Ah, the roast. The comedic tribute to someone doing honor to them by trying to tear down them and everyone around them. Normally it’s all done in fun, so nobody gets seriously offended. You’ve probably seen the Comedy Central Roasts of people like William Shatner, Joan Rivers and James Franco. Before the more bawdy and off the chart comments of those programs, we had the Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts. They were more restrained on profanity and blue-ness, but wilder in other ways. More on that in a moment.
The main thing here is that StarVista, the people who brought you that massive Carol Burnett set most recently, have turned their eye to Martin‘s mayhem and released the Complete Collection. It’s fifty-four unedited roasts across twenty-five (count em) DVDs. It’s ginormous, but it’s worth considering because this is TV history here, folks.
[ad#longpost]First up, the roasts themselves. The roasters and roastees are all a seriously ridiculous who’s who of celebrities in the day. In the hot seats are everyone from Bette Davis to Lucille Ball, from Jack Benny to Johnny Carson, from Monty Hall to Evel Knievel and from Ralph Nader to Governor Ronald Reagan. People bringing marshmallows to the flames are, just for a few examples, Nipsey Russell, Orson Welles, Jonathan Winters, Muhammad Ali, Sid Caesar, Paul Lynde and scads more.
Let’s be frank about the content, though. On one hand, some of this material is rather dated. Other jokes from, say, George Burns and Carson (two examples that spring to mind)–their material is evergreen. It was a mixed bag of stuff back then and it’s a different sort of mixed bag now. On the other hand, you might (or might not, depending on your age), be a little taken aback at some of the humor used. Political correctness was not in abundance, shall we say. Granted, you don’t get the impression that any one race or type was being singled out–it was equal opportunity when it came to taking and giving potshots–but still, be forewarned. And while a lot of classic TV is good clean family viewing opportunity, you might want to either watch this first or be ready to explain certain bits to people of a younger persuasion.
I would be happy with just the roasts, frankly, because I’m a firm believer in posterity. And the fact you’ve got a bunch of celebs from back in the day sitting around goofing off? I’m completely down with that. But the set goes above and beyond.
Biggest thing are the interviews. Don Rickles, Ruth Buzzi, Phyllis Diller, Fred Willard, Carol Burnett are just some of the people talked to (there’s so damn many, they spilled off from the main roast discs onto a two-disc bonus set within the main set). In addition, you get TV critics and people who actually worked on the show. How do you assemble a show like this and make it seem funnier than perhaps it actually is? All is revealed. More posterity taken care of. Thank you.
You also get bonus comedy sketches, a collectible book and a bonus disc full of Dean Martin Variety Show episodes. There are also two additional specials that I believe are debuting on DVD: Dean Martin’s Red-Hot Scandals of 1926 and Dean’s Place, a pilot that ultimately led to nowhere.
If you’re a fan of television of that era (1973 to 1984, from Reagan to Michael Landon), then yes, this is pricey, but it’s worthwhile. And really, it comes out to less than $5 an episode, about what you would win up paying for an HBO boxed set. And that’s before you take into account the fifteen hours or so of bonus bits. So should you consider this for somebody you like an awful lot who happens to be into this TV era? Absolutely. You can find all the information here.
But whatever you do, catch a few of these however you can. Know your TV history, folks.