'Roast of James Franco' draws big laughs and bigger stars

Comedy Central

By Alec Stern, Daily Arts Writer
Published September 9, 2013

First and foremost, Comedy Central roasts are polarizing; they always have been. For some, the raunchy, mean and self-deprecating humor is too much to get past. In Mindy Kaling’s book, “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns),” the comedian wonders how televised roasters can be proud of what they’re doing: “Do they call up their parents excitedly, like, ‘Look Ma! I made it! I’m eviscerating Pamela Anderson on television tonight for having STDs!’ ... I’m sad that a legitimate rung on the ladder of making it in comedy is writing hateful stuff about total strangers.”

"Comedy Central Roast of James Franco"


September 2nd

Comedy Central

On the other hand, roasts are welcomed 90-minute specials that fit perfectly within the Comedy Central brand, the network that brings you “Tosh.0” and “South Park.” And in that raunchy, mean and self-deprecating comedy space, Comedy Central roasts have certainly made a name for themselves. With over 3.1 million viewers tuned in (more than double the amount who watched last year’s “Comedy Central Roast of Roseanne”), “Comedy Central Roast of James Franco” will not disappoint the series’ fans. Even more, the brand feels reinvigorated.

It’s as if this roast took place in an alternate universe … a universe where Comedy Central roasts were a widely accepted form of comedic expression. For whatever reason, Academy Award nominee and perennial scholar James Franco decided to fill a seat once occupied by Flavor Flav. And whereas roasters are usually made up of more D-listers than B-listers, the “Comedy Central Roast of James Franco” features the most current and successful comedians in the business. Hot off his $100-million comedy “This Is The End,” Seth Rogen shined as Roast Master, while many of his frequent collaborators were just as hilarious.

Perhaps a more apt title for this 90-minute Comedy Central special would have been: “Judd Apatow Presents: The Comedy Central Roast of James Franco.” Many of the people involved, including Franco, Rogen, Jonah Hill, Aziz Ansari and Bill Hader have been featured together in films from Apatow’s self-titled production company. Other roasters included Sarah Silverman, Nick Kroll, Andy Samberg, Natasha Leggero and Jeff Ross.

Two highlights of the evening came from former “Saturday Night Live” cast members Samberg and Hader doing what they do best: playing characters. Instead of just telling jokes and plainly making fun of their fellow comedians, each brought their own spin. Samberg’s supremely weird set, in which he complimented the members of the dais and roasted himself, started off slow before quickly building some of the best laughs of the night. Just as funny and even more out there, Hader came out in full costume as “the President of Hollywood” and commented on the careers of each of the comedians on stage, himself included.

“Bill’s OK in the movies, if you need a best friend’s best friend to ask an exposition question,” Hader said.

“Comedy Central Roast of James Franco” had the winning combination of newcomers succeeding and veteran roasters continuing to deliver. There is enough great material jam-packed into this special that will warrant watching and re-watching. Judging by its success, this roast should encourage more of Hollywood’s best to get involved. Hopefully next year, Comedy Central will continue this upswing, and the guest of honor will be closer in prestige and relevance to Franco than to Larry the Cable Guy.