HOLLYWOOD, California — What on Earth was Dennis Rodman thinking?
On Saturday night at the Hollywood Palladium, the man who helped bring Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un together became the latest in a long line of punching bags at The Comedy Central Roast of Bruce Willis. Willis may have been in the hot seat, but Rodman—a last-minute addition to the dais—took a lot of the heat.
Like Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino and Ann Coulter before him, Rodman was the latest non-comedian to experience what it’s like to not only bomb on a big stage but then get utterly destroyed by pros like Roastmaster General Jeff Ross, seasoned stand-ups Nikki Glaser and Lil Rel Howery and wildcards like perennial favorite Martha Stewart.
The night’s roastmaster Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who played a younger version of Willis in Looper, got things started when he introduced “peacemaker” Rodman at the top of the show. “Dennis may be the only person on the planet who can prevent a nuclear war,” he remarked. “So I guess this is goodbye.”
“Dennis is the only person who can wear a MAGA hat and have it be the least upsetting part of his wardrobe,” Glaser joked during her hilarious set, adding that it’s fun to meet someone with “whatever illness Roseanne has but in a giant black man.”
“When I look at Dennis, I immediately think of the ‘N-word’: nuclear war,” Martha Stewart said when she took the podium. She went on to say that had someone told her in the ‘90s that in 2018 Rodman would be America’s last best hope to prevent nuclear war between the U.S. and North Korea, she would have said, “Dennis Rodman is alive in 2018?”
When the NBA champion finally took the podium near the end of the show, things got off to a rough start when he was apparently too tall for the mic—a stage manager had lower it and ask him to start over. He began by commenting on all the jokes throughout the night about who was the worst actor on the stage. “You all are,” he said. That was the punchline.
Rodman told Martha Stewart that the next time she goes to prison, she should call him. “I will secure your release.” Get it? Because he sort of helped get American detainees released from North Korea. “I’m fucking drunk,” he added, out of nowhere, at one point.
Every time he failed to get a laugh for a joke, he would chuckle to himself and say, “OK, on with the show.” When he had to repeat a joke for the third time, he reminded the audience that he’s never done this kind of thing before, saying, “Let me get through this.” It wasn’t easy.
And then there was this joke directed at Willis, probably his best of the night: “You keep making these bomb movies. But guess what? So does Kim Jong Un. But at least Kim is smart enough not to release his.” Unfortunately, it seems as though Rodman was not smart enough to hire a competent comedian to write jokes for him.
“Give it up for our next secretary of state, Dennis Rodman!” Jeff Ross, who walked the red carpet as Kim Jong Un flanked by sexy female guards, said, following the man he referred to as “Kim Jong Unintelligible.” Marveling at the bizarre relationship between the two men, he added, “You think Kim Jong Un is a nice guy and he thinks you’re Scottie Pippen.”
Of course, most of the night’s jokes were directed at Willis. When I spoke to Ross at Comedy Central’s Clusterfest in San Francisco last month, he said that Willis told him “I just want you to know, and tell everyone else, not to hold back. I want you guys to throw rocks, because I’m going to throw them right back.”
“I was so moved by that,” Ross added at the time. “Because most people go into these roasts nervous. We live in such a touchy society right now and here’s a guy going, ‘Bring it.’”
Bruce Willis isn’t exactly known for his smile, but he appeared more than happy to laugh at himself throughout the roast. There were the expected bald jokes, but also a few more inspired bits about his checkered movie career, messy divorce from Demi Moore and the invention of Planet Hollywood.
“You went from Hollywood’s leading man to Demi Moore looking at you and going, ‘I’d rather fuck the dumb guy from Dude, Where’s My Car?” Ross said of Willis. And then there was the inevitable “too soon” joke about Planet Hollywood: “Anthony Bourdain ate there. He said it was the saddest moment of his life.”
Though he’s not known for comedy, one of the best performances of the night belonged to Edward Norton, who just directed Willis in the upcoming adaptation of Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn. Eschewing traditional jokes, Norton delivered a brilliant speech about how he should have focused on becoming a “global dickhead powerhouse” movie star like Willis instead of chasing things like Oscar nominations and respect that brought down the house.
But that was before Norton was one-upped by the night’s big surprise guest, Demi Moore, who showed up to roast her ex-husband to his face with their “three amazing, beautiful children” in the audience. “Four if you count Bruce,” she quipped.
“Bruce said the end of our marriage was his biggest failure. Don’t be so hard on yourself, you’ve had plenty of failures,” Moore joked, adding that their marriage was “like The Sixth Sense: you were dead the whole time.”
The evening ended, as it always does, with a set from the man of the hour. “Buckle up, bitches, this is ass-whooping time!” he began, before firing back at his roasters and calling it a night.