If there is one pastime that has endured through the years: gossip. Trash-talk, backstabbing, venting to anyone who will listen; it happened in 19th century tea shops and it happens over salads today. Everybody talks about everyone else, making it an inevitable asset of our culture, but also a paradoxically invisible one, since the key to venting about a person is to say it behind his or her back. The trash-talk ends when the trashed one joins the group — then it’s all smiles and “I love yous,” obviously.

“Roast of Justin Bieber”

C
TV Special
Comedy Central


Comedy Central flips this formality on its head by hosting the “Roast,” where a cavalry of celebrities is assembled with the mission to knock down one of their own, who is dubbed the “roastee.” Hosted by a “Roast Master,” the celebrity roasters take turns standing at the mic, taking brutal jabs at the roastee while he or she sits on stage and takes the heat.

The best roastees are tabloid caricatures like Pamela Anderson (“Baywatch”) in 2005 or Charlie Sheen (“Two and a Half Men”) in 2011 — those whose egos probably should be checked in front of a live audience. The best roasters are the celebs closest to their victim, like Seth Rogen (“Pineapple Express”) in the 2013 roast of his castmate, James Franco. Good friends naturally have good dirt on each other, making their jokes cringingly harsh and all the more entertaining.

The heat of the “Roast” fizzles out quickly, however, when the roasters don’t really know the guy they are trying to mock. This year, Comedy Central brought in “Baby” pop superstar Justin Bieber, the 21-year-old with an estimated net worth of $200 million, over 46 million Twitter followers and unmeasurable swarms of tween fans called “Beliebers.” But these screaming preteens aside, everyone and their mothers (especially their mothers) pretty much agree that Bieber’s a cocky little brat — from his reportedly paying for a “swagger coach” to getting arrested for a DUI in Miami, then later egging a neighborhood mansion, Bieber has become the media’s favorite fallen child star.

But, everybody knows that. As of 2014, the music video for “Baby” set a YouTube record for the most dislikes of a video, raking in over four million. So the problem with roasting Bieber is that it’s too easy, for it’s all been said before: He looks like a “lesbian” and walks like a wannabe gangster. We get the picture. And despite their best efforts, roasters Kevin Hart (“The Wedding Ringer”), Snoop Dogg, Ludacris, Shaquille O’Neal, Martha Stewart and even Will Ferrell, posing as Ron Burgundy from “Anchorman,” could not find anything new to tease Biebs about.

As Bieber himself so aptly put it: “What do you get when you give a teenager $200 million? A bunch of has-beens calling you a lesbian for two hours.”

Though Bieber was simply too easy of a target, the real highlights of the show were when the celebrities took jabs at each other. Like when stand-up comedian Natasha Leggero called out Stewart saying, “All these rappers on stage and Martha Stewart has done the most jail time.” Or when Shaq smashed pint-sized Hart with, “Kevin is the only celebrity with a star on the yellow brick road.”

But the real kicker of the night was when Stewart took the stage and proceeded to scorch her (sort of) wholesome image. “You need to settle down, bring some balance into you life and find a nice gal,” Stewart said to Bieber. “Someone on your level, someone powerful and rich, someone you can smoke with, have the occasional three way with. I’m saying someone who’s a player in the boardroom and a freak in the bedroom. My final piece of advice is — call me!”

Outrageous, cover-your-mouth mocking will always be entertaining, as Comedy Central’s “Roast of Justin Bieber” proved. But it’s even more delicious when the person being bashed has more than 21 years of mishaps to dredge out into the spotlight.

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