In Mindy Kaling’s new book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) — in stores Nov. 1 — The Office co-star, writer, director and producer comes out hard against the concept of televised roasts. And although she doesn’t mention the network by name, her target is clearly Comedy Central since it, to my knowledge, is the only network televising roasts these days. And they do so for good reason– a lot of people watch them.
And while I feel the same as the 32-year-old Kaling — that is, roasts are far from my favorite form of comedy — I can’t say I agree with the reasoning she lays out in her chapter, simply titled “Roasts Are Terrible.” Nor am I behind the way she paints the comedian roasters (vicious) or the celebrities being roasted (victims).
Kaling writes, “When I see comedians roasting their victims, and viciously making light of their flaws, I want to put my hand on, say, David Hasselhoff’s shoulder and say, ‘David, it gets better.’ If this isn’t a hate crime, then what is it?”
Hasselhoff, Donald Trump, Charlie Sheen and the rest of the past-roasted names are not victims. These celebs are willing participants who get paid handsomely– in dollars and in a shit ton of publicity. And I realize Kaling is being hyperbolic (I hope) when she invokes the It Gets Better campaign to create a punch line about how roast jokes can be as psychologically damaging as, say, being relentlessly harassed for your sexual preference, but it still feels overly dramatic. That’s just my opinion.
But it’s what Kaling says about the roasters to which I take most offense.
“Do they call up their parents excitedly, like, “Look Ma! I made it! I’m eviscerating Pamela Anderson on television tonight for having STDs!” she writes, adding later in the chapter, “I’m sad that a legitimate rung on the ladder of making it in comedy is writing hateful stuff about total strangers.”
Before I go on, let me get this out of the way: I’m a fan of The Office and I consider myself a fan of Kaling’s. We’ve plugged her book here and here already. I hope it sells well. Honestly, I do. But holy shit, can the above few lines be any more condescending?
Yeah, I bet some of the comics tell their families to tune in to their roast appearances. Others don’t. They’re comedians. They’re onstage every night saying and doing things they don’t want their parents to hear or see. That’s their lives. Their parents probably get it to some extent. Am I to believe every one of Kaling’s paid gigs has been 100 percent creatively fulfilling, honorable and/or something she’s been proud to have her parents tell their friends about? And yes, Mindy, — like it or not — it is a rung on the ladder. It’s a television gig. It might not be as precious and as critically popular as, say, The Office, but it’s a gig– a high profile one. And it gives a lot of tremendously talented comedians — Anthony Jeselnik, Amy Schumer, Patrice Oneal, just to name a trio from the most recent Comedy Central Roast — the exposure they need so that they can maybe bump up their asking price on the road and make a decent living. Not every comedian is pulling down eighth season network television show money every week.
The strangest part of the chapter is when she calls out Jeffrey Ross, who has literally written the book on roasting, for wasting his talent. “Jeff Ross is one of the most gifted living comedians, in my estimation, and he does roasts all the time, which is incredibly frustrating,” she writes. Who knew Mindy Kaling had such an emotional investment in Jeff’s career? She continues: “… He should not be roasting cast members of Jersey Shore. Watching Jeff do roasts is like watching Andy Roddick destroy at Ping-Pong in your grandfather’s basement.” Wow.
So, I put it to you, Laughspinners. Do you agree with Kaling’s opinions on roasts and the comedians who participate in them? Would these views seem different coming from a more-experienced comedian with a traditional stand-up comedy background, like Louis C.K., Janeane Garofalo or Margaret Cho? Sound off in the comments section!