By Eli Braden
Years of collective Bieber hatred came to a symbolic head Saturday night as the embattled teen idol faced off against a firing squad of comedians, rappers, and even Martha Stewart at the taping of Comedy Central’s Roast of Justin Bieber.
Word is the Biebs himself actually instigated this event as part of a multi-pronged bid for redemption from a public weary of his juvenile antics, multiple arrests and unmitigated douchebaggery. The plan goes: run the gauntlet of a savage public beatdown as the first step toward celeb-atonement.
Will it work? Could Bieber’s Roast prove to be his on-ramp to career rebirth? He better hope so—while the dozens of rabid Beliebers camped outside Sony Studios in hopes of catching a glimpse of “the King Joffrey of pop” (Jeff Ross’s line) seemed unaware that Bieber Fever peaked five years ago, the vast majority of JB’s original fan base have aged out of pre-pubescent heartthrob fantasies, leaving our anti-hero at a Timberlake-esque crossroads.
Related: What’s Wrong With Justin Bieber?
But enough speculation about Bieber’s fate. The important question is: was the Roast of Justin Bieber funny? And the answer is a resounding yes. Schadenfreude enthusiasts on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border will delight in what was probably the most consistently hilarious Comedy Central Roast to date.
Masterfully hosted by minuscule MC Kevin Hart, the evening was an exhilarating barrage of brutal verbal abuse, riotous and unrelenting. And while no one on the dais emerged unscathed, the most barbaric barbs were reserved for Bieber himself.
The line-up seemed odd at first (Shaq? Ludacris? The kid who started on SNL a week ago?) but the only roaster who even came close to being a dud was Chris D’Elia, who Natasha Leggero accurately described as “if Dane Cook had half the talent and a rich father.” His hacky, unnecessarily dark set got laughs but paled in comparison to the best performances of the night. D’Elia himself acknowledged he was only invited because he’s Bieber’s favorite comedian, which Jeff Ross later mused is “like being Shaq’s favorite poet.”
Here are some highlights:
Best Set: Jeff Ross
No surprise here. Ross (who walked the red carpet dressed as the pope, accompanied by a cadre of sexy nuns) is the reigning King of the Roast; he was born to do this. He cooly dispatched a seemingly endless series of merciless jabs at Bieber and fellow roasters alike with casual precision and made it all look way too easy. Non-stop laughs.
Second Best Set: Natasha Leggero
Her star-making turn at the mic was the comedic equivalent of a high-end dominatrix grinding a high heel into your ball-sac with a smile. Leggero has developed her own unique brand of bad-assery over her twenty-plus years in the stand-up game, and after watching her performance it’s safe to say she’s perfected it.
Biggest Surprise: Ron Burgundy
The only previously unannounced roaster of the evening was Will Ferrell, in character as his most beloved creation. Claiming he was “already nearby at stage 24, hosting Spike TV’s Your Mother’s a Fat B—h Awards”, America’s favorite anchorman had the crowd in stitches by passionately defending each and every horrible misdeed in Bieber’s past.
Second Biggest Surprise: Snoop Dogg
Sure, he was baked out of his skull. Sure, he went wildly off script on multiple occasions and much of what he said will surely be unusable in the tightly-polished finished product. But Snoop was genuinely funny and showed a natural comic timing impressive for a ganja-saturated non-comedian. Honorable mention goes to notorious marble-mouth Shaquille O’Neal for stepping up his teleprompter game considerably over the past year or so (as a writer/producer on Shaq’s ill-fated 2013 truTV alleged “comedy” show Upload with Shaquille O’Neal, I feel uniquely qualified to grant this honor).
Most Realness: Hannibal Buress
Hannibal Buress closed the night strong with a more esoteric set that was hilarious even when it verged boldly into non-jokes (“I don’t like you. I don’t like your music… You’re not good at singing. Your voice has no range.”). With the blunt honesty of a child on the spectrum, Hannibal made clear to Bieber where he stood (“I’m not gonna thank you, Justin. You should thank me for being a part of your extremely transparent attempt to be more acceptable in the public eye.”) but also gracefully acknowledged the balls it took to be there (“This is real cool that you let all these strangers shit on you.”)
Best (And Only) 9/11 Joke: Jeff Ross
SNL newcomer Pete Davidson, who did a solid job as first roaster of the night, exhibits a brash, uniquely New York cockiness that takes on a soulful dimension once you learn he lost his firefighter father on 9/11. But just try not busting a gut when Ross claims “the only person who ever inhaled more smoke than Snoop Dogg was Pete Davidson’s dad in the World Trade Center… And I’m sorry, Shaq—I know that was one of your favorite buildings to climb.”
Best ‘Shaq Is Big’ Joke: Ludacris
“Shaq’s feet are so big, he got toes in different area codes.”
Best ‘Kevin Hart Is Tiny’ Joke: Natasha Leggero
A cluster-bomb that included gems like “Kevin Hart is so short, he’s playing Peter Dinklage’s shadow next season on Game of Thrones” and “Kevin Hart is so short, he goes up on his wife.”
My one criticism? Way too many gay jokes. If I wasn’t smart enough to know gay=negative jokes are ignorant and stupid, I hope I’d be savvy enough to realize that in 2015 they’re really hack. And sorry—even as a lover of terrible word play, I can’t get behind the otherwise terrific Kevin Hart calling Bieber a ‘swa–ot’ (swag + fa–ot… yeah, it was that bad).
So, will watching the ruthless humiliation of Justin Bieber on national TV reduce the level of hate? Will his forthcoming Christian gospel album convince us he’s truly changed his ways? I doubt it; I heard he skipped the Roast after-party to catch a private plane to Vegas and swag the night away: as douchey a move as one can conceive of under the circumstances, in my opinion.
But who cares? Comedy Central’s Roast of Justin Bieber is hysterical, and probably the most fun his haters will have until the next time he gets arrested. Don’t miss it.
The Roast of Justin Bieber airs March 30 on Comedy Central.