Well, that may have been the first time Martha Stewart’s vagina and the grace of god were referenced in the same telecast. But thus is the confused state of being that is the modern day Justin Bieber.
The Comedy Central Roast of Justin Bieber served two purposes in the grand scheme of the fallen pop star's career.
One was to announce the former child star's maturation, a explicit bar mitzvah heralding his arrival as a grown-up. Gone are the moppet-haired Tiger Beat days. Here are the underwear modeling, rated-TV-MA-for-foul-language days, where a 21-year-old Justin Bieber sits feigning enjoyment as a coterie of little-known comedians and Martha Stewart berate him with crass sex jokes.
The other purpose was to rehabilitate Bieber’s disastrous public image, a reputation that has all but ruined his career. An oppressive level of petulance and entitlement combined with a litany of legal run-ins have superseded any semblance of commercial success or notoriety Bieber’s had in the music business over the past two-and-a-half years. And he’s clearly ready for a comeback.
Bieber’s solution: Laugh the scandals away and use the spotlight the roast provides to pledge a new outlook on life—by the grace of god, Kevin Hart, Snoop Dogg, and Martha Stewart talking about shanking hoodrats in prison.
After all, as emcee Hart said himself opening the broadcast, the night would be all about “redemption” and offering “second, third, and 15th chances.”
But when you’re starring in a career-rehabilitating Comedy Central roast and all anyone is talking about the next morning is that time Martha Stewart made a joke about Ludacris ejaculating on her “fine, highly absorbent bed linens,” can you really call this glorified PR move a success? As he wound down what was an otherwise uproarious and brutally hysterical night of catharsis—who hasn’t needed to work through their annoyance at Bieber by laughing their asses off at what a little shit he has become?—by staring into the camera and earnestly insisting, “I’m at a moment of change. This is a new day,” you can’t help but wonder if he didn’t really understand the point of these things in the first place.
You see, these roasts have never been about the person being roasted. After all, does the pig get a chance to speak up for itself after its turn rotating on the spit? These things are all about the comedians looking for their breaks and fading stars looking to get their names in the press. The celebrity who’s supposed to be the brunt of their jokes? They’re almost an afterthought.
These roasts sit in an odd pop-culture space, which probably contributes to the weird way Bieber himself treated it in his closing speech.
“What do you get when you give a teenager $200 million? A bunch of has-beens calling you a lesbian for two hours,” he began his closing “redemption” speech, hinting that he's in on the joke, and wants them to keep coming.
But then, as he acknowledged that “there was no preparing for this life,” you realized that he’s not actually in on the joke. That, in fact, this whole two-hour, expletive-laden shebang was really just a prolonged leadup to a grand, sternly delivered punchline. Joke’s over, folks. Stop laughing.
“There’s moments I’ve been really proud of and a lot of moments I look back and I’m pretty disappointed in myself for,” he said. “But the things that I’ve done don’t really define who I am. I’m a kind-hearted person who loves people and through it all I lost some of my best qualities. For that, I’m sorry.” He said he looked forward “to being someone you can all look at be proud of” or “smile at, see some of yourself in.”
Lost in such somber words, you almost forget that less than two hours earlier, Pete Davidson was calling Kevin Hart “Shaq’s dick” and “Black Annie.” Amid such pensiveness, you don’t remember that you lost your breath laughing as Jeff Ross asserted that if Anne Frank had heard Bieber’s music, “she would’ve Uber’d to Auschwitz.” With a night that ends on the invocation of god himself, you don’t know what to feel about the fact that you were so tickled by Natasha Leggero’s best burn you considered having it stitched onto a throw pillow: “Justin’s fans are called Beliebers, because these days it’s considered politically incorrect to use the term retards.”
Bieber wanted to come off as a good sport, despite the fact that he was oh-so-clearly screaming on the inside throughout the whole affair. But if he truly wanted to seem as magnanimous as he claimed to be in his closing speech, he should’ve done the one thing he has truly never done before. He should’ve let a night pass without it being all about him.
He should’ve just let the night be what it should’ve been: a showcase for these comedy stars. The formula is pretty simple. These “roasters” step up to the mic and skewer everyone else who has been hired to perform at the event. Targeting the actual celebrity guest of honor is usually just a perfunctory obligation at the end of the set. It’s really only Jeffrey Ross, who called Bieber out as the “King Joffrey of pop,” and Hannibal Buress who really went for blood. But that’s because they were the most transparent about the night's real mission: themselves.
“They say you roast the ones you love, but I don’t like you at all, man,” Buress said. “I’m just here because it’s a real good opportunity for me.” Boy, did he make good use of the opportunity. “I don’t like your music, man,” he continued. “I’m not a big fan of it. I think it’s bad, man. I don’t like it. I hate your music more than Bill Cosby hates my comedy.”
Whereas these Comedy Central roasts have never really revitalized and helped the roasted celebrity’s career (recent stars include Charlie Sheen and Roseanne Barr), more than one comedy star has been born out of them—Amy Schumer and Whitney Cummings included.
This year it was SNL’s Pete Davidson and veteran comedian Natasha Leggero who may see the biggest career boosts. Leggero’s crack that Kevin Hart is going to star on the next season of Game of Thrones as Peter Dinklage’s shadow was one of the most popular leaked jokes going into Monday night’s broadcast. And Davidson brought down the house with his reference to his SNL co-star Kate McKinnon’s perfect impression of Bieber on the sketch show, “right down to the clit.”
Between licking The Rock’s ass in last week’s most talked-about SNL sketch and being the surprise hit of the Justin Bieber roast, it’s a big week in the career of Pete Davidson.
It may, however, be an even bigger week in the career of Martha Stewart. Or at least in the reinvention of the career of Martha Stewart. It’s unclear who convinced Stewart to do this, or why she agreed. But the home living maven just scored herself a new lease on the next phase of her brand with the biggest hit of the night: a jaw-drooping, image-subverting monologue about prison life, race relations, semen, and threesomes. The highlight? Her tips for when Bieber “inevitably” goes to prison:
“The first thing you’ll need is a shank,” she said. “I made mine from a comb and a pack of gum. I’ll show you how later. It’s so simple. I found Bubblicious works best and it’s so much fun to say. You see, when I did my stretch, all the hoodrats on my cell block wanted to break off a piece of Martha Stewart’s ass. I decided some bitch needed to be got. So I walked into the chow hall, picked out the biggest bull dyke, and I stuck her. From then on, prison was easier than making blueberry scones.”
With that, Stewart accomplished what Bieber failed to do: She got us to look at her in a new, not-so-serious light.
As the night repeatedly wandered Bieber's hall of shame—the drag racing, the DUI, the creepy-ass mugshot, the Anne Frank fiasco, the urinating in a bucket, the punching the paparazzi—it constantly reminded us how unfathomably awful and annoying the singer has been these past few years. It reminded us of how seriously Justin Bieber has always taken himself, and furthermore how insufferable and ridiculous that persona of “Justin Bieber,” that one he’s been taking so seriously, really is.
Months from now, when Bieber inevitably releases an OK, slightly-more-mature-than-we’re-used-to single and it does well on the radio, copious think pieces are going to be written about “The Return of Justin Bieber.” His good-natured participation in this roast will undoubtedly be attributed to part of that comeback. They’ll say he learned his lesson. That he’s more self-aware than ever. That he’s got a sense of humor about himself, and that we learned all of this when he half-heartedly giggled as Kevin Hart said that he’s been acting like such a pussy that “Ellen tried to eat you.”
But the truth is that Bieber’s departing words were serious when they should have been silly. It was like he thought that if he sat still for two hours as people made fun of him he’d have won back our hearts and, in turn, his career. But it was the same old Bieber. It was smug. It was oblivious. It was annoying.
The Justin Bieber roast was really, really funny. Until the end, that is, when Bieber sobered everyone up and said, “I know I can still put out good music and turn everything all around.”
It’s not time to sing yet, Justin. Just laugh at yourself first. By the grace of god…and Martha Stewart’s vagina.