I am only 30 years old, so I missed the era of Dean Martin’s Celebrity Roasts, which stopped happening before I could talk. Yet, their presence resonated so much in our society that I am certainly familiar with them, as are many of my generation. We’re in luck now because StarVista and Time-Life have just released The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts Collector’s Edition, a six-DVD set of the most memorable of these events.
Dean Martin sure had a lot of pals! The roast subjects in this collection include Johnny Carson, Bob Hope, Jimmy Stewart, Lucille Ball, Don Rickles, Jack Benny, Sammy Davis Jr., and Jackie Gleason. None of these people are all that relevant today (most have sadly passed away), but they are names every kid was familiar with, the legends of their time.
Dean attracts plenty of attendees, from politicians like Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater, to astronaut Neil Armstrong, to athlete Muhammad Ali, to comedians Phyllis Diller, Bob Newhart, and George Burns, to actors such as John Wayne, Dom DeLuise, Bette Davis, Florence Henderson, Milton Berle, Jonathan Winters, and so many more.
With lineups like these, The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts are a veritable time capsule, a look at an era of pop culture and national history. The installments are a bit dated (they aired from 1973 to 1984): nostalgic for the older viewers who remember this stuff, but also informative and fascinating for those of us who weren’t around. It’s a real treat to look back in time so effectively.
Now, being from a period predating the political correctness movement, there are a lot of awful stereotypes and offensive jokes. Sexism and racism are clearly two guests at the show, and not the quiet types that sit in the corner. It is eye-opening to see how, so recently in our past, attitudes were so drastically different than they are today. This is only 30 or 50 years ago, but it seems America has changed a lot.
Overall, though, The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts are just plain funny. Not everything holds up, nor would one expect it to, but a lot of it does. After all, Dean brought in the top talent, people whose work still lives on to this day, at least on Nick at Nite. The gags have staying power, and the roasters knew what they were doing, always competing with one another, bringing out the best in themselves.
This particular set boasts a dozen episodes, as well as quite a few special features, certainly welcome for the release. There are comedy sketches included, a couple of Dean’s full-length television specials, and a trio of featurettes about the creation and execution of the roasts. There are also “home” movies of Dean and some of his friends, and interviews with Betty White, Tim Conway, Don Rickles, Jackie Mason, Rich Little, and Ruth Buzzi. For a series so old, one doesn’t expect so many riches.
Besides The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts Collector’s Edition, a complete DVD set of all 54 roasts is also available, with 15 hours of bonus features and a Dean Martin action figure. This set was not available for review, so I can’t speak to whether or not it is worth its hefty price tag. My interest has been piqued, but I don’t know if I will have the opportunity to check it out and see if the other episodes can live up to the twelve included in the set I received, of if these are the “best of.” It’s nice they released this smaller set, though, so whether you are a devotee or just curious, there are options.
The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts Collector’s Edition is available now.