The Most Vicious Celebrity Roasts Never Televised

The Most Vicious Celebrity Roasts Never Televised

Ever since Comedy Central began televising the New York Friars Club roasts, starting with Drew Carey’s in 1998, viewers have delighted in seeing beloved celebrities torn apart by unforgiving comic roasters. But as brutal as these roasts are, they’re tamer versions of the non-televised roasts that the Friars had been cooking up since 1950. Just imagine what roasters would do if there were no cameras rolling to record their depravity for all time. 

Here are highlights of earlier roasts that don’t exist on video, mostly thanks to accounts from Barry Dougherty’s New York Friars Club Book of Roasts(Trigger warning: Just about every objectionable type of language and subject matter lies ahead.)

Whoopi Goldberg

Unlike most pre-TV roasts, this one did generate buzz, mostly because a picture of roastmaster and Goldberg boyfriend Ted Danson in blackface somehow escaped the walls of the Friars Club. Oh, and he devoured a watermelon on the dais as well. Danson still wasn’t done — he told jokes about Goldberg’s oral sex proficiency and delivered this gem, allegedly an entry in his diary: “I was worried about how my parents would react when I brought Whoopi home to meet them, they can be so stuffy and out-of-touch, but Whoopi fit right in. And after she did the laundry and washed the dishes and dusted and generally tidied up the place, my sweet, sweet father offered her a ride to the bus station.”

A photo of Danson in blackface found its way to the Daily News, along with some angry words from attendee Montel Williams: “As a new member of the Friars Club, I attended my first Celebrity Roast 15 minutes ago. … I was confused as to whether or not I was at a Friars’ event or at a rally for the KKK and Aryan Nation.” 

Why didn’t the roast sink Danson’s career? Maybe because Goldberg claimed that Danson’s “blackface was my idea.” In an angry press conference, she argued that “part of what Ted’s roasting was, was about being proud of me and proud of who I am. And that he is proud to be my friend and walk before me in life. But Montel missed all that. If this is going to be the outcry after each Friars’ roast, the Friars will no longer be able to have them.”

“Ted, I don't know if you've finished your speech yet but I have the kookiest idea…”

You know things were messed up when Bobcat Goldthwait was the voice of reason. “What kind of weird-ass bet did you lose?” the comic asked Danson on the dais. “Did you really think Black people would think that’s funny in ninety-fuckin’-three?” 

Steven Seagal

Notorious good sport Seagal was a natural for a Friars Club roast, seeing how much he loves a good-natured ribbing. And what better way to celebrate the release of Oscar bait Under Siege II: Dark Territory? Wait a minute — Seagal has no sense of humor at all! This would probably get ugly.

For the most part, Seagal took his lumps. Rookie roaster Jeffrey Ross got in some good jabs: “A lot of you don’t know me, but I feel uniquely qualified to be up here today because I’m also a shitty actor. What can I say about Steven Seagal that hasn’t already been said about Van Damme? I saw your last movie and I left during the previews — is he laughing? I’m afraid to look.”

But Ross wasn’t the only terrified comic that night. Seagal had pulled a Tom Brady and declared a certain topic off-limits — namely, claims of sexual harassment against him making the rounds in the tabloids. (The Seagal accusations have only gotten worse over the years.) Seagal told roastmaster Milton Berle that his accuser was either in prison or a mental institution, and that the comics should steer clear — advice that at least one roaster ignored. “Katey Sagal is the only woman in Hollywood not in litigation with you currently,” poked Gordon Elliott. “And speaking of sexual harassment of optometrists…”

That joke didn’t “fit the situation,” said a nervous Berle, even though other roastees have suffered much worse. “Seagal turned to me and said — I think he had a gun on him too, you know Seagal — ‘Who’s that prick? I don’t want to see him after the show because I’ll break his fucking legs.'”

Which made Elliott’s final words to Seagal all the more poetic: “We don’t hate you because you’re beautiful, we hate you because we’re very fuckin’ scared of you.”

Kelsey Grammer

What’s worse — Grammer crashing his car and entering rehab one day before his scheduled Friars Club Roast, or agreeing to reschedule and subject himself to comic pummeling one week after his release from Betty Ford? His roasters showed no pity. 

“Our next roaster is the wonderful comic Tommy Collins,” said roastmaster David Hyde Pierce. “It’s Bobby? Oh, I’m sorry, I just got this note from Kelsey, and it says ‘Tom Collins, pronto!’”

“I feel qualified to be here,” quipped Jeff Ross, “because I’m wasted.”

Roasters were also shockingly casual about Grammer’s inclination to date very young women. This was 1996, for those of you keeping score at home. For instance:

  • Freddie Roman: “I just had drinks with Kelsey. He had a Shirley Temple — actually, it was a 14-year-old girl.”
  • NBC President Warren Littlefield: “Kelsey is so important to our network. He’s bringing in our demographics — teens and children.” 

Grammer defended himself in his closing remarks, imitating Jack Nicholson’s McMurphy from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: “Doc, that girl was 15 going on 35. You know what I mean?”

Richard Pryor

How do you roast a frail comic legend who had a harrowing brush with death after setting himself on fire, had just undergone heart surgery and was battling multiple sclerosis? By hitting him in all the places it hurts. 

Roastmaster Robin Williams: “We are here today to honor a man who believes not only that Black is beautiful, but Black is flammable. This is truly the hottest man in show business.”

Chevy Chase: “It’s tough to roast a man who’s been through three cardiac episodes, multiple sclerosis, eight marriages, countless children of many nationalities, a sextuple heart bypass, a testicleoptopy and a microwaving. Hell, Richard’s been clinically dead for eight years.”

Comic Norm Crosby bragged that his biggest roast laugh ever came from this racist gem: “Few people know that Richard and I were little kids together. We played together on my grandfather’s farm. We walked in the woods together till we were about 11 years old, and then my grandfather sold him. … I’m only kidding! We kept him till he was 14.”

Billy Crystal

C’mon! It’s uber mensch Billy Crystal! Surely no one could have anything mean to say about Billy Crystal. But somehow, roastmaster Rob Reiner found a way to get foul. “I thought we should get just a few things out of the way before we start,” he began. “Shit, piss, cum, ass, asshole, asswipe, buttfuck, gerbil, cock, cocksucker, prick, dick, putz, schmuck, jerk-off, whack-off, beat-off, fuck cunt, pussy, twat, snatch, cunt-licker, cunt-wrapper, boy, is she a cunt!, fuck, fuck you, fuck me, fuck a sheep, blow the Pope! I think that about covers it. I’m sorry, Mayor Dinkins, if I’ve forced you to rethink your speech.”

Garry Shandling weighed in, too: “Billy and I are both animal lovers. Billy called me up once and says, ‘My dog’s penis tastes bitter. Do you know what causes that?’”

Legendary foul-mouth Buddy Hackett saved his worst for Reiner, who claimed Hackett used to babysit for him as a kid. “I was not your babysitter,” Hackett said. “Actually, your father (Carl Reiner) and I shared a dressing room and your mother and him were fucking one afternoon in the dressing room and if I hadn’t stepped on your father’s ass, you wouldn’t be here today.” 

In Crystal’s closing remarks, he lamented the absence of Milton Berle, who “could not be here today — they couldn’t find a Depends big enough to fit around his dick.” As for Hackett? “I love Buddy Hackett, but I got to tell ya, my mother thinks you’re an asshole and so do I.”

Chevy Chase

You think you know the Chevy Chase roast? The Comedy Central version might be the most depressing ever, but Chase had been roasted before in 1990. You can tell his star was shining a bit brighter then by the Saturday Night Live stars on the dais, including Dan Aykroyd, Lorne Michaels, Dennis Miller, Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon. A decade later, he was reduced to Paul Shaffer and Al Franken.

Chase’s 1990 roast was both vicious and playful, with Aykroyd leading the way: “Chevy Chase is Hollywood’s foremost brownnoser and locker suck. For the lead role in Caddyshack, he blew Jon Peters’ pet pit bull. And even though Peters had nothing to do with Fletch, Chevy went back and blew the same dog because he enjoyed it so much the first time.”

Believe it or not, Chase’s roast in 1990 was the first time ever that a woman was allowed to be one of the roasters. The “honor” fell to the uncomfortable Rita Rudner. “It got very degrading, especially toward women,” she remembered. But she knew what she’d signed up for, starting her roast with, “Hello, cocksuckers! How the fuck are you?”

Chase, ever the classy gentleman, made sure to acknowledge her feminine presence at the end of the roast. “What’s the difference between Rita Rudner and the New York Knicks?” he asked. “The Knicks shower after every fourth period.”

Rudner’s final memory of the evening: “I had a tremendous migraine on the way back on the plane and I thought, this isn’t for me. I was just glad to escape.”

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