That roast is overcooked!

Is it ever acceptable to take a jab at someone…to smugly point out their weird behaviors or annoying habits?

Is your bond so tight with that someone that whatever you say will be accepted with a hearty laugh and a willing acknowledgement by the accused party?

We know that comedians have been subjected to this brand of “abuse” for years, at gatherings known as roasts. But because they’re armed with a sense of humor and the expectation that they should take what they dish out, we generally turn our backs on what we’d otherwise consider cruel treatment.

But it’s generally accepted that to be roasted is to be honored. Perhaps that was the intention when the tradition began in the early part of the last century. At that time, roasts were held during private parties at the Friars’ Club in New York City and the honorees included actors and musicians, in addition to comedians. The first official roastee was named in 1949, and that title belongs to French Vaudevillian actor/singer Maurice Chevalier. While it’s been near impossible to find a transcript from that event, a New York Times article states that Milton Berle was the host and that there were many jokes about “licking.” In any case, Monsieur Chevalier’s roast was conducted in the proper spirit of respect and admiration, and in keeping with the The Friars’ Club infamous motto:”We only roast the ones we love.”

Fast-forward five decades or so and we can see how the roast has morphed into something that’s the antithesis of a love-fest.  In a quest for ratings, Comedy Central’s televised roasts have become vehicles for belittling and shaming hated celebrities, using the laziest of least-common-denominator jokes to get the job done. Jeffrey Ross, a stand-up comic who is best known as The Roastmaster General, even admitted that today’s roasts aren’t the cozy insider tributes of yesteryear. The goal now is to make the most people laugh, so of course the audience has to be made up of people who know the roastee only via the media. How else to get the numbers?

Just a month ago or so, Ross hosted a segment on the current season of ABC’s The Bachelorette in which Bachelorette Ashley Hebert’s suitors were required to roast her in front of a live theater audience. How long had any of the men known Ashley? Probably not more than a week or two. What could they possibly say about a woman they had just met? Only what they knew about her based on her earlier appearance on The Bachelor. Oh, and the superficial fact that she has small breasts. Hilarious stuff, guys!

Basically, Ashley’s roast was a stunt designed to embarrass both the roastee and the roasters, thereby making everyone involved as uncomfortable as possible. Ratings gold!

But roasting’s popularity continues to grow. The evolution of the roast means ordinary people can now get in on the bashing, with live-streaming pre-roast sessions on Twitter. And celebrities are not the only targets these days. You can also roast your very real non-famous Facebook Friends on celebrityroast.com.

In fact, some of the funny people I follow on Twitter have pioneered a monthly tradition which is way more interesting than the typical Follow Friday drivel. On the first Friday of every month, tweets hashtagged #roastFriday pay tribute to fellow Twitter jokesters in classic roast style. While some of these tweets are gentle nudges from one friend to another, some are just plain hurtful and directed at a person whom the roaster really knows nothing about.

Given what the roast has become in recent years, why is it still an acceptable practice? Is it because of its long history and the high regard we hold for the incredibly talented actors and comedians who participated in the roasts of the 1950s, 60s and 70s? There are those who still view roasting as an art form – one in which creativity and camaraderie join forces to produce a genuinely funny outcome, and where everyone involved comes out a winner.

As for me, I believe there are better ways to honor a friend than to point out her shortcomings. And your enemies? Well, they’re not worth your time, anyway.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “That roast is overcooked!

  1. A guy who becomes a contestant on the Bachelorette seems like he’d be in over his head doing a roast. Seems unfair to blame them for doing a bad job of it; sounds like another set up by producers.

  2. Rachel

    That’s one of the reasons I stay away from “reality” tv shows. It’s not about reality, it’s about high school bullying and cringing at someone else’s uncomfortableness. I hate it.

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