Brian Brashaw

The Top 10 Comedy Central Roast Sets

Comedy_Central_Roast_2011

The Stanley Cup has been lifted, LeBron is a two-time champion, UCLA has won the College World Series and there is nothing left of major sports until school starts again. So, if you’re like me, you are looking for entertainment and honestly baseball is Lunesta until October.

So while you are roasting in the summer heat, we figured we would bring you the best 10 individual performances from the Comedy Central Roasts. I realize Roasts go back to the Dean Martin Celebrity Roast days, but familiar is funny and Georgia Engel isn’t familiar. And if you got that joke, you might want to stop reading now. We’re going to focus on the Comedy Central-era roasts.

Although I will not be using any profanity writing and reviewing the acts, the acts are potentially offensive, filled with colorful language and they make no apologies. In other words (or letters, as it were), the links contained within are NSFW. So if you are easily offended or not in the mood to laugh, again, stop reading.

Otherwise, put an apple in your mouth, you’re about to be roasted!

10. Dick Gregory at the Hugh Hefner Roast (2001)

We’re starting off a bit sappy here with Dick Gregory. If you don’t know who Dick Gregory is, educate yourself. Most men have reasons to thank Hugh Hefner, but Gregory’s are more personal. As a black comic, he gets an opportunity to thank Hefner for having the guts to break him into the business in front of a whole new generation.

The Hefner Roast came just a few weeks after September 11, 2001 and was nearly postponed. Given the gravity of the times, Gregory speaks with passion, purpose, patriotism and a dose of Michael Jackson humor. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched him preach that “Fear and God do not occupy the same space.”

The edited version of the Heffner Roast is linked here, with Gregory appearing at 26:30.

9. Snoop Dogg at the Donald Trump Roast (2011)

The Trump Roast was the most random collection of personalities ever. The dais reminded me of the six key questions of journalism: Who? (Anthony Jeselnik), What? (Marlee Matlin), Where? (Larry King), When? (Whitney Cummings), Why? (The Situation) and How? (Snoop Dog).

For a guy who made his name in the rap game, Snoop Dogg continues to impress with talent on all levels. He’s an athlete, winning the 2012 Beach Bowl MVP. He’s been an actor, producer, football coach and most recently the voice of Smoove Move, a snail, in the Dreamworks’ movie Turbo. He had been on roasts before (Flavor Flav) and after (Charlie Sheen), but this was by far his best attempt.

8. George Takai and Betty White at the William Shattner Roast (2006)

Watching these two back to back at the Trekkie God roast was classic. Takai set his differences with Shattner aside to come slay him and the rest of the crowd at this roast and was brilliant. Takai makes jokes playing on his own sexuality while covering the rest of the dais with innuendo.

Right after Takai came Betty White, a veteran of the format and it showed. Without cursing, White flawlessly poked at the dais, charmingly knifing through each one like she had in the Dean Martin days. She concluded with a statement of sincere adoration, often missing from today’s roasts.

Shattner gets a bit of revenge, however, at Betty White’s 90th Birthday Celebration, having the audacity to give her grief for shameless product endorsement.

How can you not love Betty White.

7. President George Bush at the Jeff Foxworthy Roast (2005)

Let’s face it, the Jeff Foxworthy roast, like his act, was a lukewarm, milquetoast redneck pile of blah. However there is one gem that sticks out. Steve Bridges comes on as President George Bush and brings the place to its feet. It was the only set to get constant laughs and standing ovation at the end. He was the only one to keep a straight face through the whole seven minutes. He was fantastic, but alas, like many awesome roasters, has since passed away.

6. Jeff Ross at the Drew Carey Roast (1998)

Jeff Ross is known as the RoastMaster General and has appeared, and killed, at most every notable roast in the last 15 years or so and his sets are always at the top of the roast class. His time at the Charlie Sheen Roast is one of my personal favorites. He’s even appeared at the Roast of Emmett Smith alongside several notable athletes including Shaq and Michael Irvin.

Jeff Ross’ presence at the Friar’s Club during the Drew Carey Roast reminds me of any young kid at an Omaha Hi-Lo poker table. He brings the average age down by 30 years and he’s the only one with anything relevant to say. He both introduced and cemented himself as a staple at all roasts. He was the most polished of the roasters and primed up the crowd for a long night of Drew roasting. This was almost a transition piece from the old school Friars Club roasts to the edgier Comedy Central variety. Please don’t watch the whole roast, though… lest you be exposed to the “comical” stylings of Margaret Cho.

5. Lisa Lampanelli’s debut at the Chevy Chase Roast (2002)

Although the roast itself was someone a sad indictment of the man himself, in a “we’re truly laughing at you, not with you” sort of way, two great things did come of the night, the debuts of Lisa Lampanelli and Greg Giraldo.

Do your self a favor and watch the whole thing and make note of how Lisa dominates the show, and the rest is just … well, awkward. She was the loudest, most crass, most energetic of any and was the standout performer of the night, proven by the fact that she was the only one Chevy addressed personally when he got his turn at the podium. That night, she and Giraldo (who we will discuss later) changed how roasters approach this art forever. She set the bar for all subsequent roasts turning them into death by a thousand lashings and not just a parade of seniors and nobodies spouting scotch-fueled inside jokes and made up stories. This was the beginning of the coronation of Lisa as the Queen of Roasts.

4. Seth MacFarlane RoastMaster of the Charlie Sheen Roast (2011)

The Family Guy creator is very familiar with animated characters, so him hosting the Charlie Sheen roast, one of the most animated reality characters in history, makes perfect sense.

Hosting his third roast, MacFarlane starts off the show perfectly spending nearly nine of the 12 opening minutes crushing Sheen for everything from his drug issues and his “Tiger Blood” meltdown to his acting chops, or lack thereof. This is one of the best recent roasts, with relative newcomers Amy Schumer and Anthony Jeselnik filling in nicely for Lisa Lampanelli and Greg Giraldo, and Jeff Ross having one of his best moments. But MacFarlane exceeds all of them, perhaps because as the host he gets more opportunity, yet he delivers with every each one.

3. Maureen McCormick at the Larry the Cable Guy Roast (2009)

Marcia! Marcia! Marcia! The Larry the Cable Guy Roast might actually be my favorite. Every roaster was solid and a few were spectacular. RoastMaster Lisa Lampanelli was a brilliant host and dressed for the occasion in a pink camouflage dress. Gary Busey was shockingly on point in all his liquid crazy and actually roasted himself in the process, setting the tone for the second half of the show. Future NFL Hall-of-Famer Warren Sapp was good for a non-comic, Giraldo was masterful and Foxworthy was effectively cutting while staying clean.

Above all them, Maureen McCormick, Marcia of Brady Bunch fame, was a rare sight to behold.  Who knows why she was there, but the recovering addict used the ’12 Steps’ as the premise to address every member of the dais and slay them. She was so exceptional that both the dais and the crowd gave her a standing ovation, a feat I have yet to see repeated by a non-comic.

2. Gilbert Gottfried at the Hugh Hefner Roast (2001)

Go ahead and watch the entire roast, linked above with No. 10. You’ll see Dick Gregory, but you won’t see the now-infamous Gilbert Gottfried set on that version. His real set has become absolute legend in the comedy world.

You must first understand or be familiar with The Aristocrats joke. This joke is a ‘comics joke’ one they all tell to each other to try to top the other, being as outlandish as possible.

During his set, Gottfried started off with a flight joke, again keeping in mind this was a month after 9/11, which caused the crowd to turn on him. Someone had found a topic that was off-limits at a roast. It was indeed too soon. But then he went into the Aristocrats bit and brought everyone back in with him. Rob Schneider was quite literally on the floor laughing. But the bit was so over-the-top that it is no longer a part of the original version of the roast.

A segment from the 2005 movie about the joke calls the Gottfried version “cathartic” as it brought the entire room together for a brief point in time, raunchy as it was.

1. Greg Giraldo’s entire body of Roast work

In my mind Greg Giraldo is the preeminent roaster, and one of the most intelligent comics I’ve seen. To pigeon-hole him as merely a roasting comic is to simply not understand Giraldo as a comic. He gave no second thought to making a joke that was likely above the level of the target audience, but those that understood that type of humor appreciated it more.

Roasts were just one side of his act, but he was a wizard at this medium. Although he is constantly introduced as an unknown comic, nothing was father from the truth. Comics knew him fondly. There are really no words I can do justice to my appreciation of his style, so I will just let you enjoy.

 

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