Justin Bieber's music is bad, he's small and effeminate, he's roundly despised by millions despite his worldwide legions of teenage fans, and he's not helping his case by frequently getting arrested for various misdemeanor crimes. Ask any person on the street to come up with material for a Comedy Central Roast of Justin Bieber, and these are probably the topics they'd hew to. So it was depressingly predictable to see a dais of professional comedians (and drunk celebrities) hit the same notes for two hours last night. Sadder still was the obvious pageantry on display. At the end of the night, having largely shrugged off flimsy insults for two hours, Bieber took to the podium and delivered a stilted, scripted apology for his misdeeds, walking off stage to a standing ovation. The entire event felt like a show trial, but one where the suspect was guaranteed to be acquitted.
This isn't to say there wasn't the occasional searing line. Saturday Night Live's Pete Davidson took aim at Bieber's deadbeat father, saying, "I lost my dad on 9/11, and I always regretted growing up without a dad, until I met your dad, Justin. Now I'm glad mine's dead." As harsh as that line was, the ostensible purpose of the Comedy Central Roast is to give comedians the chance to work out their nastiest material—the Friars Club events they evolved from were all about finding the best way to sell the meanest jokes about the most untouchable subjects.
But at this point, the Comedy Central Roast exists for an entirely different purpose—it's an exercise in being a good sport for a celebrity who isn't usually considered one. Donald Trump, David Hasselhoff, Charlie Sheen—most recent targets of the Roast have taken the stage looking to repair their shattered reputations by taking a few nasty jokes on the chin before concluding the event by making a few of their own. The Roasts are at this point heavily scripted—while there were a few actual stand-up comedians on stage last night (Kevin Hart, Hannibal Burress, Natasha Leggero, Chris D'Elia, Davidson, and the Roast fixture Jeff Ross) there were also plenty of celebrities lobbing softballs. Shaquille O'Neal took potshots at the current depleted Lakers squad, Ludacris bragged that Bieber's success was thanks to his collaboration with him on the single "Baby," Snoop Dogg mostly enquired after the romantic status of Leggero, and Martha Stewart unsurprisingly focused on her stint in prison.