With that opening, Jane Lynch segued from last year’s Emmy hosting gig to roast master for Roseanne Barr.
Lynch presided over Carrie Fisher, Ellen Barkin, Wayne Brady, Katey Sagal, Seth Green, producer Jeff Ross, fellow roast regular Gilbert Gottfried and comics Anthony Jeselnik and Amy Schumer as they skewered the plus-size 90’s sitcom queen in a two hour special taped at the Hollywood Palladium on Saturday night.
Here’s what you won’t be seeing on air when “Comedy Central’s Roast of Roseanne” premieres next Sunday night, August 12.
Let’s get this one out of the way first.
Roast fixture Ross to the redheaded man-child Seth Green: “Seth, you haven't gotten this much attention since you shot all those people in Aurora. You’re actually not like (accused shooter) James Holmes. He was doing things in a theater that people remember.”
At this point about two hours in, most of the heavily industry crowd had already become desensitized to the fact that Ross delivered this while dressed as a Penn State football coach. Earlier, Ross arrived on the carpet (built as a replica of the “Roseanne” sitcom set) with two shirtless young boys in towels and football helmets. (Below right, Ross with a young guest he introduced as "his girlfriend.")
A group of Roseanne’s comic friends in the audience who are Monty Python alumni said “Tragedy plus time equals comedy.” That sounds like a sophisticated remix of the question, “Too soon?”
While Comedy Central’s standards and practices, who required at least some of the sets to be vetted in advance, will likely excise that bit from the final cut, several other recently deceased newsmakers of the year will not be spared.
The victims include Whitney Houston, Ryan Dunn and John Ritter, as well as the very much alive John Travolta, Seth MacFarlane, Sarah Palin’s special needs child Trig Palin, the people of Israel and the blue couch on which Roseanne sat for three hours.
As the twelfth installment of the popular roast specials -- what could have been a great “Dirty Dozen” boxed set back in the heyday of DVDs -- Joel Gallen’s production of the roast was different. Instead of a cavernous sound stage on the Sony lot, the cozier setting of the Palladium and a circle of talent instead of a traditional dais provided a more intimate feel. Wolfgang Puck served an hour-long three-course dinner before the taping began. Surprisingly, this did not goose the number of expected "fat" jokes.
Roseanne, and Lynch did a good job selling Tom Arnold’s “surprise” appearance. Roseanne only approved it the night before and the roasters were completely surprised.
“This is the first time Rosie and I have been in the same room together in 18 years,” Arnold said as his opening line.
Arnold’s continuing use of “Rosie,” one of those showbiz nicknames you never know a celeb uses among intimates until you hear it, was endearing. At the end of his set, he kissed her hand before leaving the stage and was truly gone. He didn’t hang around backstage, wasn’t at the Boulevard3 after party, and didn’t do any press.
Brady provided the true surprise of the night for those who only know his cheery television personality – a constant target throughout the night. He wins the Bob Saget award for off-screen success working “blue.”
After Jeselnik targeted Brady on stage, “You are black. You played an uppity slave on ‘Whose Line is it Anyways’,” Brady addressed the misconception after the show.
“I’m a grown-ass man, I’m not a Ken doll that’s smooth down there,” he tells me.
“Doing something like this with Comedy Central was important. You heard the jokes, ‘You’re not black enough, you’re not this enough.’ Well, fuck you, I am. I don’t have to prove it, but I’m going to shut you up by showing you what I do. I thank Comedy Central, (President) Doug Herzog, and the team for letting me come on this to show them what I do.”
It was a quick turnaround for Brady. He just got the first call exactly a week prior as he was walking off stage at the Montreal Comedy Festival. Of note, Brady’s manager Amy Zvi also manages Ross and roast alum Sarah Silverman.
Unlike Brady, who had no time to try out his material in a club, Ross and Gottfried worked out the kinks at the Comedy Store on Friday night. Jeselnik and Schumer both popped up at Chris Hardwick’s Nerdmelt Theatre on Sunset three days before the show with their sets complete.
“You know they’re going to bring it. They have nothing to lose. They’re hungry and ready to kick ass,” Brady said. (At left, Jeselnik and Michael Fishman.)
“I sense the crowd at Nerdmelt really liked me and here they were not that in to me,” Jeselnik said.
Making a distinction between Hollywood crowds and true comedy fans, Jeselnik added “I think on TV the people who will be watching it are real comedy fans and it will be better.”
One surprising fan in the room? Roseanne’s 16-year old son, Buck. After listening to professionals destroy his mother for three hours, he was onstage happy to meet his favorite comic, Jeselnick, and get pictures with the other talent.
Rapper/performer Tyler the Creator and Lionel Boyce of Adult Swim’s "Jackass"-esque “Loiter Squad” appeared to be fans of everything. The guys, along with a cast member from Comedy Central’s own “Workaholics,” provided the energy in the crowd at a rowdy front table that frequently stood up, and cheered from their feet. Seated nearby, reserved "Glee" star Chris Colfer snuck nervous nerd-in-the-cafeteria type glances.
Green and Sagal will likely be trimmed for their underwhelming performances. Sagal was nearly invisible throughout the night without significant scandal or controversy as a hook. But for both scripted performers – who talked about meeting on the Paramount lot when “Family Ties” taped near Sagal’s “Married with Children.” It could have been worse.
A bit by Roseanne’s TV children Michael Fishman and Alicia Goranson fell so flat that the director had to actually ask the crowd for applause.
After Roseanne closed the night by singing a portion of the national anthem, and Alan Thicke appeared out of nowhere in the congratulatory throng, the group was slow to abandon the stage.
At right, Herzog came on stage himself, telling Gottfried (who got the only non-Roseanne standing ovation of the night) what everyone in the room already knew: “You killed it.”
As the group broke up, Roseanne led her entourage out the backdoor saying, “Let’s go get a drink.”
(Home page photo by Getty Images)