In the 1970s, the public got its first prolonged exposure to Friars-style mayhem via Dean Martin’s celebrity roasts. Airing on NBC, these specials may have resurrected the euphemisms and innuendos the Friars had abandoned decades earlier, but they were also besotted with the casual, self-conscious irreverence that pop culture would eventually adopt as its lingua franca.
Compared to, say, Saturday Night Live, Martin and those who populated his dais were incredibly visionary. While the Not Ready For Primetime Players stuck with characters, narrative, and all the traditional tools of live theater, the roasters sailed by on a wave of lightly rehearsed, heavily liquored up verite.
Never had so many mediocre one-liners prompted so much feigned laughter, and yet in those instances where the show’s sloppy spontaneity trumped its black-tie professionalism, Martin and his aging, nicotine-stained pals emerged as the slapdash forefathers of gonzo porn, Jackass, and YouTube.
Speaking of YouTube, you don’t have to invest in that expensive Dean Martin Roasts boxed set to see whether or not the material holds up.
Multiple clips have been online for years.
Alas, many on the dais are now-forgotten B-listers. True superstars, like John Wayne, gamely recite bought and paid-for jokes.
To my taste, the only comics who really hold up are George Burns, Jonathan Winters (in small doses), and, of course, Don Rickles.
I’ll also bet that for many younger, first-time viewers, the most “offensive” aspects may well be the shameless smoking, and maybe Foster Brooks’ “drunk” routine.
Maybe, like so many things, we should savor the memory — the idea of — those Dean Martin Roasts rather than try to recapture their particular magic through binge viewing.
Heck, the set’s 1970s brown and orange color scheme alone gave me a nervous rash.
What do you think?
Any survivors of the 1970s care to comment about whether or not these shows have stood the test of time?