By Barry Dougherty
“Jerry Stiller is one of the dullest f---ing men I have ever known in my life!” yelled Abbot Alan King from the podium of the Hilton Hotel as he questioned the Friars choice of Guest of Honor for their annual Celebrity Roast, held on October 1. Indeed, as Alan pointed out, in the past we’ve had beer guzzling cross-dressers such as Friar Drew Carey and Friar Whoopi Goldberg whose boyfriend at the time had a fetish for performing in black-face–but Jerry Stiller? Mr. Milquetoast? The only four letter word he’s ever used that remotely relates to something dirty is “soap.” Which is why King, in a Roast Rite of Passage, asked Jerry to stand up and repeat after him that ever popular “F” word that has become a Roast staple. Never let it be said that Jerry is not a good sport, as he ceremoniously opened his arms wide and uttered the unutterable–much to the laughter and applause of the filled-to-capacity Grand Ballroom.
“I really don’t know what to expect,” said Jerry prior to his ego-bashing, “They say that this is going to be a pretty tough kind of an ordeal. But this is coming from people’s mouths who you respect and love and I say, ‘Be gentle with me.’” It’s a shame no one took his plea to heart. “The Friars Club has had a long and distinguished tradition of paying tribute to the very finest entertainers in our nation’s history. Tonight, they’ve broken with that tradition and are honoring Jerry Stiller,” said Roastmaster Jason Alexander. He went on to ask the question that was on everyone’s mind this evening, “Why Jerry Stiller? Why?”
Alexander brought the Roast to new heights when he performed a song, written especially for his TV dad, in which he deciphered a message left on his answering machine that the Friars were Roasting Jerry– “...my phone recorded nothing more. Leaving me excited to the core. I pondered enthusiastically, as I thought of all the Jerrys it could be...” He sang through a litany of Jerrys which ran the gamut from “It might be Jerry Springer. Wouldn’t that be some hum-dinger? We could hurl our barbs and stingers. And give him the Friar finger,” to “The big guy Jerry Seinfeld. Now we’re talking a gold minefield. He’s not only a big winner. He could buy the whole friggin’ dinner.” Needless to say he was none too happy to discover the true Jerry, “When I heard, I said, ‘merde’ that’s French for shit, I couldn’t make any sense of it.”
As the Comedy Central cameras rolled–or sometimes didn’t roll which prompted Alexander to quip during one unscheduled hold-up, “I don’t think the television aspect cuts the spontaneity at all!”–the comedians proceeded to lob their often cruel, albeit funny, comments toward Jerry. Who, by the way, was seated on a large leather wing-backed chair prompting Paul Rodriguez to comment, “You’re a small little man who makes that normal chair look like a couch from Ikea.”
Kevin James, the star of The King of Queens on which Jerry co-stars, had issues Roasting such a nice guy, “I didn’t want to be here,” he said before the show, “I still don’t want to be here. I’m very nervous. I’m frightened. How do you Roast a guy like that, even kiddingly. I might have to turn the gun on myself.” That, of course, didn’t happen, as James noted that while he loves Jerry, fortunately the writers on his show don’t, “Why couldn’t the tree fall closer to the apple,” he said referring to Jerry’s son, comedian Ben Stiller. James also shared, “Florence Henderson now replaces Barbara Eden as the oldest woman I’d like to f--k,” to which Ms. Henderson stood up at her place on the dais, and enticed him to, “C’mon over!” James told the audience that his “very Brady Christmas” will come early this year. When he left the podium he made a bee-line for Henderson, jumping on the table to have his wish fulfilled. When he returned to his seat, Alexander said, “Amazingly, in that brief moment, Kevin finished.”
Friar Susie Essman apologized for her raspy voice, “I have a sore throat. Jerry knows why. I know why. Enough said.” Susie also took her chances on keeping her Friar status intact by telling the Club’s Abbot, “Alan? Did you ever think you’d live so long that your prostate would be as big as your ego?” Luckily, the King was amused. She also admitted that Anne Meara, after having sex with Jerry and giving birth to Ben, “is the only woman to have had both Ben and Jerry inside of her.”
Funnyman Larry Miller said that Jerry is such a great kisser, “that a lot of the rough stuff took me by surprise” and proceeded to take us on a journey of their relations. To spare Jerry and the readers, that journey ends here! Friar Dick Capri looks up to Jerry as a role model, just as he looks up to Jonas Salk, “I wanna steer my career the way Jerry has,” Capri opined, “I wanna have hair the color of Tang. I wanna have a son more successful than I am. I wanna make it big when I’m seventy and go from sitcom to sitcom playing the same character–with a delivery that’s as subtle as a fart in a wind tunnel!” Ben Stiller shared the elation he and his sister Amy were feeling at Jerry’s squirming in that Ikea-like couch, “If you knew my dad’s aversion to anything dirty you’d enjoy it even more,” he told the crowd. “He’s a man who loved his handguns even more than his family,” Ben joked, although he admitted that his father was “not a drunk at all, although you have an unhealthy relationship with seltzer.” Beneath the jokes about his being an absentee father (he did, however, call Ben on his Bar Mitzvah) and his drug problems the result of a joint that his father accepted but never smoked “not being a reefer-cat,” Ben acknowledged that “I couldn’t think of anyone else in the world who I’d like to be my father.” Yea, whatever.
Sandra Bernhard pulled Jerry out of that chair to dance with her while she serenaded him with Magic Man. An odd coupling to say the least, but Jerry’s unique, gyrating dance moves added huge laughs to Ms. Bernhard’s vocal tribute. When she was finished, a perplexed Jerry asked Jason, “Did you understand a word she said?” Friar Jeffrey Ross must have been witnessing Roasts since he was three years old, because he’s very funny, very dirty and very mean– not that there’s anything wrong with that! He announced that Friar Abe Vigoda “has invited you all to his funeral on November 9th at the Museum of Natural History.” To Jerry, Jeffrey said, “You’re the first person the Friars ever Roasted who’s not in show business.” He also answered that question everyone kept asking, “Seinfeld had a prior engagement to f--k a model on a pile of cash!”
Patton Oswalt, who co-stars with Jerry on The King of Queens, noted, “looking around the room I hope that Y2K doesn’t affect pacemakers.” Anne Meara told the Roasters, “When it comes to humiliating my husband, you guys are amateurs,” and explained that “Jerry is every post-menopausal woman’s wet dream.” Daughter Amy did a dead-on Buddy Hackett imitation and whined, “If you’d been raised by an understudy since the age of ten then you’d have abandonment issues too!” Dean Freddie Roman told a story about how Jerry came home one evening with roses for Anne. After he convinced her they were just because he loved her she said, “So now I suppose I have to spend all night with my legs in the air,” to which Jerry responded, “What? You don’t have a vase?” Roman had introduced the non-speaking guests on the dais earlier in the evening with his usual funny flair, “Pierre Cossette spearheaded the campaign to create the new Hollywood sign—for each letter sold he has Vanna White personally straddle each letter—the ‘L’s are going for millions!” and “You'll never know how difficult it was to get Friar Patty Hearst on our dais tonight–we had to turn off all the surveillance cameras.”
Jimmy Kimmel, a busy comedian over at Comedy Central, didn’t mince words, “Fifty years in showbiz and they have to get me to Roast him? Didn't you make any friends in all those years?” He also took a shot at Jerry’s family, “All the Stillers are here and they’re all in show business–like the Judd’s, only ugly.” He then asked Jerry, “Was it weird growing up in your son’s shadow?” He left the podium telling the audience, “Excuse me, I’m late. We’re Roasting Adam Sandler’s dad later.” Wendy Liebman said that Jerry “is my grandmother’s favorite actor. She says he makes her damp.” It’s a little hard to tell from Jerry’s reactions to some of the jokes this evening if he heard them, understood them or was just wishing he was anywhere else but in the Friars hot seat–but some of these comments made him look like he was sorry he heard them, didn’t want to understand them and wished the Friars had never heard of him!
George Wallace asked Jerry, “When’s the last time you were up this late?” Suggesting everyone just get into their cars and go home! If comedian Robert Schimmel told at least one printable joke, you’d be reading it right now. Poor Jerry, poor prudish Jerry. Paul Rodriguez, who had been the butt of a joke or two throughout the evening, put on a white waiter’s jacket and informed the dais that he had touched their food. He also told Jerry, “I don’t know you, but I love you. I must, to have come to New York during an outbreak of encephalitis!”
For the most part, the evening left Jerry unscathed–humiliated perhaps, but unscathed nevertheless. “Now I know what it feels like to be a reformed Jew in Borough Park,” he said. He was presented with the Friars Roast Award, a crystal Friar designed by Daum Crystal of France, “It’s not a funny award,” said Roman as he presented it to Jerry along with Roast Producer Friar Ken Greengrass, “but it’s for a funny guy.” Jerry was deeply touched–okay, so maybe not by the jokes–but by the sentiment attached to each punch line, for as any Friar will tell you, “We only Roast the ones we love!