Laughter is the Best Medicine

Comedy Central’s Roast Maestro Thinks the Form Still Matters, Even in the Age of Twitter  – News

What makes a good subject for a Comedy Central roast? Jonas Larsen, the network’s co-head of original content, has a simple yardstick—one he’s taken to calling “the billboard test ” Larsen, who has overseen the comedy network’s specials for years, explained the concept during a recent phone interview: “If you’re driving down Sunset Boulevard in L A., and you see a billboard for the Roast.are you going to go, ‘Whoa, I’ve got to check that out?’” Ideally, the answer will be a yes, for two reasons: “They’ve had a really, really long and fruitful career—but they also have had some public issues, potentially, or there’s good material on them ” Take, for instance, Alec Baldwin, who on Sunday night will take his lumps from the usual bunch of comedians and actors, including Roast Master Sean Hayes, Robert De Niro, Blake Griffin, Caitlyn Jenner, and Jeff Ross True, Baldwin has had a full career in Hollywood, both on the big and small screen and on Broadway—but, as Larsen points out, “he’s also had some very public run-ins with paparazzi, and law, and American Airlines, and so on You know that you have some great jokes already.” The roast tradition began with the New York Friars, a private comedy club that held its own annual roast once a year, dating back to the 1950s Comedy Central began airing the events in 1998. In 2003, when the agreement with the Friars expired, the network began producing its own roasts, starting with Denis Leary’s in 2003 Since then, the annual broadcast has become a defining component of Comedy Central’s lineup Over the years, the roasts have been hit-or-miss. But when they’re great, they’re really great Case in point? The Roast of Charlie Sheen—where a lot of the craziest moments actually happened off-screen  “That roast obviously came about right at the height of his spiral—his very public spiral,” Larsen said Naturally, he and a few other producers were worried about the event’s timing, and decided to sit down with Sheen to talk through their concerns Larsen and Comedy Central president Kent Alterman were surprised by what they found: “He was so sharp And not only that, he was so aware of what was going on around him—to the point where you’re like, ‘Oh, he’s acting out Something is going on,’” said Larsen. Overall, he found Sheen a pleasure to work with, and game for just about anything  Larsen and his team also discovered while filming promos for the big event that their star has a photographic memory “When we showed up on set, we handed him a script, which he had had in advance, and he took one look at it, and he never looked at it again … You know how many drugs that he has consumed over the years? It is unreal that he could do that,” he said  Another fun Sheen story? The show’s producers had an idea to shoot a roast promo in which they recreated a scene from Apocalypse Now—putting Sheen in the role his father, Martin Sheen, occupied as the star of the original film Sheen invited the group to his house to film it in his hot tub. “We proceeded to smuggle all our camera gear into his house, because he lives in a gated community and we’re not allowed to shoot there,” Larsen said “As we get there, he goes, ‘Oh yeah. Yeah, I’ve got Roman coming over, so he can help out ’” Roman who? you might wonder. That would be Roman Coppola, whom Sheen had enlisted to codirect “Those two, as children, spent time together on set of Apocalypse Now, and became very close back then,” Larsen said “Then, as we were setting up, Martin Sheen shows up to see his grandchildren, and [Charlie]’s like, ‘Hey, can you participate in this?’ And I don’t think Martin had any idea what we were shooting He was like, ‘Sure, whatever you want to do.’” As the crew set up in Sheen’s backyard, Martin played with his grandchildren  Sheen invited the whole team to a premiere party the night his roast aired—which, for those who do not recall, was the same night Two and a Half Men debuted Ashton Kutcher as Sheen’s replacement “That preceded us, so we actually sat with Charlie, watching Ashton Kutcher take over from him on Two and a Half Men, and then watched the roast with him immediately following, which is both surreal and amazing—and he was so gracious about it,” Larsen remembered Sheen’s roast remains one of the best loved in the event’s history.

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