Let’s get something straight right up front: regardless of what your proclivities for political correctness may be, THE DEAN MARTIN CELEBRITY ROASTS were “the” TV comic institution of the 1970’s so far as this reviewer is concerned. Culturally, there were all about a different time and a different place. Yes, some of what was said and/or what was lewdly hinted at and/or what was deliberately implied couldn’t, wouldn’t, and (possibly) shouldn’t occupy the airwaves today. I say “possibly” parenthetically because, in many respects, I don’t think that about everything. Certainly, anything branded “offensive” as part of Dino’s roasts doesn’t rise to the level of objection of, say, Janet Jackson’s bared breast, Madonna kissing Britney Spears, and Miley Cyrus twerking on short or fat people; but, if that floats your boat, then to each his own and put Dino’s version of these roasts back on the air and trash the current trend of bitter, jaded, comic hacks giving it their best on Comedy Central. At least Dino’s had some class … and booze.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
As I said above before I was so rudely interrupted by my own disclaimer, THE DEAN MARTIN CELEBRITY ROASTS were “the” TV comic institution of the 1970’s. Everyone who was legitimately funny – sometimes howlingly so – made an appearance at some time or another, and the only folks who were roasted were talented or public figures (from the era) who deserved such accolades. In fact, even in the 70’s these folks were “legendary”; that’s something the likes of which the current ‘roasts’ apparently no longer give a flying fig about given the fact that Roseanne Barr and James Franco have received treatment normally deserved for entertainment’s mythical figures.
And speaking of disclaimers? Good grief, they’re all over the place with this release (which makes this ‘old dog’ sad), warning viewers and potential viewers about the dangers of the language and the comedy. As I hope I’ve clearly indicated, I find so very much of these roasts gutt-busting fun. Some of the actors don’t appear as themselves but rather appear as ‘characters’ of their own creation for the purposes of sending up the honoree to even more curious heights. So many of them – Don Rickles, Jack Benny, Rich Little, Phyllis Diller – do appear as themselves because they’d been in the business long enough to have shared some memories and experiences with the objects of their affections, and what they contribute is nothing short of pure delight.
And, for the record, Dean Martin was always the perfect host for this whole affair. The man was a real mensch – a man’s man, and, so I’ve been told, easy on the eyes for the ladies in the audience. He’d sit there smoking and drinking having as much time dishing out the barbs as he had receiving them. Where else could you find (other than the master himself, Johnny Carson, who gets roasted brilliant here) such a more wonderful ‘host’ who made each and every participant (as well as each and every viewer) feel as if they were a special part of the action? His performance alone here IS the stuff of legend, and it’s no wonder these things lasted as long as they did, enjoying the ratings that they did.
Yes, yes, and yes: there are folks – snobs, PC wonks, and other dim bulbs – who are likely going to be offended by what they see and hear, but you know what? I don’t hear most of them complaining about the ‘blue ink’ occupying what accounts for so much of “comedy” today. Sure, we’re a vastly different culture today than what we were four decades ago – but can’t we all enjoy a laugh?
THE DEAN MARTIN CELEBRITY ROASTS: COLLECTOR’S EDITION is the release of StarVista Entertainment, a division of Time/Life Video. There are several releases – this set clocks in a 6 discs; there’s a single-disc for those interested; and the COMPLETE COLLECTION which sports a massive 25 discs as well as 15 hours of bonus materials and a 44-page collector’s book. As for the technical specifications, the video and audio are pretty solid given the fact that these have been in the vault for many years; there are some noticeable quirks, but the provided materials provide an explanation on what lengths producers went to to provide contemporary audiences with the best available versions. As for the special features, there are a handful of celebrity interviews of participants recalling their experiences, some bonus comedy sketches from Dean’s various programs, and three shorts that explore the foundation and the phenomenon of the ‘celebrity roast.’
HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION POSSIBLE. Yes, I watched them (well, I’m still working through them), and they’re a delight. I watched them when they aired originally, and it’s amazing how many laughs are packed into these hour-long shows. Of course, some of the material and references are more than a bit dated – no doubt younger viewers will find themselves at a loss from time to time – but much of the humor remains very universal. And this is talent, folks. These are geniuses at work, many times at the top of their game. Let ‘em play. You’ll be rewarded for your patience.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at StarVista Entertainment (and their partner, Foundry Communications) provided me with a DVD copy of THE DEAN MARTIN CELEBRITY ROASTS: COLLECTOR’S EDITION by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
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