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‘Roast of Franco’ features younger lineup, same lazy jokes

By Matt Singer / Senior Staff Writer

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James Franco is a thespian who has been in more than 50 movies, a scholar who holds degrees from the University of California-Los Angeles and Columbia University and a philanthropist who has worked with nonprofits that help young children explore their interests in literature and writing.

And he might be gay. Or at least that’s the impression that you may have gotten if you watched Comedy Central’s

“Roast of James Franco” last Monday.

Yes, James Franco made his way to Comedy Central’s infamous dais that has seen roasts of William Shatner, Charlie Sheen and Bob Saget. And it seemed to be the first time that Comedy Central managed to hit the sweet spot between finding a roastee who was both culturally relevant and had enough material to base jokes on.

But the roasters went and blew the whole thing. Franco sat giggling and smiling as the roasters — many of them bright, young stars in the comedy world — hurled a barrage of insults at him, most of which were too lazy to sting. The estimated number of gay jokes: 26.

I don’t even want to bother counting all the Jew jokes.

Now, it’s mostly the gay jokes that have the Internet up in a tizzy, but let’s be real for just one moment: Comedy Central is not the place to go for progressive, high-brow humor. This is the same channel that continually renews contracts for shows such as South Park and Tosh.0. The network has a track record of flagrantly not caring about who they offend, so I think that the bigger issue here might be the fact that these gay — and Jew — jokes just weren’t funny.

You see, as a culture, we have collectively embraced crass, tasteless jokes so long as they make us laugh. What’s so problematic about the James Franco gay jokes is the fact that Comedy Central’s roasts, as a whole, seemed to be at a tipping point where their latest one could have been a seminal moment. It appeared that they might be leaving behind their old ways of rounding up a bunch of people no one cares about and having them make fun of another person no one cares about. Any chance that Comedy Central had to move away from tasteless, lazy humor faded a little bit each time someone made a reference to a penis.

To be frank, Comedy Central’s roasts have a terrible track record of lacking any sort of comedic gold. We’re attracted to them out of a voyeuristic thirst to see people on the precipice of total cultural irrelevance sink their teeth into someone a few notches below them on the has-been scale.

But when I heard that Andy Samberg, Jonah Hill and Seth Rogen would be on the Franco roast, I was somewhat hopeful that this would be a proud moment in the otherwise pitiful history of Comedy Central roasts. For once, I saw the possibility that this might be anything other than a dumping ground for quickly exhaustible shock jokes that lose their comedic value somewhere around the middle of the second roaster’s awkward little monologue.

The Roast of James Franco wasn’t a lack of laugh-inducing moments — there really were a few knee-slappers in there. I disappointingly found myself chuckling because I’m a 20-year-old guy who’s going to find jokes about James Franco ejaculating on Andy Samberg’s back funny because it’s a hyperbolic exaggeration of Franco’s flamboyance. I still find voyeurism funny and enjoyable.

But what would have been more enjoyable is a roast that sets a precedent for a smarter, more artfully crafted celebrity roast. I’m not asking for a bourgeois-infused roast with the sort of social commentary you would find in The Atlantic. I’m asking for a roast that doesn’t regurgitate the same roster of half a dozen bigoted tropes over and over, and over and over, again.

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‘Roast of Franco’ features younger lineup, same lazy jokes