Comedy Central has been on a pretty bad track with their annual roasts the last few years, mostly because they gave up on roasting icons in favor of roasting cartoon personalities. We had Donald Trump. Larry the Cable Guy. David Hasselhoff. Most recently, we got Charlie Sheen. These are targets for which the jokes write themselves, because the guys are only famous for their larger-than-life eccentricities or defects (at least Larry the Cable Guy -- aka "Dan Whitney" -- was a comic). It wasn't even shooting fish in a barrel, because that implies some degree of difficulty. It was cheap and it was easy and it felt lazy, and it diluted the brand.
I'll give them some credit, then, for seemingly trying to get things back on track and roasting an actual comedy icon this time around in Roseanne Barr Sure, the jokes felt just as cheap and obvious for the most part -- Roseanne is overweight and Roseanne is crazy -- but there was genuine affection and respect from everyone on the dais. That's part of a really good roast, because, as "roastmaster general" Jeff Ross always says, you only roast the ones you love. That couldn't be said of the Trump roast or the Hasselhoff roast, which consisted of comics taking easy shots at guys for whom they had no respect. At least this time around, when everyone took a turn telling mean jokes and followed it up with the obligatory "But really you're great and I respect you," it seemed like they meant it.
Glee star Jane Lynch took over as roastmaster, and she did a fine job. She got off a stream of pretty good one-liners early on, but seemed a little uncomfortable with the style of comedy necessary for a good roast overall -- in short, she came off not wanting to be too mean. Mostly, her presentation gave way to an endless series of "Jane Lynch is gay" jokes, because every single person on the dais was reduced to a single personality trait (a fact which Carrie Fisher brutally -- and, it appeared, spontaneously -- skewered when she finally got her shot at the podium). Ellen Barkin is old. Seth Green is short. Wayne Brady is black, or not black enough. Amy Schumer is slutty. Carrie Fisher is and old drug addict. Roseanne is overweight. It all became variations on the same joke over and over, so much so that when a comic would finally come up with a new angle, it earned a laugh on the sheer basis of its novelty.
Amy Schumer, who has stepped nicely into the void left by Whitney Cummings, started things off well enough; not every joke landed, but enough did that she became a tough act to follow. The roasts have already helped make her a star, and though she wasn't really the breakout hit of this one, she acquitted herself nicely. Everyone else did mostly what we've come to expect. Anthony Jeselnik's set wasn't as strong as I had hoped, but I suspect he fell victim to the Comedy Central editors. Though Seth Green, who took the stage pretty early in the night, seemed mostly uncomfortable and out of place, there wasn't anyone who bombed outright (see: Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino on the Roast of Charlie Sheen). There weren't any real home runs, either. Part of the problem may have been that half the dais was, as has become custom at Comedy Central, made up not of comedians but of celebrities doing jokes written by comics. Katey Sagal looked incredible but was mostly just serviceable; Ellen Barkin was a great sport during everyone's sets but laid on the "drunk" shtick a little hard when her turn at the mic came. Sometimes, it's the non-comics who run away with these roasts, probably because expectations are lowered. That didn't happen at the Roast of Roseanne.
There was such a general sameness to the Roast of Roseanne that it was hard to get excited about anything. It was the same comics that do most of these roasts doing the same kinds of jokes. That may explain why one of the only moments in which the show came alive was when Tom Arnold, Roseanne's ex-husband, made a surprise appearance, marking the first time the two have been in the same room in nearly 20 years. While I'm guessing Roseanne had to have approved his participation beforehand (it's not really the kind of thing they would spring on her, I don't think), it had an air of spontaneity missing from most of the roast. Arnold's set wasn't the most inspired, either, but at least it felt different; yes, he did the requisite "Roseanne is a big woman" jokes, but much of his material was autobiographical about his days spent married to the Domestic Goddess before closing with some truly nice and heartfelt words. How much of what he said was actually true, I couldn't say (and it was very colorful), but at least it was something different and interesting. If nothing else, Arnold's appearance made the Roast of Roseanne stand apart from Comedy Central's other roasts, because it featured some actual human moments.
By the time Roseanne took the stage for the traditional "rebuttal," there wasn't any new ground left to cover. She seemed like a great sport throughout the night, laughing as hard or harder as anyone during every joke at her expense (when she wasn't asking to have things explained to her, that is), and at least she delivered her joke's with a comedian's sense of timing and style. But whereas, say, Joan Rivers leveled the room at her roast a few years back, Roseanne was content to get up and do the same blandly predictable jokes in which everyone else was trafficking. Her best moment came at the very end, when she sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" to close out her set. Sure, she was referencing something that's over 20 years old, but it was a nice reminder of her place in our cultural history and demonstrated that we're all capable of bettering ourselves, even if it just means taking singing lessons.
- Original Air Date: 8/12/12