Thursday, August 4, 2011

Dais of Despair: The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts


"Yeah, the Dean Martin ones were quickies ... They had terrible writers." - 88 year old comedian Jack Carter

"It was a dais of despair." - Author Nick Tosches


"Dean's presence on television after 1975 would be represented by The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast. It was a dais of despair. They sat at banquet tables at either side of the podium: the undead of dreamland and the fleeting stars of the television seasons, each rising in turn, at the beckoning of Dean or his bloated sidekick, Orson Welles, to deliver the moribund jokes consigned to him for the occasion.


Taped in part at the NBC Studio in Burbank and partly at the Ziegfeld Room of the MGM Grand in Vegas, guests often delivered their lines to empty chairs or pretended spontaneous laughter at words that had been uttered in another state. As many as a thousand cut-and-paste edits were done to give each show the illusion that everyone was together in the same place at the same time.




But no amount of editing could vanquish the pervasive air of hollow artificiality that came through. The forced attempts at humor came from a ten-writer assembly line; only Jonathan Winters and Don Rickles were ever allowed to write their own material. The jokes were so bad and the canned laughter so false, and that pervading hollow artificiality so funereal, that the shows had the quality of a relentlessly monotonous but vaguely disquieting dream.


There were those that found The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast entertaining. There were those who lived canned lives, who found release through canned laughter. "Time cries and lets you care," the commercial said. Canned sadness, canned happiness: a wasteland full of empty cans. 




And there slouched Dean boozily at the dais - perhaps alone among the empty chairs, perhaps with the ghosts of others nearby - laughing forlornly at God only knew what."

- Nick Tosches, Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams (1992, Doubleday)

6 comments:

Chuck Collins said...

And every show that ever proclaimed "Taped before a live studio audience" meant it was all done in one sitting?! The author of this piece has an axe to grind and a book to sell. He evidently did not understand or choose to recognize the fact that television production is NOT done in sequence.

There was no evil conspiracy or nefarious plot on the part of Dean Martin, Greg Garrison, or NBC. It's how TV shows are made even today.

As to the quality of the production and the jokes, now that is, as always, subjective. However, the fact was that the roasts apparently did well enough in the ratings that NBC was pleased and/or desperate enough to order more episodes for most of a decade.

Personally, I always found them entertaining. It was nice to see so many of the comedians who otherwise were unseen on TV anymore except for these roasts. I would point to the episode roasting Jackie Gleason as one of the best.

. said...

no love lost between me and nick, but it can't be escaped that, unlike other ostensibly "live" productions, these were presented as acts of spontaneous show-biz comraderie, and, as such were sold as a misleading bill of goods. and to deny the underlying bathos, and the ensuing inherent sadness, of these shows is to either be ignorant of or in denial of the painful emptiness of the environment that spawned these proceedings... nick was absolutely right, and i saw them all, thursday night at ten...

Anonymous said...

Dan Haggerty? Really??

dino martin peters said...

Hey pallie, well Mr. Nesteroff, you have gone 'nother outstandin' job of liftin' up the life and times of our Dino...loves the pairin' of rad pixs from the roasts and Mr. Nick Tosches'wisely written words. Know that your Dino-post is bein' shared this very day with the pallies at ilovedinomartin...

ipsofacto said...

Charlie Callas as George Jessel said it best when roasting Don Rickles "and we hope he doesn't pass this way again."

Anonymous said...

I always found the Roasts entertaining. However, not only was the laughter obviously canned, but the video editing was so bad it was obvious that the celebrity shown laughing was edited in because the timing was all off. Now you've informed me that a big line up was not present at the dias! Thanks. Still a pretty good show, but yes, quite a fake!