Review: The Roast of James Franco

James Franco Photo

A preface from your Image Moved creator, Lauren Chval:

This fantastic post is the first of many to come from my longtime pal, John Couper. Coup was the first guy to ever talk movies with me six years ago in a high school English class. He’s brilliant and way funnier than I could ever be, and I wanted to bring his opinions to all the readers of Image Moved. Ladies and gentleman, John Couper

It’s that time of year again—Comedy Central decided Labor Day was the perfect opportunity to air their most recent “Roast” event.

Generally at the length of an hour and a half, these roasts feature a celebrity of achievement, high popularity and success, who is then brutally mocked by witty comedians, friends and the like. The real fun in these roasts is those who are invited to speak are all prone to verbal assault, not just the one star. It’s dog eat dog—everyone is vulnerable, and it’s absolutely hysterical to watch unfold.

Known relatively as a critically acclaimed actor, the star of the night was James Franco (127 Hours, Pineapple Express, Freaks and Geeks). Besides the film medium, Franco has been a pretty busy guy as of lately. To put it in context, he has attended collegiate schools including the Ivy League universities of Yale and Columbia, earning multiple degrees. He has written literature and is active in other arts such as painting and sculpting. His performance in 127 Hours earned him a nomination for an Academy Award. Franco is truly exceptional when you consider how accredited he is.

When you compare 35-year-old Franco to some of the other celebrities that were roasted before him, he’s a bit young: Bob Saget was roasted at the age of 52, Roseanne Barr at 59, William Shatner at 75, etc. But even at his young age, I believe Franco righteously earned his night. But was the roast any good?

In short, this one did not disappoint. The line up of speakers was great—a mix of comedians and actors in Franco’s social circle gave it a nice variety of humor and perspective. As one of Franco’s close friends, Seth Rogen did a fine job as the roast master. There was definitely a sense of some speakers maybe being a little out of their comfort zones (Jonah Hill for example near the beginning of his set, and even Rogen hosting), but they handled it as professionals.

Bill Hader onstage at "The Roast of James Franco."

Bill Hader onstage at “The Roast of James Franco.”

Franco’s age made for a slightly younger group on stage than pervious occasions, but that didn’t dull the funny at all. I would have tuned in just to watch Bill Hader lose it on national television.

You can rest assured knowing that nobody pulled a “Situation”—the degenerate from the controversial reality show The Jersey Shore who epically failed to please audiences at Donald Trump’s roast a couple years prior. Sets that easily made par were from Sarah Silverman (Wreck-It-Ralph), Aziz Ansari (Parks and Recreation), and Nick Kroll (The League), with each performance containing strong lines. Relatively no-name Natasha Leggero, a comedian who has appeared on shows such as Comedy Central’s Reno 911 and Drunk History, made the crowd react just as much as any of her counterparts. A notable bit was Bill Hader impersonating the President of Hollywood, dressed in a red tracksuit and gray wig, showcasing his masterful SNL voice acting as he taunted everyone, including himself.

Veteran roaster Jeff Ross made it look easy as he went down the line, although one wouldn’t call this performance his finest hour. In the past, Ross completely killed at the roast of Hugh Hefner and others. After so many successful sets, his James Franco material can only be deemed as an acceptable effort. But an acceptable effort from Jeff Ross is still Jeff Ross. With his ‘roast master general’ reputation, he was the only one that dared make a reference to the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman tragedy without missing a beat. He also made Jonah Hill his victim for a solid 60 seconds, going after Hill’s noticeable recent changes in his physique (this was a running joke that many of the others decided to pelt Hill with throughout the night). Hill proved he could be just as mean-spirited as he jabbed at Silverman’s inability to reproduce, Ross’ lack of success, and Ansari’s ego. Hill was quick to apologize after he was finished insulting each guest, openly displaying he was dramatically out of character for the event.

Andy Samberg’s strong self-aware bit was unique for this roast, as he proceeded to mock the idea of the event as a whole, slowly transitioning it into a hilariously self-destructive spectacle. Telling one intentionally bad joke after the other with decent timing and delivery, Samberg was arguably comparable with some of the strongest sets of the night. He also called Jeff Ross a “melting hippo,” eliciting an awesome reaction from Hader. (It should be noted that Norm MacDonald also did an act similar to Samberg’s that was equally memorable for Bob Saget’s roast. Check it out if dry humor is your thing.)

Franco’s rebuttal at the end was mediocre, addressing the popular topics of the night as expected, but it was a little too light-hearted for a Comedy Central Roast. Maybe it was because Franco’s 91-year-old grandmother was an audience member, and not even she was safe from Jeff Ross’s jokes.

Jonah Hill and Seth Rogen.

Jonah Hill and Seth Rogen.

Now to address the controversy, since everything has to be one nowadays. A day after the roast broadcasted, had you ventured to Comedy Central’s official Facebook page, you would have noticed a certain amount of badmouthing such as, “The roasts have gone down hill” or “Worst roast ever.” Some even suggested comparing the contemporary roasters to one of the greatest of all time, the late Greg Giraldo (may he roast in peace).

These people, with their edgy opinions and their irrefutable wisdom of comedy and humor, probably failed to comprehend half of the gold that was on display Monday night.

So what if everyone on stage was genuinely likable, Lisa Lampanelli was nowhere in sight and nobody bombed their routine? Where is the problem? And who in the hell compares anyone to Giraldo? The man was one of a kind sent from the roast Gods above. Are you trying to be redundant? C’mon. Tis plenty of comedic talent left here in 2013 for our enjoyment, and I look forward to seeing another full house of A-Listers (plus Jeff Ross) roast another public figure next year.

Verdict: A-

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