It’s pretty well established that James Franco is one of the coolest dudes ever in Hollywood. Not only has he shown his range in comedies like Pineapple Express and thrillers like 127 hours, James Franco had the guts to make a move perceived as regressive in the world of acting by getting a job on General Hospital. He’s also been historically weird by living his life and molding his persona in a way that is half art and half troll; were I a woman of means, I would also appear on magazine covers in sickeningly gorge drag and star in a movie where I play myself. If only he could appear as such on his Comedy Central roast tonight.
In case you haven’t been paying attention, Franco is an amazing candidate for a Comedy Central roast, mainly because of his close knit community of Apatowian friends. Close friends have great banter and, if done right, draw the viewer in as if they’re part of the group. The unfortunate side is the generally trite fare of the Roasts themselves, usually a wobbling swill of gay jokes, trite racial humor and slut shaming. And while all of these things have the capacity to be funny if used in clever ways, that doesn’t mean a program seeking the largest possible audience will make the attempt at actually being smart while being funny. Surprisingly, the moments of craptitude were few, and largely focused around Roast seniors Sarah Silverman and Jeff Ross.
Seth Rogen started the show with a bemused and slightly nervous introduction, laughing at his own jokes while giving the impression of genuine guilt at having to verbally destroy his loved ones. His softness was only superseded by the effortlessly adorable Jonah Hill, who delivered zing after painful zing to each and every roaster while ending each bit by nervously declaring the awesomeness of the person he just trounced. By and far he was the breakout roaster, delivering the most hysterical of digs at Bill Hader’s foray into cellphone commercials and diggin at Aziz Ansari’s inability to find widespread appeal.
Between them was Nick Kroll, who is generally amusing although he always seems like he’s doing a lighter version of his Parks and Rec character “The Douche.” I expect fart sounds every time he opens his mouth. But his shining moments were when he got Franco to admit he likely shared a bed with stunning actor Anne Hathaway, and his “sincere moment” trail-off. Every roast has every roaster saying something nice about the person of honor, and it’s usually a hindrance instead of a pleasure to hear (the only notable exception being Jeff Garlin’s heartfelt and hysterical moment of sincerity with Bob Saget at his roast). Thanks, Nick Kroll, for skipping the weepy crap.
Bill Hader delivered us a character and ripped the group to shreds through the personification of Hollywood (or president of Hollywood, as he was introduced). His Jabba the Hut impression and self-roasting were both shining moments, and he delivered the most hysterical and pointed roast of Franco of the entire night. He also stayed in character until he left the stage. He may have 140 characters that nobody cares about, but they all make me laugh.
Andy Samberg’s set was like some weird hipster phenomeon, built on ironic laughter at intentionally corny jokes and “nice humor.” It was the closest anyone’s come to replicating Norm MacDonald’s brilliant anti-roast trolling at Saget’s Roast years ago. That said, I appreciate any change of pace from the usual, and his act as Franco’s jilted lover gave me more than a few smiles. They were way better than your basic gay jokes.
Half of Aziz Ansari’s material didn’t even need to be written before he hit the stage. All he needed to do was to destroy the weakness of the jokes aimed toward him and his set was perfection. For a moment, I sensed in him an honest rage at the simplicity of his mistreatment. I kind of think he wanted better digs aimed at him, other than just being brown, little, and friends with Kanye West. So when he proudly declared how brown people are “straight up snatching roles from white people,” I had to clap. I just wish he didn’t emphatically slap the couch so damn much. It’s like he was trying too hard to make sure the camera knew he was “laughing.”
Low points included Sarah Silverman’s dig at Natasha Leggero focused on the supposed large amounts of semen buried inside her. We heard it all out of Lisa Lampanelli, and it was alright because that was her schtick, but the cavernous vagina jokes are boring; they were even a little better at Roseanne’s roast coming out of Amy Schumer because the delivery was much more jarring. But overall, if the worst thing you can say to a woman is that she’s got a cavernous vagina and eats a lot of semen, you need to write some new material (and she got read for that, heartily, by Aziz Ansari).
Natasha Leggero delivered general fare and some mediocre chuckles at Aziz’s expense (I admit, the 7-11 joke had me), but her dig at Hader as “today’s Phil Hartman” was so dark and wrong that it garnered only uncomfortable laughter. Were it a celebrity more hated, it might have landed, but Phil Hartman was so loved and his loss was so tragic that he remains in a unique category of dead people that cannot be messed with. As Jeff Ross might facetiously ask, “too soon?” Too soon, forever.
Speaking of Jeff Ross, talk about another downer. Though I’m clearly not one to vilify anyone for making rape jokes, his was just another chest beating declaration that someone, somewhere, wanted to be raped by big black cock (note the “big black” of it all, because classic racial stereotypes add that extra oomph of mediocrity). There were the same fat jokes we’d been hearing for a while, the same jokes about disgusting vaginas, and the same Indian jokes we’d also already heard. Maybe it’s just his position at the bottom of the show. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve seen Jeff Ross deliver the same type of stuff year after year in roast after roast and his scratchy voice is as irritating as my last yeast infection. Maybe it was that he had “2SOON” faux-tattooed on his neck and that he’s taken it up like a personal catchphrase, even though I’m fairly certain he first used it as a reference to the 2005 documentary The Aristocrats (when Gilbert Gottfried famously told a 9/11 joke at a 2001 roast of Hugh Hefner, received a “too soon” response from the crowd, and then told an epic Aristocrats joke). And if that’s the case, it doesn’t fucking belong to him. Seriously though, it kind of belongs to Gilbert Gottfried if I’m right. I twittered him to ask, but I’m clearly too small beans to get a response so I have no honest idea.
Franco spoke and said something, made another mediocre (but slightly better) rape/fat joke, and was generally ignorable. You know, the point of a roast is never to hear the roaster speak. It’s only worth listening when the honored guest is an established stand-up who knows how to be funny and do their own writing. Saget, Roseanne, and Joan Rivers were all great; Donald Trump, Pamela Anderson, and Charlie Sheen weren’t all that special. Franco joins the later list, but that’s no matter, because the rest of the show was already funny enough, and unlike other shows, the last part isn’t the the part the audience remembers most.
All in all, it was a fairly decent show, with highs and lows and laughs. They couldn’t have picked a better contemporary actor to go with, considering his large strange body of work. Too bad most of them focused on his eyes and the gay stuff instead of the wide world of weird stuff James Franco does for fun. It’s worth a watch, and you’ll catch it on repeat at least a dozen times in the next three days in case you missed Monday night’s sixteen encore performances.
Here’s some Franco drags to send you on your merry way.