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Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts: Complete DVD Collection, The

Time Life // Unrated // October 15, 2013
List Price: $249.95 [Buy now and save at Timelife]

Review by John Sinnott | posted October 20, 2013 | E-mail the Author
The Shows:

"I could go on for hours about television's first lady, about her beauty, her talent, her humanity... but it seems silly to talk about Mary Tyler Moore when we're here to honor this bimbo." - Cindy Williams roasting Angie Dickinson

In 1973 The Dean Martin Show was in its ninth year on the air, and the ratings had been slipping for a while. In an attempt to boost the viewership the writers came up with a new format for half of the show: a celebrity roast. Patterned after the roasts at the Friars' Club in New York, Dean would gather a group of notable comedians, TV and movie stars and poke some good-natured fun at the "man of the week." The Dean Martin Show would be cancelled at the end of the 1973-74 season, but the roast segments were so popular that NBC turned the roasts into standalone specials rechristened The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast that would air a few times a year. They were a staple on the network for over a decade.

Now Time-Life has released all 54 of these Dean Martin Roasts, the 25 that aired as part of The Dean Martin Show along with the 29 specials, in a wonderful DVD set just in time for the holidays. The Dean Martin Roasts: The Complete Collection is a great collection that has hours and hours of hilarious entertainment. Filled with some of the biggest stars of Hollywood, from John Wayne to Bette Davis, and some of the top names in comedy, including such luminaries as Jack Benny, George Burns, Don Rickles, and Bob Newhart, and luminaries from sports and politics such as Muhammad Ali and George Wallace, these shows are a bit bawdy, very politically incorrect, but mostly they're just plain funny, even when viewed today.

"I've worked for Jackie for quite a few years and you couldn't ask for a more generous, kind, and understanding employer... because if you did ask he'd fire you." - Audrey Meadows roasting Jackie Gleason

The format for the roasts was pretty basic, but it worked very well. A podium was set between two long tables filled with popular entertainers. Dean Martin (who sat to the left of the podium) would start the festivities by introducing the "Man of the Week" (who sat on the right.. it was later changed to the "Man of the Hour" after that first season) by flinging a few barbs his way. He'd introduce each guest in turn and they'd get up for two or three minutes and pepper the person being roasted with some zingers, then it was time to move on to the next guest. At the end, the poor soul who had been taking insults all evening would get up and take a crack at the panel, smile, and then the credit would roll.

The beauty of the format was its simplicity: the jokes came fast and furious. You didn't have to wait for a premise to be set up like a sitcom and if one performer bombed, you didn't have to sit through a long set. Each performance was over in a few short minutes and then they'd move on to the next guest.

"Lucy has worked hard to get where she is today. She was a chorus girl at a nightclub on Hollywood Boulevard where every night she did the Dance of the Virgins... which she performed by memory." -Milton Berle roasting Lucille Ball

Since the show was broadcast on national TV in the 70's, the jokes were all clean... sort of. There was no swearing or cursing at all, but there was a lot of double entendres and sly, veiled references to sex. It was the sort of program that the entire family could watch together, even if the kids didn't get why mom and dad were laughed some of the time.

That's doesn't mean that the show was tame be today's standards. While today you can have same-sex kissing and swearing on TV that would have shocked people back then, there were a lot of jokes told that would NEVER get on cable TV today, much less a network. In those days before political correctness someone's race or religion was fair game. When Dean Martin introduces Dionne Warwick in one installment he says that "she's doing real well ' she's got a plantation down south where she raises colored cotton and has white folks pick it." And at one point Johnny Carson quips that "it's apropos that Red (Foxx) is here tonight because his ancestors originated the idea of roasting people." Of course Red Foxx gets into the act too. After his bit doesn't go over as well as he would have liked, he comments "I knew white guys couldn't write for spooks" and then walks off the stage. And those examples are from just one episode.

"George has always entertained presidents and has made six different presidents laugh. Six out of thirty nine isn't bad." - Ronald Reagan roasting George Burns

The first thing that strikes viewers today about these shows is the incredible amount of talent assembled for each roast. There isn't just one or two big names in each show, there are several legends on the stage. A very few of the entertainers who appear on this set include: John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Frank Sinatra, Orson Welles, Bette Davis, Sammy Davis Jr., and Kirk Douglas. There are many sports stars too such as Hank Aaron, Wilt Chamberlin, Joe Namath, and Muhammad Ali. But the comedians are the main attraction. It's a who's who of top name comics as well as an incredibly talented group of lesser known, but still hilarious, performers. From the golden age of radio and TV there's Jack Benny, Lucille Ball, Jackie Gleason, George Burns, Don Rickles, and Danny Thomas. Also appearing are some really great comedians from that era who should be remembered a bit more than they are. These include Rich Little (who tells about the time he taught Jimmy Stewart how to do an imitation of Jimmy Stewart), Gabe Kaplan, and Flip Wilson, Dom DeLuise, the perpetually inebriated Foster Brooks, Nipsy Russell, and Ruth Buzzi (who relates her fight with Muhammad Ali). This is hilarious stuff.

The one person who really deserves a mention is the late Jonathon Winters. He appeared in a few roasts, though not many, and was consistently funny. His goofy looks and little off the cuff remarks had me literally laughing out loud each time he was on. (And I mean "literally" in the literal sense, rather than figuratively which is how everyone seems to use it today. *sigh*)

The reason these show are so funny is largely due to the talent of the people who walk up to the podium. While a few of the guests (such as Jonathon Winters, Rich Little, and Bob Newhart) preferred to write their own jokes, most of material was penned by staff writers. If the material is all about the same and funny, why do some of the politicians and sports figures who appear have the jokes fall flat? It's because they're aren't great comedians and are just reading the jokes. While reading some of the myriad of jokes that I had transcribed for this review, I noticed that many of them were pretty pedestrian at best. But I was howling when Jackie Gleason or Freddie Prinze was on the screen, and that's because they knew how to tell a joke. Just reading the word "well" isn't funny, but hearing Jack Benny say it on one of his old radio shows brings laughter. And that's what you get with this collection of shows: very talented comedians doing what they do best.

The following roasts, all 54 of them, are included in this collection:

Ronald Reagan, 9/14/1973
Hugh Hefner, 9/21/1973
Ed McMahon, 9/28/1973
William Conrad, 10/5/1973
Kirk Douglas, 10/12/1973
Bette Davis, 10/19/1973
Barry Goldwater, 10/26/1973
Johnny Carson, 11/2/1973
Wilt Chamberlain, 11/9/1973
Hubert Humphrey, 11/23/1973
Carroll O'Connor, 12/7/1973
Monty Hall, 12/14/1973
Jack Klugman & Tony Randall, 12/21/1973
Zsa Zsa Gabor, 1/11/1974
Leo Durocher, 1/18/1974
Truman Capote, 1/25/1974
Don Rickles, 2/8/1974
Ralph Nader, 2/15/1974
Jack Benny, 2/22/1974
Redd Foxx, 3/1/1974
Bobby Riggs, 3/6/1974
George Washington (portrayed by Jan Leighton, 3/15/1974
Dan Rowan & Dick Martin, 3/22/1974
Hank Aaron, 3/29/1974
Joe Namath, 4/5/1974
Bob Hope, 10/31/1974
Telly Savalas, 11/15/1974
Lucille Ball, 2/8/1975
Jackie Gleason, 2/27/1975
Sammy Davis, Jr., 4/25/1975
Michael Landon, 5/16/1975
Evel Knievel, 11/10/1975
Valerie Harper, 11/20/1975
Muhammad Ali, 2/19/1976
Dean Martin, 2/27/1976
Dennis Weaver, 4/27/1976
Joe Garagiola, 5/25/1976
Redd Foxx, 11/26/1976
Danny Thomas, 12/15/1976
Angie Dickinson, 2/8/1977
Gabe Kaplan, 2/21/1977
Ted Knight, 3/2/1977
Peter Marshall, 5/2/1977
Dan Haggerty, 11/2/1977
Frank Sinatra, 2/7/1978
Jack Klugman, 3/17/1978
Jimmy Stewart, 5/10/1978
George Burns, 5/17/1978
Betty White, 5/6/1978
Suzanne Somers, 11/21/1978
Joe Namath, 1/19/1979
Joan Collins, 2/23/1984
Mr. T, 3/14/1984
Michael Landon, 12/7/1984

The DVDs:

The 54 Dean Martin Roasts arrive on 25 DVDs. The roasts themselves are to be found in three 8-disc cases (though one only contains six discs), and the Frank Sinatra roast is in its own separate single disc case for some reason. The other four discs (in two double cases) are devoted bonus material. All six cases are housed in an attractive box that looks great on a shelf, though if display room is at a premium the individual cases can be taken out of the box and stored with the rest of your DVDs. The versatility in nice.


The show is presented with the original mono track and it fits the show well. The audio quality is limited to the technology of the time and seems to improve over time, but generally the jokes are easy to hear and there isn't any disturbing background noise. The one complaint I have is that the laughter and applause is canned (though they were preformed in front of an audience) but since that's the way they were broadcast there's not a lot that can be done about it.


The color full-frame image was taken from the original video tapes and looks as good as can be expected. These were intended to be viewed on a very small (by today's standards) CRT display with the signal pulled out of the air via an antenna, so when viewed on a 72" plasma screen it's easy to notice that they don't look as crisp and clear and modern shows. The colors are a bit drab and the image is rather soft, but the shows don't look bad at all. As long as viewers remember that they're watching shows that were recorded up to 40 years ago, they'll be satisfied.


This set is just filled with extras that are great supplements that are worth watching (as opposed to being just filler). All together there is over 15-hours worth of extra content. Where to begin? There are eleven featurettes that were created for this set. They feature various stars talking about being on the show as well as reminiscing about some of the other guests as well as Dean himself. There are documentaries on the history of these specials, spotlights on some of the famous people to appear, behind-the-stage bits, and a look at how politically incorrect it was.

If that were all, it would have been a nice package, but Time-Life and StarVista went the extra mile and included a lot more. There are home movies of Dean Martin and his pals, many interviews with various stars, and bonus comedy sketches. In addition there are seven installments of The Dean Martin Show (including the second one from 1965) as well as two extra Dean Martin specials: Dean's Place which aired on January 13, 1976 and Dean Martin's Red Hot Scandals of 1926 from April 4, 1977. The hours and hours of bonus content is a real treat.

Final Thoughts:

I was thinking I'd enjoy this, but it turned out to be much more fun than I was anticipating. I ended up laughing out loud several times during every episode that I was able to screen and I had a smile plastered on my face during the whole running time. If you enjoy great comedians, cutting barbs, and some 'I can't believe he said that' moments, this set will be right up your alley. It comes highly, highly recommended.






Highly Recommended

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