The man who turned cinematic violence into high art was himself skewered this week at the annual Friars Club “Roast.” On Wednesday of this week Quentin Tarantino, one of the most highly regarded film directors of the modern era and somewhat of a pop-culture icon himself, was treated to a thrashing by friends, colleagues and a few professional roasting ringers in a three hour luncheon hosted by actor Samuel L. Jackson.
For 100 years members of the Friars Club have been honoring members by gathering together for an annual feast. Typically, however, the menu consists of the honoree’s ego, pride and reputation. Though the concept of the Friars Club “Roast” was formalized in 1949, the idea of hosting a dinner to poke fun at a popular figure in the entertainment community originated in 1910. Because it wasn’t known as “The Roast” until many years later, this year’s event honoring Quentin Tarantino at the Hilton New York wasn’t a centennial celebration—but it might as well have been because it was the biggest on record.
The concept of roasting an honoree has been adopted by countless organizations since the original group of Friars established the format. But it was the heyday of entertainers such as Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Don Rickles, Lucille Ball and Johnny Carson that popularized the celebrations and gave the outside world the first glimpse at celebrities taking aim at their own. Since then copycat roasts popped up with greater frequency, all paying homage in their own way to the Friars Club format. But following up on last year’s successful roast of Matt Lauer, the Friars Club has firmly taken back the mantle of roasting and it is on a roll.
After a rousing rendition of the national anthem by Kristin Chenoweth, famed standup comedian and Dean of the Friars Club Freddie Roman took the podium to welcome the crowd of more than 2,200 people. After introducing several famous audience members including Howard Stern, Harry Belafonte and Smoking Joe Frazier, Roman introduced representatives from the Wounded Warriors Program and cued a video of various charitable endeavors the Friars Foundation is involved in. With the crowd fully warmed up and ready to go, Samuel L. Jackson kicked off the luncheon and brought up a slew of celebrity roasters.
The most notable of the first several roasters was filmmaker Eli Roth, who starred in Tarantino’s critically acclaimed Inglorious Basterds. Roth was searing. He went there. His remarks were biting and off color, catching many in the audience off guard. It wasn’t a cringe-worthy performance (that role was stolen by Michael Madsen) but it was an all-out assault on ears not yet tuned to the vicious nature of a Friars roast. It was a “shock-and-awe” campaign that set the table and the bar for everyone else on the dais. Roth’s routine, while expertly delivered, would probably have played better later in the proceedings because the material was far funnier than the crowd was ready to hear. That being said, the audience was fully desensitized from that point forward.
The standout performance of the day came from comedienne Whitney Cummings, who looked as stunning as she was cutting. Cummings, who is a rising star in the entertainment world, made mincemeat of Tarantino and nearly everyone else within sight. She even took on the host saying that there were so many “old, white conservatives” in attendance that somebody tried to bid on Samuel Jackson during the live auction. Welcome to the Friars Club Roast. Her performance even overshadowed other sure-thing roasters such as Jeff Ross, Kathy Griffin and Sarah Silverman, who were still major highlights of the program.
Tarantino was in great spirits throughout the event. Seated next to him was long-time friend and “muse” – as he often describes her – Uma Thurman. Thurman had her turn at the microphone midway through the performance but retained her dignity and remained relatively tame. At the end of her brief remarks she did, however, pour wine into her high heel shoes and shared a drink with Tarantino, who has been accused of having a foot fetish and being infatuated with Thurman.
Actor/Comedian Rob Schneider took a fair share of abuse for his relationship with Adam Sandler and his acting abilities – or lack thereof. But when Schneider took to the podium he was pitch perfect and delivered some of the biggest laughs of the day. A couple of them came at the expense of John Travolta, who was not in attendance. Later in the program Harvey Keitel gave a fairly meandering and incoherent speech about Tarantino and his paternal feelings towards him. But Keitel didn’t hold a candle to his Reservoir Dogs costar Michael Madsen, who gets the award for biggest train wreck. Madsen, dressed in a bright red, ruffled tuxedo shirt, said he was dressing for the occasion because he was surrounded by so many “clowns.” Then he referred to himself as “Bozo the clown” and proceeded to mutter and stumble through the most embarrassing and uncomfortable part of the roast.
Closing out the show were two of the great icons of the last century. Pat Cooper was asked to take the microphone and with that he stole the show. Proving that he’s still “got it,” Cooper went on a hilarious profanity-laded tirade, interrupted only by a kiss from Uma Thurman. Cooper was only momentarily dazed by Thurman and recovered brilliantly with several jokes about, well, you can only imagine. Cooper was followed by comedy legend Jerry Lewis who rambled for several minutes, at times incoherently, but with full respect from an audience who clearly appreciated the moment for what it was… historic.