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Burned: The Oral F***ing History of the Comedy Central Roast


Filling the “crazy old lady” spot was Oscar-winning actress Cloris Leachman, who reminded many of her comedy cred.  
 
Bob Saget: “I am not here to roast Bob Saget. I’m here to fuck John Stamos!” That’s something you want to read under someone at Mount Rushmore, a very lovely and iconic thing.   
 
Cloris Leachman (roaster): I didn’t even know who Saget was. Or John Stamos. You get a call from your agent—they deal with it. I show up, walk in, and read. Period. It leveled the room. It leveled me too. 
 
The next few roasts, skewering Larry the Cable Guy, Joan Rivers, and David Hasselhoff, featured the usual mix of celebs and roast stars, including Ross, DiPaolo, Giraldo, and up-and-comers like Whitney Cummings.
 
Doug Herzog: No matter who it is, there are a few things you know about that person, and that will inform every joke. With Hasselhoff it’s Baywatch…hamburgers…
 
Gilbert Gottfried: The Hasselhoff roast was an extra treat, not only because I could do jokes about David Hasselhoff, but, since he’s beloved in Germany, I could throw in a few Holocaust jokes.
 
The Hasselhoff roast saw the rise of Roast­master Seth MacFarlane. Known at that point only for Family Guy, he would emerge as the quintessential master of ceremonies (before going on to host Saturday Night Live and the 2013 Academy Awards). 

Doug Herzog: He brings that Dean Martin, Rat Pack, martini, tuxedo vibe. We like to think we were his stepping stone.
 
Jon Lovitz: That guy is one of the most talented people ever in Hollywood.
 
Jonas Larsen (senior VP of Comedy Central specials): As a matter of fact, we’re not only gratified, we take full credit. When Seth got the Oscars gig, I sent his manager an e-mail that said, “You’re welcome.” 
 
Shortly after the Hasselhoff roast, tragedy struck with the overdose of roast regular Greg Giraldo, who’d long fought addiction.
 
Lisa Lampanelli: I had my issues with Greg. It’s documented that Greg had serious drug and alcohol problems. 
 
Barry Katz (talent manager): Greg was in his own battle. For him it was weird. He was a guy who was so well-respected, but for some reason, career-wise, it just wasn’t happening the way it should have. 
 
Jeff Ross: Comedians are comedians. We’re comedians before we’re Jewish or Italian or Irish or black. We’re comedians—that’s our family, that’s our religion. When you’re working at the level that Greg was, a lot of people care about you. We don’t get over it, but we get as close as we can by doing another roast.
 
Gilbert Gottfried: When I heard about Greg, I immediately tweeted “If Greg Giraldo is cremated, will that be the Greg Giraldo roast?” It seemed like a fitting tribute to a roaster. It was sad, but you had to make jokes about it anyway.
 
The roast of Donald Trump in 2011 saw a move back to New York City and the biggest bomb in the show’s history, courtesy of Mike “the Situation” Sorrentino.
 

 

Donald Trump (roastee): They’d approached me a number of times—and eventually I said yes. I knew what I was getting into, but I also knew that we would raise a tremendous amount of money for charity. We raised a million dollars.
 
Lisa Lampanelli: When the Situation went up, I was sweating like Sandusky at a Cub Scout meeting. But he’s so frickin’ delusional, he comes up afterward and says, “That was pretty good, right?” I said to myself, “Dude, you got booed so loud [roaster] Marlee Matlin heard it, all right?”
 
Joel Gallen: He just was not funny. Didn’t get how to deliver a joke. 
 
Donald Trump: I thought he was terrific, frankly. He was so uncomfortable that it really became funny. But he took a tremendous amount of abuse.   
 
Perhaps the greatest endorsement of the Roasts’ reach and power arrived later that year, courtesy of the “Warlock From Mars” himself, Charlie Sheen, who turned to the dais to neutralize his unprecedented public meltdown.  
 
 

 
Doug Herzog: Charlie Sheen was one of the guys we asked for years who said no, so that was like roast-Christmas.
 
Jon Lovitz: With Charlie it was kind of like, “Roast me because I really have acted up, and I have a sense of humor about myself.”
 
Anthony Jeselnik: Sheen was a smart guy who knew how to play it. He handled the roast perfectly.
 
Jonas Larsen: Almost instantaneously, his scandal went away. Once he went out and took every hit based on the spectacular five months of entertainment that he provided, it went away. It became the perfect place for him to wipe the slate clean and get on with his career.
 
The highlight of Sheen’s roast was Patrice O’Neal, who, with more people watching than ever before, went on the attack.
 
Joel Gallen: We put him near the end of the show and [after getting hit] he shifted his gears and started roasting the roast. When a comedian can do that in the moment, it’s brilliant. Not everything that he said was hilarious. But it was really honest. 
 
Amy Schumer (roaster): I was like, I’m going to bring it the hardest to him, and I’m going to say the meanest jokes I think of (“Tonight is not just the roast of Charlie Sheen; it’s also a farewell party for Patrice’s foot”). He was very, very proud of me and made me feel like I impressed him that night. 
 
William Shatner: When we went out to the parking lot, I knew Patrice had diabetes, but I didn’t know it was fatal. As we’re waiting for the car, we start talking about life and death, and he starts to weep. And then I realized he knew how close he was to dying, and that last moment we were holding each other and crying.  
 
O’Neal suffered a stroke a month later and passed away in November. With the loss of him and Giraldo, the roasts seemed to take a softer turn with the roast of Roseanne Barr in 2012, not necessarily for the better.
 

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