I wasn't sure whether to be surprised by this news or not. As everyone has heard by now, Comedy Central's Roast of Justin Bieber was filmed over the weekend in advance of its official television premiere on March 30. The best and worst jokes, deemed as such by numerous outlets, have been released to the public, but we'll all have to wait another two weeks in order to make that decision for ourselves. However, there's one thing that happened during the broadcast that we definitely won't see on television. Apparently, Paul Walker jokes were made during the Bieber Roast — and Comedy Central made the wise decision to edit them out of the taping. I know there is no topic that comedy considers taboo, but even I had to cringe at the need for that.
"Roasts often push the limits of good taste and we give the participants full reign to try things knowing we have the edit to shape the show," said a representative from Comedy Central of the decision. "Sometimes the line is discovered by crossing it. The Paul Walker references will not be in the telecast." No, you didn't read that statement wrong. It really says references. As in more than one. As in multiple comedians made Paul Walker jokes — alongside, according to Variety, references to "Bill Cosby [and] ISIS." It appears as though the Bieber Roast perfectly illustrated the difference between controversial jokes and crossing the line so far that even Justin Bieber had to tell you it was in poor taste.
There's a part of me that wishes that the Walker jokes would be included in the broadcast, just for the sheer fact that I have a burning need to know how he even came up to begin with. One of the jokes ("'Move b****, get out of the way!' is what Paul Walker should’ve told that tree. Too soon? Too fast? Too furious?") literally seems to come out of left field. I assume that it was a joke about Ludacris, obviously one referencing his hit song "Move B****," but was comedian Jeff Ross really attempting to roast Ludacris by mocking the death of his Fast & Furious co-star? Was that the whole joke? Where is the joke part?
Comedy Central made the right decision in removing these jokes from the final broadcast. One can complain about censorship and freedom of speech all one wants, but there is nothing funny about making jokes about someone's untimely death. The fact that it came over the same weekend that the Furious 7 creators were airing a secret, special broadcast of the film that was more or less a tribute to Walker's memory is just icing on the cake. Not only did production on Furious 7 shut down for a while to give his co-stars time to deal with the loss, but fans, friends, and family alike are still reeling, even today. Too soon? Yes. It might always be too soon to try to wring laughs out of Walker's tragic, accidental death, especially with jokes like, "Just this past year, Justin got arrested for drag racing. Unfortunately, it wasn’t with Paul Walker."
According to the Variety article, Bieber wasn't the only person who, in his own words, "didn’t particularly like the Paul Walker jokes." Ludacris was also seen making a "cut" motion following one of the jokes, and he had even more of a reason than Bieber did to protest. I don't know if those two jokes were the only references made to Walker during the taping, or if there were even more jokes that Comedy Central had to edit out due to the poor timing and poor taste, but even one joke is far too many. Comedy might be a way to push boundaries, to make the inconceivably horrifying more bearable through the use of humor, but these jokes come across as inappropriate and uncalled for rather than playfully mean-spirited. This is supposed to be a roast, but these jokes would have turned it into a travesty.
I don't want to hold these jokes as evidence that comedians Ross and Pete Davidson are horrible at what they do. Ross is a Comedy Central roast veteran and Davidson is a staple of Saturday Night Live; we know they both can be funny even while being mean or poking fun at controversial topics. These jokes are the exception in their comedy styles rather than the rule, but they are a glaring exception that the two deserve to be called on. There need to be a clear boundary on what constitutes tasteful comedy, so that no one can ever cross the line unawares. Thankfully, Comedy Central will spare us the disrespect to Walker's memory, and now the two comedians know better for the next roast. All the more reason to watch the Bieber Roast and remind ourselves that mean jokes can still be hilarious.
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