It's easy to get nostalgic for those classic Dean Martin TV celebrity roasts. Just watch a Friars Club Roast on Comedy Central. This is not comedy; they are unremittingly vicious. When they announced they were going to roast Charlie Sheen, a disgraceful human being if ever there was one, there was a sense of karmic comeuppance. Then the show aired, and only someone as deranged as Sheen would find it funny.
Sheen is deserving of plenty of verbal head-slaps for his aerobically amoral life with prostitutes, his wife-beating/strangling and his bizarre behavior after being fired by the gutter-level CBS comedy "Two and a Half Men." But this was supposed to be comedic. Instead, it was a merciless bonfire of ferocity. No humanity remained.
The host of this hate-fest was appropriate: Seth MacFarlane, who's done so much to pollute the airwaves on Sunday night with his tasteless, puerile cartoons on Fox. He noted "Two and a Half Men" would air a mock funeral for Sheen's character on the season debut of the sitcom -- and Comedy Central timed its roast to compete with that show. McFarlane said "No need to switch over. You can just wait a couple months and see the real thing."
He then started to read the personal obituary he'd written for Sheen, saying the actor was found dead in his apartment, then stopped: "I just kinda just copied Amy Winehouse's obituary," adding "I only had to change three things: the sex of the deceased, the location of the body, and the part that says 'a talent that will be missed.'"
In case the early death of drug-addled Winehouse in late July wasn't enough grist for giggles, the fameless "comedienne" known as Amy Schumer made fun of the June drunk-driving, car-crash death of MTV reality star Ryan Dunn. Turning to Dunn's friend and fellow MTV star "Steve-O," Schumer cracked, "When Ryan Dunn died, Steve-O probably was thinking it could've been him -- with the rest of the world wondering why it wasn't."
`This wasn't Don Rickles "we kid because we love" stuff. This was acidulous "wish you were dead, not really kidding" material.
But don't feel bad for Steve-O. When it was his turn, he mocked the low-voltage star power of his fellow roasters by joking, "The last time this many nobodies got roasted, at least the band Great White was playing." That refers to the 2003 nightmare at a Rhode Island nightclub when a spray of sparks from the band's pyrotechnics crew ignited foam-soundproofing material in the ceiling. It killed a 100 people.
While we're speaking of obscure jokers who will say anything to get noticed, there's Anthony Jeselnik, who used to write jokes for Jimmy Fallon's NBC late-night show. "The only reason you got on TV in the first place is because God hates Michael J. Fox," Jeselnik sneered, since Sheen replaced Fox on ABC's "Spin City" after Fox's symptoms from Parkinson's disease grew too severe. Jeselnik also joked, "You've convinced more women to get abortions than the prenatal test for Down syndrome." There's a knee-slapper.
He was on a roll with dead-kid jokes. "You dropped out of school faster than Casey Anthony's kid." (For anyone who doesn't get that, Caylee Anthony was murdered at age two.) Jeselnik isn't tasteless just on TV. Check out what he put on his Twitter page on the tenth anniversary of 9/11: "Today is the 10th anniversary of my first 9/11 joke."
Comedy Central spared no one's taste to produce this shindig, adding to the panel of roasters former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson. So when actress Kate Walsh joked that Sheen was the only one who pulls a knife on a woman already willing to have sex, Tyson, also a convicted rapist, yelled "I'll drink to that!" For his part, Tyson tried poetry: "This wife-beating cokehead who claims he's a rock star from Mars ... if he were black, he'd be behind bars."
William Shatner was also on hand, fresh from the failure of the CBS sitcom "$**! My Dad Said." Since the taboo of religion needed to be shredded, Shatner joked about Jesus: "So you're out of a job! Don't feel sad. I know another guy who was kind to whores and kept 12 losers around, and he got crucified by Jews, too! And people worship that guy."
At the end, Sheen arose to boast no one could hurt him: "I did porn stars. I did drugs. Then I did the one thing everybody in America wishes he could do. I told my boss to f*** off ... I'm done with 'the winning' because I've already won." Comedy Central didn't package this so you would pity Sheen. You were supposed to envy him. Magnifying and glorifying contemptuous misbehavior is the signature of a network that hasn't a clue about the art of comedy.