In the imaginary world inside my brain where I make decisions about all things (or at least the things I strongly care or strongly DON’T care about), I am officially pulling the plug on Comedy Central Roasts.
The latest Roast, featuring Rob Lowe as roastee, doesn’t air until Labor Day, but they film these things far enough in advance, that we’re already starting to hear how it went. And oh boy did it go poorly. Lowe is a step up from the recent subjects like Justin Bieber and even James Franco, because the whole point of these things is that they need to be based on a foundation of respect. When comedians roasted Phyllis Diller or Richard Pryor, there was a lot of honest shit to be talked, but it could all be said because it was punching up (or laterally, among peers), never down. That idea seems to be fully dead.
Again, Rob Lowe isn’t as miserable a choice to spend a few hours poking fun at as, say, Bieber. But shouldn’t a Roast be done by the roastee’s peers? Isn’t that the essence of the event? Tell me, are these Rob Lowe’s peers?
Some of these make some sense. Jewel played Lowe’s ex on a couple episodes of that show he did right after West Wing, and he and David Spade go back to at least Tommy Boy days, but were there any guests at all that actually know and love Rob Lowe? No one from The West Wing or Parks & Recreation? Is this where we all get uncomfortable and have to acknowledge those rumors I have no way to substantiate that maybe his cast mates on both of those shows weren’t the biggest Rob Lowe fans?
If that’s the case, why is he being roasted? And if this is just what this tradition has become— unable or uninterested in the spirit of loving, deep-digging roasts— then why are they still being made? Without any strong respected or beloved figure to center the night around, from the sound of it, the whole program devolved from roasting Rob Lowe to shitting all over Ann Coulter. Ann Coulter, who had no business being asked to be there in the first place.
Clips and quotes and a couple of videos are being released, and few of them have anything to do with Rob Lowe (except maybe for one terrible Deflategate joke courtesy of Peyton Manning, and Jewel singing a parody of “You Were Meant For Me” from the point of view of the underage girl in Rob Lowe’s infamous sex tape). Instead, most of the jokes released so far are aimed at Ann Coulter.
Who knows why Coulter agreed to show up? According to Lowe himself, as he closed the night, it had something to do with (as THR put it) “right-to-lifers wanting everyone to see an abortion up close.” But during her time onstage, she was booed, and apparently thought she would be able to promote her book, In Trump We Trust, even propping up a copy on the podium.
And it’s here that the difference between those old school roasts, based on respect, and shows like these, which just feature strangers in a room being horrible to each other, is so clear.
Here are some of the jokes aimed at Coulter:
—Pete Davidson: “If you are here, Ann, who is scaring the crows away from our crops?”
—David Spade: “She seems stiff and conservative, but Ann gets wild in the sheets. Just ask the Klan.”
—Peyton Manning: “I just realized that I’m not the only athlete up here tonight. As you all know, earlier this year Ann Coulter won the Kentucky Derby.”
—Jeff Ross: “Ann Coulter wants to help Trump make America great again. You can start by wearing a burka.”
What a bunch of total bullshit. I hate Ann Coulter as much as a person can, but how does this fit into a roast of Rob Lowe? And for everything you can criticize Coulter for, these jokes are easy, and awful. She’s ugly, she’s bad in bed, she’s comparable to a horse. That’s the joke. The only joke. And it’s not worth making.
In a room full of comedians, ostensibly gathered to talk about Rob Lowe, Jewel, of all people, had the best perspective on the night, saying “I do want to say as a feminist that I can’t support everything that’s been said tonight. But as someone who hates Ann Coulter, I’m delighted.”
Ann Coulter isn’t worth defending. But the spirit of the old roasts, and the desire to not see a roomful of comedians pile on someone so far out of their depths, focusing on her looks and gender, especially— that is worth defending. And we can’t defend it, let’s at least declare it totally, 100% dead and move on.