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October 7, 2015

Comedy Central Should Roast ... Roger Ebert?!?

by Danny Gallagher, posted Sep 11th 2010 3:30PM
Roger EbertUnless you're just a real sicko, reading the above headline probably turned your stomach into so many knots that unraveling them could earn you a Boy Scout merit badge.

The thought of Roger Ebert's smiling mug (who lost most of his bottom jaw after surgery for a very aggressive cancer) being ridiculed by some heartless comics probably makes you wish brains came with erasers. Ebert, who recently announced he's bringing back his film criticism show 'At the Movies,' has clearly found a new zest for life -- blogging constantly, writing political critiques and even penning a cookbook.

My suggestions aren't the mean-spirited ramblings of a wannabe edgy blog writer. Like all good roasts, the material might offend but the intention far outweighs any tasteless punchlines.

Roasts, at the very core, aren't just an excuse for comics to get together and crack wise about each other and their mothers. They are really an artistic celebration of a person worthy of such an honor, the ultimate sign of love and respect. Sure, it takes cojones to call some honorary dope that they are fat and/or ugly right to their face, but it takes heart to do it in a way that entertains, not just the target but everyone in the room.

The New York Friars Club, the gold standard by which all great roasts have been set, have a saying when it comes to choosing their respective targets: "We only roast the ones we love."

The Comedy Central roasts, for the most part, seem to have lost that sense of admiration and respect since they took over the hosting duties from the Friars Club after the disastrous Chevy Chase roast of 2002. When comics like Jeff Foxworthy, Denis Leary and Larry the Cable Guy took the hot seat, the good nature of the roasters shined through because they knew and respected the person they were comically slandering. Even William Shatner's roast had an air of respect because most of the people who took the stage actually admired the guy for the geek god that he was.

That brings us to Ebert. The idea came to me as I watched a rerun of Comedy Central's latest roast against 'Baywatch' and 'Knight Rider' star David Hasselhoff. The whole night just felt like an endless series of offensive jokes. The only purpose for that hamburger munching has-been to take the giant lifeguard chair was so a bunch of regular roast fixtures like Greg Giraldo and Jeffrey Ross and some loosely associated celebrities like Pamela Anderson and Jerry Springer could dogpile on the guy with their pre-rehearsed barbs of bawdiness. Nothing about the night felt genuine. The whole night was just an excuse to beat up on a punching bag who knows he's a walking punching bag.

The definite lowpoint of this "Night of 1,000 Similes" was when Lisa Lampanelli took to the stage. Since each subsequent roast is about pushing the envelope just a little bit further, her turn at the mic was bound to illicit more than a few groans, the biggest of which came when she "joked" that Pamela Anderson's boobies have had more surgeries than ol' Mr. Ebert. I'm all for offensive humor, but an offensive joke can't just be offensive for it to be funny. It's also got to actually be funny.

The crowd paused to think about the jokes, then moaned causing her to reply "It's a roast, a**holes." Did a writer come up with that line too? This got me thinking. What if Ebert was in the room, or even better, what if he was the one being roasted? Maybe Lampanelli or anyone else taking the podium would do the joke, but would it be as funny? The idea snowballed.

An Ebert roast would undoubtedly be a ratings bonanza for the network, just because the audience would watch just to see if they could pull it off without causing a full-scale riot from the PC police -- assuming, of course, they have the energy to start one.

It would be a giant slap in the face to all those niggling naggers who like to write 10-page dissertations to the FCC because they thought they heard an offensive word being repeated during a PBS documentary on "The Mating Habits of the Titmouse." The phony outrage alone from the Parents Television Council would amuse me down to the cockles of my cold, black, blogging heart.

Ebert's presence could even bring back that lost sense that roasts are a form of respectful admiration through dick jokes. As previously mentioned, no one is more deserving of Hollywood's loving disrespect than the longtime Chicago Sun-Times critic. He's taken movie criticism, a profession that seemed built for the cackling cynical, and turned it into a hallowed art-form. His Pulitzer Prize-winning writing and love of great cinema helped him and his late partner Gene Siskel become pop culture fixtures.

And even after a lengthy battle with cancer and untold number of operations, he actually goes back to work at a time when a lesser writer would have hung up his thumb and enjoy the fruits of medical retirement. If that's not worthy of a metaphor to Gilbert Gottfried's floundering career, than who's isn't?

In terms of the audience, the Comedy Central roast needs an Ebert-sized (no pun intended) challenge. Hasselhoff's roast didn't work because he's an easy target. Imagine if comics had to come up with jokes for Ebert. His past is rip for picking, but would they be able to find the same level of funny in his current condition? Of course, we all know that they would and it would be funny simply because Ebert seems like the kind of chap who doesn't mind a little ribbing. He could also dish out as much dirt they piled on top of him and he wouldn't need a team of ghost writers to do it for him. He's done it before, even when the cameras weren't rolling.

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