Comedy Central roasts are something of a double-edged sword. On one side, it's always fun to see some of the biggest, raunchiest comedians get their due after using the world as their comedy dumping grounds. On the other side, it can be a bit tiring to watch funny people just drive each other into the ground over and over and over (we're looking at you, Sarah Silverman, and your Jonah Hill fat jokes). That's why Andy Samberg's sweet, gentle, and riotously funny parody of a roast was absolutely refreshing.
But Samberg wasn't the first to take this approach. Norm MacDonald actually paved the way for this style of roast back when Comedy Central roasted Bob Saget, the seemingly-wholesome but notoriously randy star of Full House. Like Samberg, MacDonald stunned the audience momentarily when he started lobbing softballs at his opponents, and eventually at the roastee, himself. Samberg's style of humor is a little more present in pop culture, so he easily slipped into the routine, garnering laughs right away, but does that mean he was better?
Let's pit these gentle comedy giants against one another, joke-for-joke, and see who comes out on top.
Round 1: Opening Zingers
Andy's Best Zingers:
"Natasha Leggero is here. She's basically an unknown, but tonight, we're getting paid the same amount of money. Got you. Well, guess what, Natasha? You can do everything I can do, but I can never experience the miracle of birthing a child — roasted you."
"Here's one: Nick Kroll, Seth Rogen, and Bill Hader walk into a bar. They're there to pick me up because I'm an alcoholic who can't manage my feelings. Nailed you fuckers. Suck a butt."
"My good friend Aziz Ansari is here. Aziz's parents are from India and he's from South Carolina. Hey, Aziz. What's it like to have a unique perspective on what it means to be American, you bag of shit?"
Norm's Best Zingers:
"John [Stamos] has a reputation for being a bit of a swinger. Did you know instead of an umbilical chord, John was born with a bungee chord?"
"Cloris [Leachman], if people say you're over the hill, don't believe them. Why you'll never be over the hill, not in the car you drive."
"Greg Giraldo is here. He has the grace of a swan, the wisdom of an owl, and the eye of an eagle. Ladies and gentlemen, this man is for the birds."
Who comes out on top?
Samberg wins. While both Norm and Andy subverted the format of the roast by making every insult backfire, thus taking the actual insults away from their subjects, Andy's self-facing friendly fire and boyish delivery delivery kick it up a notch from Norm's dad-joke schtick.
Round 2: Battling the Beast
Choice Cuts of Andy's Roast of James Franco:
"Did you know James Franco was on General Hospital? A crappy soap opera! It's like you don't let your ego get in the way of your artistic path, what is that, Kenny Rogers?"
"Oz the Great and Powerful? More like a movie that transported me to a magical wonderland. Good one. Thanks."
Warning: Dick jokes, ahoy.
"James Franco's dick is so small, that I had to suck it for like three hours just to get him hard. And then it got way bigger. Like scary big and I was like 'You want me to do what with that?'"
"What I want to say is this: James has fed me so much dick, that you could make foie gras out of my liver. That's a foodie joke about dicks."
Select Pieces of Norm's Roast of Bob Saget:
"Bob you have a lot of well-wishers here today, and a lot of them would like to throw you down one. A well. They want to murder you in a well. Seems a little harsh, but apparently they want to murder you in a well."
"But Bob has a beautiful face, like a flower. Yeah, cauliflower. No offense, but your face. Looks. Like a cauliflower."
"I heard you have hair on your chest, Bob, and let me tell you something. That isn't your only resemblance to Rin Tin-Tin. You're a fucking dog face."
Who comes out on top?
Again, I'm going to give the point to Andy here. While Norm's explanation of each of his jokes tears down the construct of the wordplay tendencies of insult comedy, Andy is taking on a larger, long-running joke narrative that seems to follow Franco throughout his career: the homophobic joke. Samberg's take turns that on its head (after first establishing Franco's blinding handsomeness), making Andy the subject and ultimately poking fun of this genre of sophomoric joke as a whole — a style of humor that Franco and Samberg himself are both known and often criticized for.
Round 3: The Sign-off
"James, you are a super strange guy and I like that, because you have every opportunity to be boring and you didn't. So, congrats. And congrats to all of us for being here tonight and being so mean to each other, because it's a tradition and we're all terrified. Thank you."
"In all seriousness, Bob was the first comedian that I ever saw perform, when I was a boy. Live. And I loved him. But one thing that bonds us as comedians is that we're bitter and jealous and we hate anyone else that has any success, but Bob, honestly, has never had an unkind word for anybody and I love him, and I hope everybody else does. So, I just wanted to say that."
The winner has to be Samberg. Sorry, Norm (we still love you). While Norm ended his roast on sweet note, Andy did the same but with a bang. Sure, it's more Norm's style to sort of fade out, but Andy's was the perfect way to combat the typical roast monologue: it was just as snappy in cadence and pace as a "classic" roast, but it did a lot of work to deconstruct the roast as a form of comedy. Norm's did good work too, Andy's was just far more fun to watch.