Tuesday, September 3, 2013

REVIEWED: The Comedy Central Roast of James Franco

Last night, Comedy Central held their annual roast, and considering it was Labor Day, I don't think they could have picked a more apt target: the hard-working artist extraordinaire, James Franco.

This is the widest his eyes have ever been.
Love him or hate him, Franco's an interesting personality. If we're not gonna roast a comedy icon, like Roseanne or Bob Saget or Joan Rivers, then I think someone like Franco is a great idea. I wasn't happy about the choices of Flava Flav, Charlie Sheen, Hasselhoff, or Trump, because I think it was rewarding them for despicable behavior: Flava of Love was on, Sheen had just had his meltdown, Hasselhoff had just been fired, and Trump is just a terrible person.
I also think the Roastee should be someone who can take it as well as give it. Of these, Trump I think was a good sport. Sheen had the best rebuttal of the four.
Franco for me is like the best of the celebrity roasts: William Shatner, a genuinely good but strange guy who is actually pretty good at acting. Seriously though, if you've never seen them, check out the Saget, Rivers, and Roseanne roasts. The assembled for each are top-notch, and the rebuttals are amazing, Rivers' being the best.

This Roast, I was proud to say, bucked several trends we've all come to be familiar with.
First of all, I really hate that some of the time, I'm convinced the dais doesn't know each other. You can especially tell when it's something like, Carrie Fischer is at the Roseanne roast, and it's fairly easy to tell she knows none of the comics except for Seth Green. This dais all knew each other. They're all prominent stand-ups, except for Rogen and Hill, who are well-acquainted through the Judd Apatow movies. So basically, they're all comedians! Oh, Comedy Central, what a concept for your comedic roasts! Even when they did the Dean Martin Roasts way back when, you could obviously tell it was better with comics. John Wayne couldn't roast to save his life, why in the world did we expect Hulk Hogan or, worse, The Situation, to kill it?
And the second point is pretty intertwined with the first. I was glad to see slightly more obscure figures who are comics rather than obscure celebrities who aren't funny. Again, I point to the "celeb" roaster: Carrie Fischer at Roseanne's, Hulk Hogan at Hasselhoff's, The Situation at Trump's, Toby Keith at the Larry the Cable Guy roast, Brigitte Nielsen at the Flava Flav roast...Honestly, probably the ones that fared the best in this regard were George Takei at the Shatner roast, and the dais at the Larry the Cable Guy roast. Honestly, look it up: Toby Keith, Maureen McCormick, and Gary Busey. All three are actually pretty funny.
They didn't do the "old-school comic, who doesn't quite get it" act. This staple has always been remarkably strong, and it's easy to see why. Take a look at this list:
Bea Arthur roasts Pamela Anderson by reading her book,
Betty White roasts William Shatner, although my favorite line was to Nichelle Nichols: "These are like the roasts I used to go to in the good old days...oh, except, Nichelle, you wouldn't have been allowed in."
Cloris Leachman roasts Bob Saget (and this is my favorite roast from this particular group).
Carl Reiner roasts Joan Rivers and plays the out-of-touch senior to perfection.
George Hamilton roasts David Hasselhoff and is particularly classy.
Larry King roasts Donald Trump and kills.
And Shatner himself comes back to roast Charlie Sheen, which was really cool.
So it was all young and awesome people this time, and again, I really enjoyed that you could believe all these people hung out together. It really helps. It enhances the feel of the show.

Roasts are a terrible thing on TV. They're incredibly private and special. Roasts are essentially the equivalent of talking shit about your friends to each other's faces. And that's the problem with most roasts. The only reason they ever get awkward or uncomfortable is because it's not friends poking fun at each other for the stupid shit they do, it's celebrities making fun of bigger celebrities and everyone gets mad and jealous.
Listen to Anthony Jeselnik's stories from the roasts on podcast interviews. They sound like absolutely miserable experiences. So when a roast kills, I'm extremely proud of the comics who do it. And I was really proud of this roast. And the reason it killed was because this, unlike most Roasts, was a group of friends, who happen to be comics, making fun of each other's professed insecurities that they'd only know because they're friends, instead of a group of celebrities, who don't understand comedy (particularly the difficult comedy of a roast), making fun of each other's failures, because they think hurt is the same as funny.

Your Roastmaster: Seth Rogen
Yup. Get ready to hear that laugh for two hours.
I was glad to see MacFarlane not return for round. I'm glad a different Seth took over. Jane Lynch was really good at the Roseanne roast, and I think it reminded everyone that people other than MacFarlane can do the Roastmaster job. It's certainly a thankless job; the host is trying to make a memorable performance despite being broken up throughout the night.
Unfortunately, I think Rogen slipped into obscurity pretty fast after his opening, which was really good. I can't think of too many better Roastmasters though, other than MacFarlane. Actually, John Stamos was outstanding at the Saget roast.
My favorite Rogen lines:
"This is the longest Aziz has heard me talk without checking to see if someone more famous has texted him."
"Nick Kroll is the scary Jewish face Mel Gibson runs from in his dreams every night."
"Franco, you look like you're asleep; did you just read a James Franco book?"
"Look at me, doin' all the talking while you sit there doing nothing. I feel like I'm hosting the Oscar's with you."
Score: 7/10

Opening: Nick Kroll
A face only a mother could love. A blind one.
Kroll has the unenviable opening spot, the Greg Giraldo spot, setting the tone and pace for the entire show. Giraldo would hit it hard, and I'd say Kroll was very much in the spirit of this. Of course, no one could surpass Giraldo in the spot, but I liked Kroll a lot. He was an uncanny choice, and he really attacked it.
I'd say quote of his roast would have to go to:
"Jonah, a lot of people are gonna touch on your weight tonight, but not enough people are gonna talk about what an asshole you've become."
Score: 8/10

Jonah Hill

It was really hard to find a picture of him at the right weight.
Jonah's roast was serviceable, ultimately forgettable. He took a bit of a twist, attempting to compliment everybody, basically a veil of pretense to cover up his insults. His strongest one was to Bill Hader, which unfortunately was his first target, so it went downhill from there.
Score: 4/10

Princess of the Roasts: Sarah Silverman
Many will argue Lisa Lampanelli is the Queen of the Roasts, and she undeniably is, even serving as Roastmaster for the Larry the Cable Guy roast. But Sarah, who hasn't seen a roast since Pamela Anderson's, is undeniably next in line for me. Amy Schumer is getting there, and I'd even say ready to pass Lampanelli as the new queen, and Whitney Cummings was never much good to me. Silverman, even with her few performances, is a consummate roaster. She understands the tone and the delivery, without ever sounding bitchy and rude, like the less experienced female celebrities.
Silverman was absolutely perfect.
And you can tell she commands mad respect, because her line of the night got the biggest reaction from the other comics onstage:
To Jonah Hill: "You've come a long way from being Sonny and Cher's daughter."
Other great lines:
"On a scale of 1 to 10, do ou own a scale?"
"I've been a huge supporter of Aziz for years, and for only the price of a cup of coffee!"
Score: 9/10

In Character: Bill Hader
I was really happy to see an in-character roast, as it hasn't really been done since Andy Dick was on the roasts. Hader played The President of Hollywood, and it was pretty damn excellent.
Taking the angle that his character had given the dais its celebrity status, he scolded each person for wasting the opportunities given to them. I particularly enjoyed that he quickly broke into and fell out of an Andy Samberg impression.
It was also great watching his reaction to the proceedings throughout the night.
Line of the night goes to:
To Aziz Ansari: "You're like the Daniel Day-Lewis of only doing one thing."
Score: 7/10

Newcomer: Natasha Leggero
I'm sad about the number of times I had to explain who Natasha Leggero is, because she's an outstanding stand-up.
And she killed it during this roast. While I was sad Amy Schumer wasn't there (because she had the roast of the night from the Roseanne roast) Leggero more than sufficed. I expected nothing less. I think a different reason the first-timers, like Jeselnik and Schumer, when they first do it, are so good, is because they have nothing to lose.
I really liked this joke, as did a lot of the dais:
"Jonah was born and raised in Hollywood. And you can tell! He's a name-dropper with big tits and an eating disorder."
But her line of the night was definitely this one, and she may very well have had the line of the roast:

"Bill Hader...You are this generation's Phil Hartman...Hopefully."
Score: 10/10

The Anti-Roast: Andy Samberg
I was nervous when Samberg started, because I realized he was doing an anti-roast, and that's always risky. The only successful one was Norm MacDonald, and that was absolutely brilliant, legendary. Samberg started and I didn't think he was gonna make it through right. But he braved through it, which I was very proud of, and I think he gained some of his confidence back when Bill Hader was audibly laughing, and Samberg even thanked him.
I was happy Samberg pointed out how nervous everyone was onstage, because they should be. Like I said, Roasts are miserable most of the time, but this group managed to make it really fun.
It's hard to quote a specific line from Samberg, because the whole roast works as a bit, but this one was particularly funny:
"Is there a barista here, because this roast just got DARK."
And once he gets to Franco, he definitely kicks it up, and is wonderful.
Score: 6/10

Aziz Ansari
Aziz can do no wrong in my book, to be quite honest. He's just got this great, straightforward style. It's earnest and sarcastic, it's smart, without being condescending, but you can tell he's worked really hard to craft that delivery.
I liked that he made light of the fact that he may be the most unacquainted with everyone else there, but that he was enjoying himself nonetheless.
Lines of the night:
"That's my new career goal: to never see Nick Kroll again."
And my favorite:
"Don't make fun of any jokes Sarah Silverman was doing five years ago, she's still doing them."

Score: 9/10

The Roastmaster General: Jeffrey Ross
I can't remember Ross ever closing the show. He's usually the "clean-up", somewhere in the middle of the show to pick it up, and bring us into the home stretch. Of course, that was with Giraldo opening and Lampanelli or Gilbert Gottfried closing. Aziz could have conceivably closed, but I was actually glad for one more act after Aziz went.
Ross is unbeatable. There will be maybe one roast at any given show that is better than his, but he is easily in the top 2 or 3 of the evening every time. His consistency, his absolute effortlessness in delivery, and some of his jokes are just impeccable. He's lately taken to an interesting costume as well, most famous being his Joe Paterno outfit at last year's Roseanne roast. People make fun of Ross's decidedly old-school approach, which is mostly wordplay, but it's hard to argue with the results. It was great to see him close the show with the second-best roast of the night:
"Jonah almost couldn't be here tonight, he was having trouble finding a suit that changed sizes every three hours."
"Aziz has been charming audiences and snakes for years."
"Franco. You look like Johnny Depp with Lupus."
And he had the second-best line of the night too, delivered straight to James Franco's grandmother:
"127 Hours is how long she has left."
Score: 9/10

James Franco's Rebuttal Score: 7/10
Final Roast Score: 9/10. Probably one of the overall best celebrity roasts, with every member of the dais putting a strong performance together. When your weakest link is Jonah Hill being relatively funny, instead of Carrie Fischer having an awkward meltdown, I'd say your show is pretty strong.