The 8 Most Scorching Roasts in Sitcom History
Friendships are built on mutual trust, on the deep knowledge shared between people who’ve dared to look deep into each other’s hearts. And yet, paradoxically, it’s the people who know you most intimately — the people to whom you’ve really bared your soul — that are best equipped to use that knowledge against you in the form of truly wounding insults. But in a fun way! Hence: roasts.
A tradition older than most of us, the roast is a celebration of someone deemed important enough to razz, and (ideally) good-natured enough to take it — or, failing that, funny enough to give as good as they get. And while it’s likely that actual comics save their very best material for venues civilians will never see, Dean Martin and Comedy Central have both brought roasts into popular culture enough that they’ve become a go-to device for sitcoms — even ones about characters who can get fatally roasted by merely stepping outside at the wrong time of day.
In “The Roast,” last night’s episode of What We Do in the Shadows, The Guide (Kristen Schaal) — with an assist from Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) — suggests shaking Laszlo (Matt Berry) out of his depression by gathering his frenemies to roast him. Sample joke: “If you think ejaculating onto the pillow counts as cooking your wife dinner, you might just be Laszlo Cravensworth!”
But Shadows is only the latest sitcom to showcase its writers’ insult comedy chops by roasting its characters. Here are a few more, ranked from least to most effective use of the format…
Reason for the Roast: As rival broadcasters on the same sports radio station, Oscar (Matthew Perry) and Rich Eisen (as himself) are moderately respectful frenemies — a relationship that’s easier for Eisen to maintain since he’s the more successful of the two, and tends only to seek out Oscar’s company when Eisen has beaten him in the ratings.
This episode is an exception, however: Eisen is being honored for his philanthropy and asks Oscar to speak at the event. Oscar struggles to write laudatory material, so he’s relieved when Eisen changes tack. Now he’d like Oscar to roast him! Just as Oscar is eagerly waiting to bust out all his best slams, Dani (Yvette Nicole Brown) and Teddy (Wendell Pierce) warn him that it’s a trap: Eisen plans to praise Oscar lavishly, so if Oscar does his roast jokes, he’ll look like a jerk. The episode climaxes with both broadcasters attempting to outdo one another’s praise.
Best Joke: “He’s so dumb, he thinks Steph Curry is something you order at an Indian restaurant.”
Reason for the Roast: Mr. Burns (voice of Harry Shearer) is having a birthday! (“Credits Long Life to Satan,” reads the subhed on the front page of the Springfield Shopper.) For some reason, this famously touchy man thinks it might be fun to get roasted at his party, so Smithers (Shearer again) taps Homer (Dan Castellaneta) to work up “some snappy, Sinbad-esque material.” Though Marge (Julie Kavner) is worried about Homer putting his job at risk by insulting his boss, Lisa (Yeardley Smith) defends the tradition and believes it could help Homer’s status to do it. That’s before she finds out what Homer’s closer is.
Best Joke: “I’m Mr. Burns. Blah blah blah.”
Reason for the Roast: Winston (Lamorne Morris) has been accepted to the police academy, fulfilling his latest career dream and life goal! To celebrate, he decides to throw himself a banquet, including a “prominent chair” he refuses to call a throne, and orders his friends to put on a honey roast: it’s like a regular roast, but all the jokes are positive and affirming. Nick (Jake Johnson) and Jess (Zooey Deschanel) aren’t really that excited about it, because they broke up the previous night, and are trying to keep it secret in order not to cast a pall on Winston’s big news, but they do their best. Jess even puts on a cat costume to portray Winston’s beloved cat, Ferguson. (When Damon Wayans Jr.’s Coach comments that he can’t believe Jess just had one lying around, Cece, played by Hannah Simone, mutters, “She has four of them.”)
Best Joke: Once Jess decides this should be a real roast: “Nick calls birds wind mice… Nick says ‘yahtzee’ when he climaxes… He calls turtles ‘shell beavers.’”
Reason for the Roast: In the series premiere of Will & Grace, Grace (Debra Messing) ran out on her wedding to her longtime boyfriend Danny. Now, Danny (Tom Verica) is marrying Sarah (Jennifer Aspen), and though Grace doesn’t really want to attend, she feels she must, or else she’ll seem like she’s “devastated because he’s getting married before me.” (Will: “Which you are.”) She’s putting on a very brave face when, at the rehearsal dinner, Danny’s best man (John Colella) calls her up to give a speech from her unique perspective. It proves to be too effective, convincing Sarah that she shouldn’t marry Danny either, but Grace remembers enough of Danny’s good qualities to save the wedding in the end.
Best Joke: “I do remember our first Valentine’s Day. He gave me the greatest gift, and it only took six to eight weeks to get rid of it.”
Reason for the Roast: Professor Farnsworth (voice of Billy West) believes he’s being summoned to Mars University for a hearing on disciplinary charges. (“Everyone’s always in favor of saving Hitler’s brain, but when you put it in the body of a great white shark, ooh, suddenly you’ve gone too far!”) But it turns out to be a ruse to lure him to Hallowed Hall for a 150th birthday roast.
Best Joke: Bender (John DiMaggio): “You know, they say you can judge a man by the company he keeps, so here’s the professor’s oldest friend: a grotesque stinking lobster!”
Reason for the Roast: Though Schitt’s Creek is a generally wholesome place to live, one of its customs is an annual mayor’s roast. Since the arrival of the Rose family, Moira (Catherine O’Hara) has been the beloved roastmaster to Mayor Roland Schitt (Chris Elliott), but since she’s hard at work directing a community theater production of Cabaret, her husband Johnny (Eugene Levy) offers to fill in. Johnny’s setups are dated and labored, and he starts off a bit too rough and personal, but eventually finds his groove and saves some zingers for his own family afterward.
Best Joke: Johnny: “Oh! Got a smile out of Ronnie. The last time anyone saw her this happy was at a three-for-one sale on cargo pants.” (Ronnie: “Where?”)
Reason for the Roast: At this point in the series, demon architect Michael (Ted Danson) has been trying to learn ethics from the humans he’s supposed to be torturing, unbeknownst to his superiors — like Shawn (Marc Evan Jackson), who stops by to say the neighborhood is going to be used as a format to torture even more poor dead humans. Michael has to fake like he’s still fully evil while signaling to his friends, through wordplay, that they should trust him not to have turned on him. This kicks off both at and with a roast, to be followed by all the demons tearing the neighborhood apart.
Best Joke: “Now, when you taught the trolley problem, did you secretly wish that it could be you who wound up under the trolley? Because all your students did!”
Reason for the Roast: Larry (Garry Shandling) is a famous comic and late-night host, so of all the episodes on this list, this is the least sweaty roast premise: Someone in his position should expect this to happen to him at some point — and, indeed, being in the hot seat makes him re-evaluate some of the jokes he’s told when he was on the other side of the podium. Hank (Jeffrey Tambor) is desperate to be roastmaster, but Artie (Rip Torn) doesn’t think Hank would be able to handle hecklers, and when Hank seeks advice — and material — from Larry’s head writer Phil (Wallace Langham), that seems to be true.
Best Joke: From Jon Stewart: “They say that Larry is self-centered, and I don’t think so, honestly, ’cause if Larry could blow himself, well, he wouldn’t need Hank.”