By Eddy Friedfeld
Al Roker served as Roastmaster at this year's Friars Club Roast of his "Today Show" co-host and friend Matt Lauer and opened with similarities between Lauer and Sarah Palin: "Both spend $150,000 on clothes; both got screwed by Katie Couric; and both wear women's jeans."
The capacity crowd at the New York Hilton Grand Ballroom boasted dozens of celebrity guests --Lauer's co-hosts, and Donald Trump, Martha Stewart, Howard Stern and "The Queen of Soul" Aretha Franklin, who sang the National Anthem.
The roast had a surprise guest, as Tom Cruise led off the skewering of Lauer, joking about all the great advice he gave to people over the years: (Referring to his own Oprah couch-jumping debacle) "You told me, don't be glib -- you're in love, talk about it -- you told Jeff Zucker, if you cut Jay Leno while he's still hot -- people will love you for it -- you told O.J. if they took your stuff, go get it -- and when Katie Couric asked you -- should I jump to CBS..."
"Lose my number, you glib putz!" he finished.
Cruise did not stay for the rest of the program, despite Lauer's offer to get him a "booster seat."
"I haven't gotten this much applause since CBS executives heard a rumor I was leaving," Katie Couric said. "Tom Cruise left because he was jealous. He wanted to be the only good looking man in the room people thought was gay. Sarah Palin's wardrobe -- in Elliot Spitzer dollars that's three hookers and a pony. Al Roker is Barack Obama's second favorite weatherman, after Bill Ayers."
Meredith Viera said: "When Martha Stewart found out I was part Portuguese, she offered me a job -- cleaning her barn. Let's talk about Matt Lauer's achievements as a journalist," Viera added, pausing for a second,"that's enough."
NBC President Jeff Zucker said "When I got the call to speak in front of a few hundred people, I thought I was going to anchor the CBS Evening News... Matt Lauer is a great journalist- all the other guys care about is accuracy and integrity... Matt did a guest spot on "Will and Grace" which is appropriate because both characters were based on him... Matt spent four years at Ohio State University without getting a diploma- that's like going to Apex Tech and leaving without the free set of tools."
"I've never been to a show where the fat lady sang first," "Roastmaster General" Jeffrey Ross told the crowd, referring to Ms. Franklin; "she never forgets an R-E-C-I-P-E." He referred to Sarah Palin as a "GILF" -- "a governor I'd like to forget," and told Abe Vigoda to change his Facebook status to "resting in peace."
"Al Roker claims he's had his stomach stapled. To what? A refrigerator?"
Turning to the guest of honor, Ross said: "Matt Lauer is my favorite TV personality, which is ironic because he has no personality... you're the winner of a Daytime Emmy Award which is the equivalent of not winning an Emmy Award... your interview style is flatter than Martha Stewart's souffle which serves three to five -- just like Martha Stewart."
"A lot of viewers, or people who hold up signs outdoors, wonder if Matt and I are close," NBC news anchor Brian Williams said. "We're not."
Referring to the "Where in the World is Matt Lauer?" segment, Williams said, "Matt goes on that trip every year and it was so great- the first year." He also commented on Lauer's "freakishly tailored suits." "A lot of the outfits Matt wears on The Today Show they also make for men."
"I really don't understand financial issues," Williams said. "We just call it all a crisis. But Jeff Zucker did double NBC stock. You can now buy two shares for what one used to be."
Bob Saget told the crowd "I've hidden the matzah somewhere in this room" and Richard Belzer said that Matt Lauer "was born to a Jewish father and an inflatable mother."
Gilbert Gottfried, who told Roker "I thought you were Florida from "Good Times," told his usual palate of unprintable jokes, but this time told the audience he had heard them from Today Show co-host Ann Curry, who covered her face with a napkin.
Lauer thanked the crowd and the comedian for the dubious honor, thanking his roasters. "Brian Williams thinks of himself as an amateur comedian, and we think of him as an amateur journalist. He pointed out that at NBC they had obituaries completed and ready to roll on 11 of the people on the dais, and was thankful "that I didn't invite my mother."
Eddy Friedfeld is a film and entertainment journalist and teaches The History of Comedy in America at Yale and NYU