Another year, another Comedy Central roast. This time around, the main target was billionaire Donald Trump, who, like David Hasselhoff before him, is such a walking punchline that taking shots at him is just cheap and easy (something about fish and barrels). With the exception of Anthony Jeselnik's first appearance on a roast dais, there was nothing to get excited about this time around; I know Comedy Central hoped booking Jersey Shore's "The Situation" would make the roast relevant, but all it did was prove that not everyone can do comedy. Some people can't even spell it.
I didn't dislike Seth Macfarlane as roastmaster during his first at-bat on the David Hasselhoff roast, but I also don't think I found him to be much more than a serviceable host. Whether he's gotten more comfortable in the role or had better help from writers this time out I can't say, but Macfarlane was one of the highlights of the Roast of the Donald Trump. His jokes were some of the best, his timing was (mostly) spot on and he could always be counted on to be one of the guys truly laughing and having a good time on the dais. I was originally disappointed when he was announced as roastmster again, thinking that it was just another example of Comedy Central getting lazy (there was a lot of that this time around), but after his performance on the Trump roast I wouldn't mind if he got the gig semi-permanently. He's fitting into the role quite nicely.
From there, everything went just as expected. Lisa Lampanelli did the same set she's been doing for a few years; ditto for Whitney Cummings, who broke out with the Comedy Central roasts but whose sets are already settling into predictability. Larry King did an odd shtick in which he pretended to be hosting his call-in show; he wasn't terrible, but never really transcended the whole "Larry King is old and not entirely aware of what he's saying" gimmick. If nothing else, he afforded all the other roasters to make a lot of jokes about him being old. Clever. Snoop Dogg fared much better, demonstrating a knack for timing and a discernible style that was different than anyone else's. He actually brought something to his set.
And then, of course, there was Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino from MTV's Jersey Shore. It's hard to say if Comedy Central invited him to the roast as a ratings grab or if they just knew he would be an easy target for the other comics on the dais, but either way his participation feels incredibly cynical. He was, not surprisingly, terrible, with a deaf ear (sorry, Marlee Matlin) for delivery and zero sense of self-awareness. When a guy is as big of a joke as "The Situation," you kind of hope he's at least somewhat in on it. Not so with Sorrentino, who didn't even seem to be all that aware that he was being made fun of relentlessly and was just excited that people were talking about him at all. His first few jokes as a roaster weren't great, but they at least sounded like hacky roast jokes (badly delivered, but whatever). It wasn't until he started attacking Whitney Cummings' appearance without any discernible punchlines that the audience really turned on him, and rightly so. If Comedy Central wanted "The Situation" to come on, be a punching bag and fail miserably, no one should have come away disappointed.
Poor Anthony Jeselnik had to follow that trainwreck, and it's a testament to the strength of his set that he was able to get any laughs at all. He was my favorite comic of the night, and including him in the roast was pretty much the only novel thing Comedy Central did this time around. He had a different energy and approach then everyone else, and if Greg Giraldo couldn't be there (and he really, really couldn't), I'm glad they got Jeselnik.
Marlee Matlin did a good set and was way dirtier than I expected her to be. In many ways, she was the happiest surprise of the night; while I knew Jeselnik would kill, I had no idea that Marlee Matlin would prove to be the best sport of the roast. As stunt bookings go, this was easily the strongest. Jeff Ross, like all of the other roast regulars, did his usual job -- some good jokes, a lot of predictable ones. It feels at this point like Comedy Central has done this same roast four or five times in a row, and while I'm ready for them to shake things up, I don't think booking "The Situation" and Larry King is exactly the way they ought to do that. The roasts need new blood -- not B-and-C-list celebrity blood, but actual comedy blood. Otherwise, there isn't really any way to distinguish this roast from all the others.
Finally, Trump took to the podium. His set -- like a lot of the roast overall -- was disappointing without being embarrassing. Trump is such a character that that you would think it would be easy for him to score laughs; while his delivery and timing weren't terrible, he didn't actually tell many jokes. Most of his time was spent stumping for his hypothetical presidential run, and while that's funny in and of itself, I don't think that's the way it was meant to be taken.
It was hard to get excited about the roast. While select jokes were strong enough to make it worth watching, it suffered from the same laziness as Comedy Central's recent roasts. Something needs to change. It's like they're in reruns.
Original Comedy Central premiere date: March 15, 2011