Tuesday, September 03, 2013

A request to Comedy Central

I am a huge fan of your annual roasts. Comedy, by its definition, is hit-and-miss, but every roast has had more salvageable material than not. And even the disasters typically are entertaining in their own way.

But the roast of James Franco (which I watched part of for the first time last night) was by far the worst one yet. I wanted to give it a chance, even though I shuddered at the announced lineup. Sadly, the show exceeded (if that's the word) my lowest expectations.

The biggest problem with the show was one that sinks a lot of entertainment these days — self-indulgence. Unlike with most roasts, virtually everyone at this one was a close clique of best friends. And those friends were the Seth Rogen/Jonah Hill/Andy Samberg crew, the most self-indulgent of the self-indulgent working today. 

And yes, they're all working today to great success. That's another problem. These guys are young (many younger than me) and still climbing. Most of them are scandal-free, and Franco in particular is largely infamous for his inability to helm a major telecast. That's great, but it makes Franco an odd choice as a roast target. That, combined with their collective tendency toward lowest-common-denominator jokes, made the event an exercise in endurance.

They're all talented, and I have laughed at every one of them at one time or another. I admit I passed on an opportunity to appear in This Is The End and regret it now. I'll bet they're a blast to hang out with.

The problem is, these guys mostly hang out. That works in their movies, but not so much in the roast. Much of it felt like hearing inside jokes between hipster friends, where you don't get the references and they don't want you to get it, but they do want you to know you won't understand.

Samberg was always the hit-and-miss hipster of SNL, either killing it or copying a past success with diminishing returns. His routine was probably the single worst I've ever seen on a roast. It probably would have come off better as anti-humor if Norm Macdonald hadn't done it so much better on Bob Saget's roast. (I cried laughing then, and still do every time I rewatch it.) In Norm's shadow, Andy seemed like he was trying way too hard, and didn't help matters by making dick jokes instead of the overly inoffensive jokes that work better in anti-humor. Also, anti-humor needs a lot of funny around it, and a lot less self-indulgence, instead of vice versa.

I write a lot of jokes myself (not that most people ever see them). I'll often revisit past gags and realize that, while they were perfect for the time and place, they'd land with a thud if aimed at a national audience. My funniest conversations with friends would probably suffer the same fate. And they're hilarious.

It's probably no accident that my favorite performer of the night was Natasha Leggero, an outsider looking in. Jeff Ross' cornrows also deserved more airtime.

This group would be better off in a different comedy format, or apart. But the roast of James Franco didn't look or feel like a true Comedy Central roast. It was the Superman III of the franchise. My request is that you pick a better target next year and bring back more of the rotating crew of past roasters.

But that's just my self-indulgent opinion. See you next year!

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