I'll admit that I was very skeptical about the Comedy Central Roast of Larry the Cable Guy. Recent Comedy Central roasts have had diminishing returns, with very few laughs to be found in the most recent Roast of Bob Saget. Worse, I couldn't imagine how comedians could be expected to roast a fictional character. No one would be telling jokes about Dan Whitney, the failed comedian who threw on a sleeveless shirt, donned a trucker hat and affected a fake Southern accent to become the enormously popular Larry the Cable Guy. The jokes would be at the expense of that creation, which is a little like being asked to roast Robin Williams but roasting Mork instead.
But what the Roast of Larry the Cable Guy taught me is that the subject of a roast isn't all that important; it's the jokes that are told that matter. This roast had more than its share of memorable insults and one-liners, making it one of the better Comedy Central roasts of recent years. Who knew?
Lisa Lampanelli, an old friend of Whitney/Mr. the Cable Guy, served as roastmaster for the event. Though she's been a standout at past roasts, Lampanelli seemed a little shackled by her role; aside from a few jokes at the show's opening, she was only able to sneak in a single one-liner before introducing each new roaster. It wasn't the best use of the Queen of Mean.
Things got better once the comics began taking the stage, though there were certainly a lot of material that fell flat. Too many of the jokes were variations on the same things: Lampanelli is ugly, Lampanelli has sex with black men, Greg Giraldo is a no one, Jeff Foxworthy has a ridiculous mustache, Larry the Cable Guy is trash and inexplicably popular. Jokes like this aim for easy targets and hit squarely, but without a creative twist become white noise after a while.
Greg and Marcia, Marcia, Marcia
Thankfully, there were enough jabs that were creative to make the Roast of Larry the Cable Guy an overall success -- even if the high points came from some unlikely places. Casual comedy fans may not be aware of Greg Giraldo -- many of the night's jokes were rooted in this idea -- but we die-hard stand-up fans know him as a brilliant comic and first-class grouch. Having him take the stage first may have been a mistake, as he walked away with the best set of the night and left the rest of the comics trailing in his wake; the rest of the show never recovered. Essentially spouting off every possible thing I would want him to say -- that Larry is a hack, that his success makes no sense, that it's impossible to roast a character -- Giraldo, I believe it's called, "killed."
To me, Giraldo's performance was no surprise. What was a a surprise was Maureen "Don't Call Me Marcia" McCormick, one of a few non-comedians given a chance at the podium. McCormick benefited from the same advantage that non-comics like Betty White and Cloris Leachman did at past Comedy Central roasts: she seems to not be fully aware of just how dirty and nasty her jokes (clearly written by a pro) actually are. There was a sweet naivete to her delivery as she rattled off some of the best lines of the night (including one where she admitted to causing Gary Busey's near-fatal accident years ago). Of the non-comics (the others being Busey, Warren Sapp and Toby Keith), McCormick fared the best. She was even better than some of the professionals.
If Giraldo and McCormick were the two bright spots, everywhere else the performances were uneven. Every comic had at least one good, memorable line, but sometimes little else. Jeff Foxworthy, who seems like a nice guy, looked visibly embarrassed and uncomfortable with how dirty some of the jokes got; I'm not sure this was the right venue for him. Larry the Cable Guy, who I'm not a fan of, managed a few lines that made me laugh and seemed to take the whole thing in the spirit it was intended. I guess when you're that big a success, you can brush off the angry ranting of Greg Giraldo a little more easily.
- Original Air Date: 3/15/09