September 19, 2011
In the Golden Age, when Hollywood was one vast fraternity, when everyone knew everyone, when the fan magazines printed what they were told and not a letter more, the Friars Club was the frat house of the campus’s more rambunctious element; the enclave where madcap cut-ups liable to set a studio chief’s wastebasket on fire took refuge from the stuffy world of showbiz. And in that cozy little fraternity, the Friars Club Roasts functioned as something akin to wedding banquets: occasions for the brotherhood to show their love to their most celebrated brethren in the only way wiseacres know how, by teasing them within an inch of their lives.
Sixty some years later, a panel of seemingly randomly selected comedians and tabloid fodder convened in a cavernous sound stage to rake over the coals a man known as America’s most horrific open wound with the Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen, the latest installment of the network’s salute to the nation’s greatest train wrecks.
The spectacle descends from the Friars Club Roasts of old in the same way Jersey Shore descends from On the Waterfront; the setting may be similar, but all that’s missing from the original is every bit of its humanity. And therein lies the story of much of our culture during the past decades.
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