I was very glad when Lewis Black pointed out what everyone at the Bob Saget roast must have been thinking: why roast Bob Saget when his entire career has been one extended roast? For a comic who’s not much of a comic, who’s appeal has turned from "I can't believe the dad from Full House is obscene" to "I can't believe Bob Saget is making a fortune off being the dad from Full House and obscene," the Saget roast, broadcast on Comedy Central Sunday night, showed just how dated the format has become in an age when the very construct of a celebrity is inherently a source of insult humor. In that sense, roasting Bob Saget is as pointless as roasting Paris Hilton.
That doesn’t mean there weren't any laughs to be found. Despite what the comics kept telling themselves, there were some legitimately funny people on stage that evening. Jon Lovitz, like only he can, made me laugh the hardest even though his roast was basically one extended gay joke (the fact that he was the most effeminate roaster — male or female — only added another level of humor). The other notable performances of the night came from the always reliable and underrated Greg Giraldo and Sarah Silverman, who gave an uncharacteristically earnest (but still filthy) roast from a recording while battling depression.
The true standout, however, came from the most unexpected source. Cloris Leachman, while easily deflecting jokes about being old and having a dry vagina, somehow made jokes about giving Jack Benny the reach-around and wanting to fuck John Stamos seem classy. She was the only roaster on a completely different cultural plane, but she was as funny and filthy as anyone else, which meant that she was funnier and filthier than anyone else. When she talked about how pathetic everyone else there was and how much better than that she was, there was no way to counter her. Respect and nostalgic appreciation goes a long towards making a successful dick joke. Just ask Bob Saget ten years ago.
But the datedness of the roast format still remained. Throughout the roast, you were overcome with a painful sense that you were watching a bunch of losers trying in vain to rekindle the magic that only worked with their heroes of another generation. No doubt this wasn’t helped by the fact that roastmaster John Stamos is not actually a comedian. For someone who was knocked about only being appealing because of his looks, Stamos mugged at the camera un-ironically more than you would ever want to see in a comedy event.
In a particularly embarrassing moment that showed how played out the format has gotten, the camera panned to a teleprompter that read “Sentimental Moment” as a stage direction. In an era when Sarah Silverman and Stephen Colbert have completely broken down self-aggrandizing culture in politics as well as comedy, this misplaced tribute to Bob Saget under a veil of insults and child molestation jokes seemed like a tired effort to praise someone who already earned more praise than he ever deserved.
Everyone in the room could sense that vibe, which is why so many decided to make jokes about how unfunny and unworthy Bob Saget actually is. But the only comedian who truly got the point across was Norm Macdonald, who gives what has to be the funniest legitimate dive ever broadcast on Comedy Central. Ostensibly, Macdonald’s intentionally forced performance (he kept his face glued to note cards) and exceedingly corny jokes hearkened back to his worst dives on Weekend Update on SNL back in the '90s. Some audience members were no doubt offended by how little Macdonald seemed to care about his job. But Macdonald was actually translating the dated, manufactured, and sophomoric qualities of the roast into terms the audience could understand: no laughter, because it wasn’t funny. He took one for the team, and was rewarded by howling laughter from the roasters and the utmost appreciation by everyone on stage or in the know.
When Saget himself took the stage, you could sense what all the roasters had been talking about when they said Bob Saget was not actually a comedian. Unlike in his recent HBO special That Ain’t Right, Saget actually made jokes this time. Some of them were funny, or at least respectable, but the most notable part of the routine was that it didn’t sound like a Bob Saget routine. The swearing was not at the forefront of the humor, he didn’t predominantly riff on corrupting the Olsen twins, and seemed more like an actual comedian than a dirty storyteller. It was clear that Saget had always wanted to be roasted — insulting himself and others has been the staple of his life and post-Full House/America’s Funniest Home Videos work. But if he had truly deserved it, the roast would have been in the Friar’s Club, and not on Comedy Central.