When Dean Martin's long running variety show started to wane in the ratings department, the production team decided to try and spice things up with a ‘Man Of The Week' segment in which Martin and many of his pals would pay tribute to a specific celebrity by giving them a good ‘roasting' similar to what had been going on at The Friars Club for a while. The idea was a success and for a decade lasting from 1974 through to 1984 Martin and company kept it going. The variety show would go off the air in 1974, but those roasts kept on coming and were often quite timely.
Time Life, two years ago, released a complete collection of the Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts and since then has repackaged the material a few times in lower cost versions with less material and extra features. Dean Martin Roasts: Stingers & Zingers is the latest repackaging effort, an eight disc collection focusing on movie and TV stars as well as the occasional athlete.
The celebrities and athletes that are roasted in this set are:
DISC ONE: Valerie Harper / Jack Klugman And Tony Randall / Michael Landon
DISC TWO: Carroll O'Connor / Senator Hubert Humphry / Wilt Chamberlain
DISC THREE: Danny Thomas / Ted Knight / Dan Haggerty,/p>
DISC FOUR: Mr. T / Joe Namath
DISC FIVE: Jack Klugman / Ed McMahon / Redd Foxx
DISC SIX: Joe Garagiola / Evel Knievel / Hank Aaron
DISC SEVEN: Peter Marshall / Truman Capote / William Conrad / Monty Hall
DISC EIGHT: Joe Namath (again) / Leo Durocher / Bobby Riggs
Of course, each roast follows the same basic formula. Martin provides an introduction and acts as essentially a master of ceremonies, bringing on each roaster to off their tribute to the ‘man of the hour' or ‘woman of the hour' (it started as ‘of the week' but changed once the variety show went off the air). This would make up the bulk of the running time but then, at the end of each roast, the special guest would get up and give it right back to the roasters. This material would often stray far from the realm of modern day political correctness but it didn't seem to matter to anyone, it was all done in good fun. Racial humor, sexist humor, crass comments and personal digs are common throughout the set making all of this very much a product of its time but a damned entertaining one regardless.
Of course, just as important to the show as the special guest is the cast of roasters put together for each episode. Throughout this set you'll see roast regulars like Don Rickles (always a stand out player), Red Buttons, Ruth Buzzi, Nipsey Russell and Rich Little but also some more decidedly esoteric choices. Maybe it's not so surprising to see Phyllis Diller show up or Norm Crosby or Charles Nelson Reilly for that matter but keep watching and you'll bear witness to roasts from Vincent Price, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Ernest Borgnine, Orson Welles, Bruce Jenner (timely as that one may be by modern standards) and even Gary Coleman. Part of the joy of watching the roasts is, unless you refer to the included episode guide or an online source, you really never know who will show up or what they will do!
While the material on display in each roast was definitely scripted, there's still an obvious element of improve that goes into quite a bit of the routines. Comedians and celebrities alike show a knack here for thinking on their feet, Martin in particular is always ready with a quip, his trademark cocktail seemingly glued to his hand and playing the part of the charming drunk for all its worth. You also get a sense from Martin's involvement here for those roasters and roastees that he really enjoyed working with on a personal level. Case in point? His reactions to Don Rickles or Sammy Davis Jr. tend to be far more sincere and appreciative than his reactions to Ricky Schroeder. The camaraderie that comes out of specific moments of interaction between the different participants can be pretty charming in its own right, and the unhinged enthusiasm and spirit of it all is generally as infectious as it is downright funny.
There are also some remarkably bizarre moments in here as well. The roast of Mr. T is a good example (and the last of the roasts that Martin would be involved with). At the time it was done he was a big star, The A-Team was a big hit on TV and he was absolutely a very famous man but you can tell that Martin and a lot of the other participants lack a real connection to the guy. The end result is… weird. Maybe a little awkward. Yet still funny. Seeing Coleman and Schroder sitting on the stage next to a bunch of grownups telling grownup jokes is almost surreal. But again, the humor comes quickly and efficiently and as such, it'll keep you laughing even if you're left occasionally scratching your head.
The end result here is that if you've got, or intend to get, the complete collection you really don't need this repackaged assortment. It duplicates material that would seem to have originated with that admittedly much more lavish (and expensive) collection. For the casual fan, however, and one more interested in seeing the stars of the screen and a few sports heroes tossed into the mix, this is a very fine assortment of comedy gold. It can occasionally get repetitive, particularly if you marathon the episodes, but no matter how many times you hear Red Buttons do his ‘never got a dinner' bit you can't help but laugh along with everyone on the screen.The DVDs:
The content in this set is taken from the original broadcast tape masters so it's only going to ever look so good. Expect some softness inherent in the source to wreak havoc with detail occasionally but for the most part, this is all more than watchable. Colors do tend to fade a bit but are typically defined well enough so as not to be a problem. Skin tones look fine and black levels are okay, if never perfect. These look like the old tape sources that they are, and there's no shame in that. Some mild compression artifacts do pop up here and there but outside of that, no real problems here, just keep your expectations in check.Sound:
Audio is English language Dolby Digital Mono across the board, no alternate language options are provided nor are there any closed captioning or subtitles options provided. The same qualities apply to the audio that apply to the video, so don't expect miracles here but for the most part the single channel tracks get the job done without any real problems. There are a few bits here and there where the more improvised bits result in some of the performers being further away from the mics than would be ideal, so expect some fluctuations in this regard, but otherwise thsee simple tracks work well enough.Extras:
The extras are spread across the different discs in the set, but there's a quite a bit of extra content here if you want to dig for it. Two featurettes are included here, the first of which is Primetime Ribbing: Roasting Small-Screen Stars. As you'd expect, the focus here is on the roasts that go after the TV and movie celebrities featured in this collection. The second featurette is Sports Stars: Hit 'Em Where It Hurts and it follows a similar format, albeit this time the focus is on the different athletes that are skewered. Interviews and archival footage make up most of the material in both pieces, and these are interesting and amusing retrospective pieces worth checking out.
The collection also features a wealth of interviews with roasters, roastees and Dean Martin alumni. Participants in the interviews in this collection include: Ed Asner, Norm Crosby, Rich Little, Carol Burnett, Dan Haggerty, Tom Dreesen, Jimmie Walker, Tony Danza, Shirley Jones, Rip Taylor and Jack Carter. Pretty much everybody interviewed here looks back on all of this with a smile. The roasts might have gotten a little mean spirited now and then but they were definitely done in the spirit of good natured fun and that really comes across throughout the talks.
Aside from that, the set also includes a few bonus comedy sketches (twenty-five sketches in general, often featuring various guests) from different episodes of Martin's variety show. These are amusing enough and feature some fun guest stars. Menus and roast selection are also included on each disc. Additionally, the set comes packaged with an insert booklet containing an essay on the roasts as well as breakdowns of the participants for reach roast in this collection as well as original broadcast date information.Final Thoughts:
If you don't already own the complete collection and don't necessarily need it, then based on its own merits, Dean Martin Roasts: Stingers & Zingers is a lot of fun. Not every roast is as funny as the next but the good definitely outweighs the bad and there's a lot of entertainment value to be had here. The audio and video presentation won't blow you away but it looks about as good as it probably can. Recommended.