedian and nerd idol Patton Oswalt. But the show also featured bona-fire Hollywood stars from Shatner’s past such as Betty White, Fred Willard, and the late Farrah Fawcett (who put on an intoxicated performance that rivals Courtney Love’s from the year previous). It’s said you can tell how much a famous person is loved by how famous the people are that come out to honor you. Shatner got not only a star-studded dais but had celebrities of many types there to watch such as Jeri Ryan, country musician Brad Paisley, and stars of Reno 911.
2) Flavor Flav – August 12, 2007 Flavor Flav was one of the most talked-about celebrities in 2007, thanks to his crazy antics on his reality show, Flavor of Love. Comedy Central decided that was why he should be roasted, not his work in Public Enemy, arguably one of the most important rap groups in American history. This roast is great because it helped expose Katt Williams to an even bigger audience. Williams was already a draw at this time but his time as roastmaster for this roast helped him crossover to mainstream success. The experience even gave him new material; Williams reflects on the backstage drama of this night on his 2008 special, It’s Pimpin’ Pimpin’.
1) Bob Saget – August 16, 2008 This is still the undisputed king of Comedy Central roasts. Once Bob Saget starred as Danny Tanner in Full House, children across the country saw Saget as a clean-cut, white-bread wholesome guy instead of one of the filthiest comedians you will ever hear. With his fellow Full House star and real-life friend John Stamos as roastmaster, Saget got hammered with some of the most cringe-inducing comedy ever aired, including jokes about him having sex with his underage co-stars. Two comedians deserve major props here. One is Brian Posehn, who was called in at the last minute and still churned out an excellent set; had he not said this onstage, nobody would have known otherwise. The other comedian who shined bright was Norm McDonald. After some career and personal trouble, McDonald returned to the stage, delivering one of the most wry, ironic, and deliciously deadpan sets you’ll ever see. It still slays me as much as the first time, even five years later.
Worst Roast: Jeff Foxworthy – March 20, 2005 Before continuing, I must say that I’m a big Jeff Foxworthy fan. He’s a good storyteller and a smart businessman, knowing who his fans are and giving them what they want. He once had the best selling comedy album ever and made lots of money doing clean comedy. That said, it’s weird that his roast ended up being so terrible. The single biggest problem was the utter lack of chemistry between comics who were and weren’t good friends with Foxworthy. It was like watching National League players trying to roast a designated hitter. For example, Ron White is not a clean comic so he fit in with the environment and Larry The Cable Guy turned up the mean factor on this night. They seemed the most comfortable onstage because of their history with Foxworthy. However, the other comedians seemed to just be there because Comedy Central gave them a check. Greg Giraldo was constantly funny on roasts but fell flat here because he seemed reserved about ripping Foxworthy, perhaps due to professional respect. Lisa Lampinelli was the worst dais member because nobody felt less simpatico with the Blue Collar comedians. You can’t have someone that crass with notably clean comedians; it’s a recipe for disaster. The worst part of the night was the awful George W. Bush impersonator that tanked whatever momentum the show had built so far. Not only was he not funny but roasts are not the time for political humor. I’m sure this, like the dais lineup, seemed like a good idea on paper but in practice, it was bungled. And that’s too bad because Foxworthy deserves Better.