How do you write about these roasts without getting into trouble with your editor? Paramount has released the Comedy Central Roast of David Hasselhoff: Extended and Uncensored, a hit-and-miss entry in the cable network's long-running series. Roasters include Gilbert Gottfried, Lisa Lampanelli, Greg Giraldo, Whitney Cummings, Jeffrey Ross, Pamela Anderson, George Hamilton, Hulk Hogan, and Jerry Springer, with the "un-Trey Parker," Seth MacFarlane, as the roast master. Whether or not you're going to need to buy this one will depend entirely, I suppose, on how devoted you are to the Hoff...or to one of the roasters on the dais. Bonus material is pretty sketchy, but more importantly...doesn't Comedy Central already air these uncensored?
The last Comedy Central roast I watched was for Joan Rivers, because a buddy of mine who thinks like I do that Gilbert Gottfried is a bizarre, horrible little genius, said he did a killer set there―which indeed he did (it concerned making love to Joan Rivers, and it was...hysterically over-the-top and completely wrong in every imaginable way). So I grabbed this screener not because I'm a huge Hoff fan (I enjoy him, though), but for Gottfried, the no-holds-barred "Queen of Mean," Lisa Lampanelli, and the sadly-passed Greg Giraldo (I tip my hat to anyone who has the guts to do a "dead Giraldo" joke at the next roast―that's exactly what a vicious, hilarious comic like Giraldo would have expected of his fellow comics). And certainly, those three, along with newcomer to me, Whitney Cummings, deliver the goods for this roast which originally aired this past August. Now, I grew up during the age of the beloved Dean Martin roasts, and when they first aired (before Dino got tired, and the roasters got bored, and the teleprompters quit working), they were the epitome of sharp, funny, insider humor on television in those days. You really felt like you were peeking in on something meant just for the celebs. Watching those old roasts now on video, even though the performers are still a delight, the shows don't seem nearly as much fun because you can see how tame and scripted and edited they were.
"Tame" these Comedy Central roasts are certainly not, but scripted they still are, particularly for the non-comedian "celebrities" that fill up almost half the dais. And, give or take a joke or two, here and there, those "celebrities" are all terrible (I understand they're also there as fodder for the comedians, but seriously...get some B-listers with talent and make it a fair fight). Roast master Seth MacFarlane opens the show, looking slightly nervous, questioning how one can make fun of someone like the Hoff who's already a joke (dangerous territory there, Seth...). The Hoff then enters and belts out a confident, hilarious I'm Hooked on a Feeling, with several gorgeous girls, dressed in scanty Oktoberfest beer maiden outfits, backing him up. And immediately, you love the guy for it, because he's already probably made the best joke of the night about himself. With that spirited acknowledgement of his own ridiculousness (the singing career in Germany; his ubėr-macho/pretty-boy handsomeness), Hasselhoff not only shows he's a good sport, but he effectively negates everything awful that's going to come his way―and the subjects of ridicule are fairly consistent: Nazis and Jews, naturally (owing to Hasselhoff's popularity in Germany), his aging body, his past alcoholism, and his lack of acting skills. MacFarlane continues, but he only gets a big laugh once he does his Family Guy "Stewie" voice (he's never going to escape that...).
Surprisingly, Lisa Lampanelli is up first, and she's just as filthy and hilarious as always. Highlights (that I can safely reprint) include, "If they played your [the Hoff's] music in Auschwitz, the Jews would've sprinted to the ovens," and "It's no coincidence George Hamilton loves the sun; they were born in the same year. This difference is, the sun is actually a star." When Lampanelli goes "too far" for the audience, telling a Roger Ebert surgery joke, she quite rightly asserts, "It's a roast, *ssholes!" and shuts them up right quick. George Hamilton is next, with his first joke his best, where he asks the audience to turn off their cell phones, so they can experience what it's like to be Gilbert Gottfried not getting any calls. Hamilton could be very funny on talk shows and game shows back in his day, and he seems game enough today with his timing, but his Dino imitation is weak, and the writers really let him down here. Next up is Jeffrey Ross, who doesn't get as big a laugh parading around in a classic Hoff outfit (black Speedo® and leather jacket, no shirt), as he probably thought he would. Ross used to be the funniest guy on these roasts, and he can still come up with great jokes, such as his digs at Seth MacFarlane ("A man of a 1000 voices...all of them 'Stewie,' or "South Park" called: they want their 'everything' back,"), or his Hoff/German/Jew associations: "Why do the Germans love you so much, huh? Maybe it's because you fill the entertainment void left by Anne Frank. [the audience groans] Too soon?" But his recent habit of laughing at the end of each of his jokes really takes the edge off (he needs to go back to being pissed or indifferent), with this habit almost making the audience want to say, "Shut up; you're not that funny."
Former America's Got Talent co-stars of Hasselhoff's, Piers Morgan and Sharon Osborne, send a video message to the Hoff next, with Sharon getting the sole funny line: "Have you pissed yourself on the plane yet?" which breaks up Morgan. Next up is Hulk Hogan, who immediately blows his first joke, and then his second, and then his third. His one funny line to Hamilton―"Does it bother you that your career is in the same toilet that Lisa drinks out of?"―doesn't save his set. Pam Anderson, up next, is even worse. Now, I understand that the Comedy Central probably like to have Anderson around for T & A appeal and because she's such a convenient target for the other roasters―that, and she seems genuinely too stupid to get that they mean it when they're making fun of her. But Jesus she can't deliver a one-liner to save her life. She's simply awful; luckily, the producers edit her down to a very short appearance on the stage. Up next is Gottfried, and quite simply, he kills with that insane, screaming, screwed-up eyes delivery of his...until, disappointingly, he trails off at the very end with a funny-but-somehow-anti-climatic joke, and abruptly walks back to his chair. Saving his best jokes for MacFarlane, Lampanelli and Anderson, Gottfried skewers MacFarlane with his opener: "If only The Simpsons would wipe its *ss in front of Seth MacFarlane, he could then do it, too. But sadly, Seth MacFarlane's bulky *ss is caked in layers of unwiped excrement and shame...because The Simpsons haven't done it yet." (MacFarlane is laughing...but you can tell he hates that Simpsons stuff). Gottfried moves on to Lampanelli, referencing her predilection (in her act) for Black men ("Are you telling me in 2010, Black guys still have to **** monsters like you?!" he screams to her obvious delight), before he tells a great "genie in the lamp" joke about Anderson, concerning her genitalia and her truly terrible show, V.I.P.. Predictably, the least-funny people up on the dais refuse to respond to Gottfried's humor, with Hulk and Anderson noticeably grumpy, while you can hear good sport Lampanelli laugh at everyone's efforts.
Jerry Springer proves no more able than the Hulkster or Anderson in delivering a funny joke, before Whitney Cummings comes on like gangbusters, with every outrageous joke hitting a home run. I've never seen Cummings before, but she's terrific, with a raucous, ragged-voice delivery that I found very funny. Nailing everyone on the dais from Lampanelli ("You look like Susan Boyle ****** Snooki!", "Your ****** is like a bad movie: it opened wide, and all the Wayan Brothers have been in it.") to Anderson's sex, comparing it to a M. Night Shyamalan movie ("Ten years ago, everybody wanted to see it. But now, after they come out of it, they're like: 'What the **** was that? Was it an alien? Was it dead? And what was Mark Wahlberg doing in there?" (Again, dingbat Anderson doesn't get it). Greg Giraldo is the final roaster, and his high energy set is a welcome finisher. Openly laughing at the idiots up on the dais, he tellingly (or at least because of the editing), leaves Gottfried and Cummings alone, saving his most cruel jabs for MacFarlane, Hamilton and Lampanelli. After MacFarlane intros Giraldo, he offers, "Donny Osmond, everybody! Wasn't she great!", before going after Hamilton ("You're like Tang®: you're dry and you're orange, and nobody has given a **** about you since 1968," and "You're like a walking tumor. Not exactly...it's a big deal when you spot a tumor."), and Lampanelli ("I've never seen a circus bear in a pant suit."). A sensationally in-poor-taste joke about the Hoff and Robert Kennedy gets serious gasps from the audience, to which Giraldo, just like Lampanelli before, rightly asserts: "That's a great joke. I'm sorry if the meanness has piled up here, but that's what we do here." As tradition dictates, Hoff finishes off with his rebuttal, and it's certainly amusing enough (his jibe at Gottfried is good: "You could be my twin brother...if I had a twin brother...if it died in the womb."), but the voice of William Daniels, as KITT from Knight Rider (which is parked on the stage), gets the best topper with his dreading, deadpan pleas of "Oh, God, David, not now...Please, David―don't sing," as Hoff belts out This is the Moment for the roast's finale.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.