The Paley Center for Media, which has locations in both New York and LA, dedicates itself to the preservation of television and radio history. Inside their vast archives of more than 150,000 television shows, commercials, and radio programs, there are thousands of important and funny programs waiting to be rediscovered by comedy nerds like you and me. Each week, this column will highlight a new gem waiting for you at the Paley Library to quietly laugh at. (Seriously, it’s a library, so keep it down.)
A warning before we get into this: this installment is going to feel a little bit like a trip to an alternate dimension. A dimension in which the Playboy Channel aired things without boobs. Where Tommy Chong is a name big enough to be on a televised roast. Where Richard Belzer isn't a network TV detective. Where Jerry Seinfeld is big, but not Seinfeld big, and yes, he has to stand at the dais and say mean things about a fellow comedian. Welcome to the world of 1986's Playboy Comedy Roast of Tommy Chong, which aired exclusively on the Playboy Channel, and was a really weird time for everybody, including the audience.
To begin, let's run through the lineup. First and foremost, there's Tommy Chong, the guest of honor, best known as half of the original stoner comedy duo Cheech and Chong. Our MC for the evening is David Steinberg, currently the host of Inside Comedy on Showtime, and frequent guest of Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. In addition to Seinfeld and The Belz, our roasters include Slappy White, a comedian of the old school, who came up on the so called Chitlin' circuit of standup in the 50s and 60s, working with Redd Foxx before becoming a Friar's Club roast superstar. Also at the head table are Mack and Jamie, a comedy team who at the time were the stars of their own syndicated comedy show Comedy Break with Mack & Jamie. Dick Shawn, who played the actor who played Hitler in the original film version of The Producers is there, breaking out of his traditional stuffy demeanor. And finally there's Marsha Warfield, who is probably best known as the bailiff from Night Court, who David Steinberg touts as the very first woman on the dais of a roast. "Because of the presence of a woman, we'll be a little more contained than usual tonight," he says, beginning his joke. "Fuckin' well better be," she interrupts, ending it for him. READ MORE