The March 30th roast of Justin Bieber was part of a great tradition of roasting celebrities on the Comedy Central stage. The hour long specials consist of roasters – usually comedians and other celebrities – taking turns bashing, ridiculing, and generally having a good time making fun of the roastee. Originally, celebrity roasts consisted less of one-liners and more of friendly sentiments. Early roasts, which were begun by the Friars’ Club in 1904, weren’t televised until the late 1960’s. The tradition went mainstream in the 1970s, beginning with the Dean Martin Celebrity Roast.
Comedy Central took over roasting after its split from the Friar’s club in 2002. Since then, Comedy Central roasts have become less about honoring fellow actors/comedians, and more about ridiculing celebrities who are already in the publicity toilet. Roasters are also more diverse than they once were, including celebrities such as Snoop Dogg and the Situation, both of whom are nowhere close to being professional comedians.
Despite the cut throat nature of celebrity roasts, people still enjoy watching their favorite stars deliver one-liners aimed at cutting through otherwise untouchable celebs. Of a long line of celebrities taking their seat in the roasting chair, some have been more painful – and correspondingly hilarious – than others. These are ten that have truly gone down in comedy history.
10. Larry the Cable Guy
The Warner Bros. lot was filled with comedians such as Lisa Lampanelli, Jeff Foxworthy, Greg Giraldo, and Jeffrey Ross on March 1, 2009 for the roast of Larry the Cable Guy. The honoree was dressed in his best cut-off t-shirt and jeans as he sat politely listening to fellow celebrities poke fun at everything from his lack luster acting to his comedic sets. The jokes were not nearly as dirty as the roast of say, Pamela Anderson, but they were still funny enough to keep the audience laughing hard.
Many of the jokes centered around Larry the Cable Guy’s looks, such as Lisa Lampanelli’s crack: “Larry the Cable Guy has everything: sleeveless shirts, stupid catchphrases. He’s Mr. T without the acting chops.”
9. James Franco
After James Franco’s less than stellar performance at the 2013 Oscars, he was sure to get more than a few harsh jabs at his September Comedy Central Roast of James Franco. Led by Seth Rogen, roasters included Jonah Hill, Sarah Silverman, Andy Samberg and Bill Hader.
Seth Rogen started off the roast with the obvious jokes about Franco’s sexuality, which has been continuously called into question. From there Sarah Silverman and Aziz Ansari kept the ambiguous sexuality jokes going while Jonah Hill made light of Franco’s Oscar bomb while Nick Kroll chose to focus mostly on Franco’s odd stoner like appearance. Throughout the jabs Franco kept his composure and in the end made light of his own Oscar’s performance by saying, “This is truly my punishment for the Oscars.”
8. Pamela Anderson
Back in 2005, Pamela Anderson was still somewhat of a well known celebrity. She was also the perfect target considering her sexually charged film career and her less than stellar intelligence. It of course was no shock that the entirety of the roast with littered with explicitly sexual jokes from roasters Jeff Ross, Nick DiPaolo, Bea Arthur, and Sarah Silverman.
What was a bit of a shock was the more than apparent intoxication of Courtney Love. Almost every moment of hilariousness came with a shot of Love nearly falling off her chair. But Pamela Anderson took Love’s strange behavior and the overtly sexual jokes in her stride.
7. Hugh Hefner
For a man who has made his entire celebrity of selling sex, getting old does not come easily. But it does create a lot of material for comedians. There is no more of an easier target than Hugh Hefner.
The founder and chief creative officer of Playboy Enterprises is known for his constant affairs with women at least 50 years younger than him as well as the millions of dollars he has made promoting pornography. Roasters that were more than willing to poke fun at the man’s age and sexual ability were Gilbert Gottfried, roastmaster Jimmy Kimmel, Drew Carey, Alan King, and Adam Carolla. Some of the most remembered jokes of the evening were from Gilbert Gottfried who quipped, “the only way Hugh Hefner can get stiff is through rigor mortis,” and “Hugh Hefner is so old his first condom was made out of bark.”
6. Joan Rivers
The late Joan Rivers was considered a comedic legend, so it’s no surprise that during her Comedy Central roast, Rivers gave the very best comedic performance of the entire hour-long special.
With talent such as Greg Giraldo, Robin Quivers, Whitney Cummings, and Kathy Griffin, Rivers was honored through a string of one-liners that centered mostly around her age. But the best moment of the evening came when Rivers stood and, in preparing to give her speech, slapped roastmaster Kathy Griffin. All in good fun, Rivers finished the night with her own set of insults and a big pat on the back for herself.
5. William Shatner
Though best known for his role as Captain James T. Kirk in Star Trek, William Shatner is also known for his participation in commercials and works of spoken word. The long list of roasters including, Andy Dick, Farrah Fawcett, George Takei, Betty White and Fred Willard made sure to include just enough pokes about Shatner’s role as Kirk and his unique humor to make the roast hilarious. Jason Alexander assumed the role of roast master and was deemed by Greg Giraldo to be the “Pillsbury Jew Boy.”
4. Charlie Sheen
Throughout his acting career Charlie Sheen has had his fair share of public meltdowns. He has also given comics more than enough ammunition to fill an hour long roast. And the comedians and talent that took the stage made use of every embarrassment Sheen so willingly gave them. Jeff Ross, Mike Tyson, and Patrice O’Neal took the stage along with Sheen in 2011.
The roast marked the first time that Amy Schumer took the stage to toss one-liners at a celebrity and was the last TV appearance of Patrice O’Neal. Seth MacFarlane took the spot of roastmaster. Most of the jokes targeted at Charlie Sheen were horribly brutal, with the least offensive being from Amy Schumer: “You’re just like Bruce Willis – you were big in the 80’s and now your old slot is being filled by Ashton Kutcher.”
3. Johnny Carson
After the country suffered through tragedies like the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy, the airing of the Friar’s Club Roast of Johnny Carson was a breath of fresh comedic air. And this roast was more than just foul mouthed jokes and quick one-liners.
With Carson’s sophistication and witty jokes, the 1968 roast was clean enough to be aired on NBC and captivate viewers across the country. And, if viewers weren’t wowed by Carson’s humor, they were more than thrilled with the line up of roasters. Dick Cavett, Don Rickles, Ed Sullivan, Flip Wilson, Groucho Marx, and Steven Allen brought their own comedic style to the stage. Don Rickles led the comedians and helped even Ed Sullivan, the generally stiff and less than humorous host, keep the audience laughing while paying tribute to the king of Late Night Television, Mr. Johnny Carson.
2. Don Rickles
The king of roastmasters, Don Rickles took the seat of honor at his own roast in 1974. No stranger to the stage from his years of Las Vegas performances and his stand-up comedy sets, Rickles was more prepared for the jokes that were sure to come his way. The improv comedian was joined on stage by big timers such as Dean Martin, Casey Kasem, Bob Newhart, and Carol Channing. With a stage full of hilarious celebrities, the Don Rickles roast could have only been made better of Rickles himself participated in the roasting ceremony. One celebrity in particular, Casey Kasem stole the show with his over the top impression of Hitler.
1. Frank Sinatra
The roast of Frank Sinatra really embodies what the original celebrity roasts were meant to be. In a cloud of cigar smoke, the roasters lined the stage, their drinks in hand while they paid tribute to Sinatra. Celebrities such as Dean Martin, Don Rickles, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Stewart, Orson Welles, Gene Kelly and Peter Falk came out to honor their longtime friend. The roasters took full use of Sinatra’s multiple divorces, mob ties, many female companions, constant chattering, and all around swaggering lifestyle. Peter Falk added the finishing touch to the roast with his portrayal of Detective Lt Columbo.
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