It started at the very exclusive, men-only (until 1988), Friars Club for comedians, singers, and other performers and show business professionals. They were known for raucous and bawdy humor and in the late 1940’s they held their first “roast,” a dinner that “celebrated” a star with hilarious insults. It was entertainer and television host Dean Martin who first put a roast on his show in 1973 so that the public could see it. It was so popular that it became a regular series for about ten years and now continue on Comedy Central from time to time, most recently “honoring” James Franco. The comedians try to outdo each other, challenging the group to see who is the funniest and who is the most shocking. Generally, everyone strives to be both.
A new 6-DVD set from StarVista has issued the Dean Martin Celebrity Roast-Collectors Edition, featuring roasts honoring Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, Jimmy Stewart, Sammy Davis, Jr., Jack Benny, Lucille Ball, Kirk Douglas, Michael Landon, Jackie Gleason, Don Rickles, Joan Collins, and the man himself, Dean Martin. Roasting them are a full collection of 70’s luminaries, including Muhammad Ali, George Burns, Florence Henderson, Bette Davis, Phyllis Diller, and Milton Berle. A warning on the package cautions that the racial and ethnic humor of the era may seem inappropriate by today’s standards (on the other hand, if those folks ever heard the jokes at today’s events, they would be very surprised by the explicitly raunchy humor). “Keep in mind the tenor of the times, the bawdy party atmosphere, and the fact that many of these celebrities were friends who loved to give and take a good shot. The cigarettes are real, the drinks are free, and the camaraderie is heartfelt.”
The DVD set also includes lots of extras, with bonus comedy sketches, two more Dean Martin specials, featurettes, interviews, and home movies.