When it comes to “roasting” someone, the Americans invented, perfected and prostituted the process. In The Roast of Charlie Sheen, we saw at least two of those things.
It’s always been my (limited) understanding that when Americans roast someone it is to simultaneously belittle and honour them. Make the rudest, most crass, most cringeworthy gags with the view that you’re doing it because you like the person being roasted. Then the next person gets up and tries to outdo the first person with the levels of humour and depravity that can be plumbed at the honoured guests expense – and while you’re at it, have a swing at the other presenters doing the roasting. They’re fair game too!
It’s reasonable for people to question the honouring of Charlie Sheen. He has done very little in recent months considered honourable. That said, those that tuned into the show, airing at 9:30pm on Channel 9 (and given the way the night was dragging for the network, it didn’t start until 9:45pm) must have expected the litany of jokes about prostitutes, drugs, incoherency & Sheen’s racism. Absolutely everything that Sheen has done in his career (and especially the last 12 months) was expected to be fair game, and the presenters let Sheen have it with both barrels and the spare they keep in an ankle holster.
Hosted by Seth MacFarlane – this his 3rd roast for Comedy Central, whom the show was filmed for in the States – it was game on from the get-go. It wasn’t just Sheen who was to be the target. All the presenters, including Mike Tyson, Jon Lovitz, Steve-O, Jeff Ross & William Shatner were targets of gags about their careers, their own run-ins with the law, plastic surgery and drug issues (Mike Tyson nailed Seth MacFarlane with a gag over “taking inspriation from Homer”). Steve-O threw himself at Mike Tyson’s stationary fist – twice – to try and get a black eye (and instead scoring a broken nose). It’s meant to be stupid fun.
The best lines were saved for Sheen. I offer these two examples, both about Sheen:
“A man who was great in two things 20 years ago…” — Seth MacFarlane
“How much blow can Charlie Sheen do? Enough to kill Two and a Half Men.” — Jon Lovitz
Given all this, the outrage from some corners (particularly those with public profiles) seemed to take some time to appear but were straight to the point with their distaste for the show. It was understandable. Making light of domestic abuse issues isn’t cool. Celebrating horrible behaviour due to substance abuse is poor form. However isn’t that the point of a “Celebrity Roast” when done by Americans? Cries of the show diluting the prestige brand of Nine and “Packer would have called and had this pulled within minutes” rang out. Perhaps too many were tainted with the memory of the ill-advised Australian attempt at roasting a celebrity: Molly Meldrum – Toasted and Roasted.
This was surely all part of the Ch9 ploy. Charlie Sheen has offered them consistently high ratings in his role as Charlie Harper on Two and a Half Men. That this roast was planned to deliver in the US at the same time the new season of the show, now featuring Ashton Kutcher in Charlie’s place, is no accident. Locally the Network were hedging their bets and hoping that the audience that loved Sheen would stay on to see him be sacrificed for comedy purposes so they would reap the ratings. Whether they do or don’t is irrelevant. It’s a one-off and the “damage” has been done.
The Roast of Charlie Sheen has some very, very funny moments. It also had some very, very awkward “did they REALLY just say that” moments. It was not the worst thing the network has ever aired, nor will it be, and anyone suggesting otherwise isn’t paying attention and only seeking a sound byte on Wednesday night’s news.