It’s Drew Carey’s turn at the podium. Looking out at the Comedy Central cameras and fourteen hundred black-tie guests, he takes a breath. “Osama bin Laden is a cunt!” he shouts. “He’s a bearded cunt!” Shocked guffaws, fork-rattling applause. “Cunt! Fucking bitch cocksucker cunt!”
At the up-to-one-thousand-dollars-a-plate New York Friars Club Roast, speech is very, very free.
Though terrorists took their share of barbs, last Saturday’s true target Hugh Hefner made this roast practically redundant. Not surprisingly, the guest of honor (never mind his guests, the might-as-well-be-septuplets “girlfriends”) made this year’s iteration of the legendary filth-fest doubly decadent, fatuous, vulgar. It embodied, with added silicone, everything the bad guys and some Americans hate about America.
And that is why I loved it.
Disclosure: I’m an enthusiastic freshman Friar (and a comedian). This was my first roast, the profane Homecoming of this fabled fraternity of showbiz types which is headquartered in what’s now my favorite Manhattan hangout: the oaky Fifty-Fifth Street “monastery.” (Oil paintings of Milton Berle, the works. Like a mini-Yale Club, only funny.) Admission to the Friars is by nomination, application and interview, and/or by being a woman under thirty-five.
Disclosure, deux: I’m also a bit of a prude. Here’s what I thought I’d think about the roast: porn has its place but honoring that doofy, dated sleazemeister? At a time like this? Tut-tut.
But see, I had it backwards. At a time like this, the Roast was more like a Friars Cabaret Willkommen, bienvenu! with a leering, apocalyptic exuberance right from the start. Deborah Harry wheezed “God Bless America;” when the host indicated the emergency exits (“Stop staring at the Playmates for just one second”), people actually paid attention.
The New York Hilton’s Grand Ballroom stage got the full awards-show treatment: blinking lights on crisscrossed grids, multiple screens flashing the R*@$T! logo enough to make the altercockers dizzy plus a table long enough for the nearly fifty non-roasting celebrities. These included: Donald Trump (insert rich guy joke), Dr. Joyce Brothers (insert old broad joke), Carson Daly (insert young broad joke), Abe Vigoda (insert dead guy joke), Ace Frehley (insert dead rock star joke), Patty Hearst (insert “Well, she’s got more claim to fame than Carson Daly” joke).
Dinner was shrimp and lobster tails, filet mignon, white chocolate something-or-other. Between courses, I checked out Hef’s table. (#19 an age limit?) You could see it for miles, as the seven Bunnies’ blonde hair glowed like some sort of phosphorescent crop circle. “Blonde” doesn’t really capture it, actually. The yellow/white precipitate is more like an anti-color, black holelike vacuum a star collapsing on itself, attracting everything near it, yet so glaring you’ve got to look away (to the giant rack below).
After dessert, the roast itself, kicked off by Friars’ Club Abbot Alan King: “We must get on with our lives and with laughter. And who better to laugh at than Hugh Hefner?” Hef, in an actual tux (no, really not silk pajamas designed to look like one!), took his place in the big red hot seat, and the profanity began.
Ladies and gentlemen, ribaldry is not dead. This stuff was dirty. I know, duh. But I expected good old har-har ba-dum-bum yukks probing the rich soil where “He’s so old” meets “He gets laid so often.” Insert Viagra joke? Feh. Tame. This was comedy nitroglycerine.
If I sound naive, please remember, I’m a Friars’ virgin. I’d never even seen a man in a tux say “pussy.” Sadly, not even after prom.
That’s right, nothing’s “normal” anymore; we now live in a world where Gilbert Gottfried is not always annoying. And where our inner censors are finely tuned to detect the nano-difference between Ross’ rib of Schneider “Hasn’t there been enough bombing in this city?” (big laugh) and Gottfried’s “My flight has to stop at the Empire State Building first” (scattered boos).
I can’t imagine that Comedy Central’s expurgated broadcast November 4th will fully capture this almost-anything-goes mayhem. (Expect to see (1) Dick Gregory’s homily, (2) familiar faces saying “bleep” and (3) many, many cutaways to the Bunnies.) I may not watch; once is enough, thanks.
But still. In the “New Normal,” we may give W. a break, get frisked at the Frick Collection, arrive three days prior to our scheduled departure time. And we may hooray shelve some airplane jokes and massacre flicks. But we basically don’t have to as Ari Fleischer famously failed to “watch what we say.” Bin Laden is a cunt. God fucking bless America.