Today show coanchor Matt Lauer was the man of (dis)honor today at the Friars Club annual celebrity roast in New York City. I’d never been to a roast before, but I’m guessing Aretha Franklin doesn’t sit down at a piano to sing the National Anthem for everyone. Nor does Tom Cruise make a surprise appearance to join Katie Couric, Meredith Vieira, Brian Williams, Martha Stewart, and NBC Universal president and CEO Jeff Zucker in skewering them.
Reporters weren’t allowed to record the three-hour affair, which also featured the filthy stylings of Jeffrey Ross, Bob Saget, Richard Belzer, and Gilbert Gottfried, among others. But after the jump, my notes. Parental guidance is suggested.
• Abe Vigoda jokes kill. When Stewie Stone introduced the dais, he had a special announcement for those
of us seated in the back of the New York Hilton ballroom, who might have a hard time seeing Vigoda. "Nine o’clock this evening, there’ll be a second viewing."
• After video messages from two of Lauer’s friends who couldn’t make the event — Howie Mandel and Ryan Seacrest — out walked Tom Cruise. Cruise began by saying that as an actor and not a comedian, he was reluctant to join the festivities. But he heard Gilbert Gottfried would be there, and he wanted to meet him. ("Tom Cruise. Cruise. C-r-u-i-s-e.") Though he knew we’d find it hard to believe that he and Matt are friends after their "little thing," Cruise insisted he’s the one person who knows where Lauer is when he goes on his annual "Where in the world is Matt Lauer?" trip. They love to spend time together, you see. (Cut to photoshopped pictures of them barbecuing, jet-skiing, and prank-calling Willard Scott.) Cruise will phone Lauer to see what he’s watching on TV, and they’ll sit in silence to enjoy it together. And he’ll also ask Lauer for advice. In fact, Cruise said, it was Lauer who told him that he should talk about his love for Katie Holmes instead of War of the Worlds on Oprah. "Tom, don’t be glib….It’s inspiring….Trust me, people will love you for it." Lauer is full of terrific advice like that, Cruise argued: He’s the one who told "Zucky" that he should cut Jay Leno loose before he started slipping. ("Trust me, people will love you for it.") He’s also apparently the one who told O.J. Simpson that if someone has your s—, you don’t act like a pussy, you go get it. ("Trust me, Juice, people will love you for it.") After revealing that Katie Couric asked Lauer if she should leave the Today show, and admiring Lauer’s ability to do the same thing every day (interviewing the car from Knight Rider, making five-minute radish puffs with Rachael Ray, and waiting for viewers, or execs, to decide that he’s too bald), Cruise signed off by saying that he couldn’t believe he flew all the way here for someone who’s neither the most interesting nor the smartest person on TV. "Lose my number, you glib putz. Cruise out." Lauer, however, had the last laugh, yelling, "Can you stay?" to Cruise as he exited the stage. "We can get a booster seat!" Al Roker, the roastmaster emcee, chimed in something about Cruise not being able to stay because his spaceship was about to leave. GAME ON!
• After Roker explained that Lauer and Sarah Palin have three things in common — they both spent $150,000 on clothing this season, they both got screwed by Katie Couric, and they both wear women’s jeans — Martha Stewart took the mic. She joked about teaching Lauer some very useful tips in the bedroom, like how to vacuum a mattress. Next!
• Meredith Vieira was really the first one to push the language barrier (unless you count Tim Russert’s son, Luke, recounting a story about Lauer telling his father that Tim was "the fluffer for J.Lo," when Jennifer Lopez was Lauer’s next guest). Vieira reminded us who we were there to honor, "that motherf—– Matt Lauer." She talked about how his former coanchor Katie Couric squeezed his balls so tight that there’s nothing there for her to grab. When people ask Vieira if she and Matt really get along, she answers from her heart: "F— no!" She always defends Lauer when people say he has a stick up his butt: "It’s not a stick, my friends. It’s Al Roker’s d—." After taking a jab at Zucker — based on NBC’s fall lineup, she said she now knows what NBC stands for "Nothing But Crap" — she closed with her kindest words for Lauer. "Congratulations on this honor. I’ll see you Monday, a——."
• Katie Couric followed Vieira, and received a warm welcome. In fact, she said it was the most applause she’s heard since CBS execs heard the rumor that she’s leaving. She estimated that she was speaking to the largest audience she’s had since she left NBC. Moving on to Lauer, she wanted to address the real reason behind his heated interview with Tom Cruise: Cruise wants to be the only handsome man in the room who everybody thinks is gay. ("Has he left?" she asked.) She then borrowed a play from Letterman’s book and read a list of the Top 10 Little Known Facts About Matt Lauer. I thought No. 7 would be hard to beat: When she got her famous on-air colonoscopy, the first thing the doctor found was Matt’s head. But then she busted out with No. 2: He loves to eat curry. ("Indian food!" she clarified, as the camera got a closeup of a mortified Ann Curry.)
• Jeff Zucker performed better than his much maligned fall lineup. He reminded the audience that the $400-a-plate lunch (proceeds go to charity) was being sponsored by NBC, which means the choice of entrees was "Crap and recycled crap." He wasn’t afraid to work blue: "I’m sure this is not the first Hilton Matt’s been inside of." And he used one of my favorite words: Noting Al Roker’s weight loss (a popular topic today), Zucker assured Lauer that NBC would cover the co-pay on his de-douche-ing operation.
• Richard Belzer started his segment expressing everyone’s shock at the roast’s surprise guest: "Wow, Tom Cruise. I’m still hard." Then, following a bunch of jokes I can’t print — like, a zinger about Lauer getting his big break when Gumbel dislocated his [part of the female anatomy responsible for an orgasm] — tripped up on the word measurement so many times that he had to ask Lauer to read the joke for him. The gist: It’s not all fluff and fluffing, Matt is a serious journalist. Who could forget his 2005 investigative piece when he "tracked down the exact measurement of Ann Coulter’s d—?"
• Jeffrey Ross came out with guns blazing, taking one of the day’s few shots at Aretha Franklin: "I’ve never been to a show when the fat lady sings in the beginning." Other great one-liners: Regarding Zucker, he asked, "How do you embarrass a guy who looks like his own penis?" And re Matt, "Matt Lauer is so bland, his nickname in high school was Matthew Lauer."
• Brian Williams targeted Lauer’s journalistic integrity — If there’s a big story anywhere in the world, Matt’s there, he said, before realizing he was actually talking about himself — as well as his wardrobe, which he described as "disturbingly tapered." He compared Lauer’s slacks to FedEx, because they’re both a "package delivery system." (He had to borrow a trick from Belzer, which was to repeat the punchline again until someone laughed.) His best material was saved for Zucker. After acknowledging that he doesn’t really understand the current economic crisis, Williams congratulated Zucker for doubling the company’s stock. "You can now buy two shares for what one used to cost!"
• So You Think You Can Roast?! contest winner John Sialiano took the stage next — bathroom break for most of my table, but I’m dedicated — and did okay. He had a good line (and question) for guest Donald Trump: How does he get his hair the color of Tang?
• Bob Saget knew the crowd was fading when he finally got his turn, but he also knew what would win them back: Auschwitz jokes, and demanding that the cameraman cut to Abe Vigoda. Okay, the latter was true. ("This is f—ing painful," Saget said, after a joke about Today being four hours long so he can pleasure himself four times to Lauer got a lukewarm reception. "I deserve a cut to Abe Vigoda!")
• Gilbert Gottfried followed Saget and legitimately killed with jokes that made Ann Curry put her cloth napkin over her face. First, because he spoke about one of her lady parts, then because he said it was Ann who’d told him what had to be day’s filthiest joke (lesbian sisters + trombone + Julio Iglesias).
• After Friar Pat Cooper threatened to fake a heart attack as a way to close the show, Al Roker told a quick story about the guest of honor before finally introducing Lauer. Roker remembered the time Lauer had been at an Amy Grant concert, standing offstage with Grant’s husband Vince Gill. Admiring one of the backup performers, Lauer joked to Gill, "I know what you’re thinking about that one — are those real?" Gill responded, "I hope so. That’s my daughter."
• Lauer accepted his Friar trophy with pride, noting that he almost invited his mother because he thought this was an honor. He mentioned that he’ll be interviewing Tom Cruise in December, so they’ve officially buried the hatchet. "I’m telling you, between us, if he pulls that s— again…" he said, threatening to pummel him. He took some nice shots at Couric, playing up their mutual admiration society (he would tell her how great she was, she would tell him how great she was) and the fact that some viewers thought they might’ve had a romantic relationship. To that he said, "I saw that colon a lot before the rest of you saw that colon." He hit Williams where it hurts: having his "exclusive" with Sarah Palin after the other nightly news anchors and the cast of High School Musical 3. And he thanked Vieira for always inspiring him to do the things he never thought he’d do, like miss Katie. His two best jabs were thrown at Curry and Roker. Noting how many jokes there’d been about the size of his, um, manhood, he said it was fun to watch Ann giggling like she doesn’t know how big it is. And he fondly remembered, in graphic detail, a two-man luge ride with Roker at the Torino Olympics, in which "Al became my b—-."
Needless to say, I like Matt Lauer more than ever. You?
More on Matt Lauer and the Today show:
Matt Lauer interviews a clumsy Miss USA
Matt Lauer and Bob Costas on fashion at the Olympics
Meredith Vieira to replace Katie Couric