Warning: This article contains graphic language and content.
Embattled NBC executives have been falling over themselves, insisting they had no idea about Matt Lauer’s pervy past. But if anyone doubts that New York’s media elite was aware of Lauer’s reputation, they should look no further than a top-secret “roast” of Lauer that took place in October 2008.
The notorious event ─ now legendary in New York media circles ─ pushed the outer limits of sexist, racist, homophobic and obscene jokes — and left little doubt that Lauer’s colleagues knew NBC’s biggest star had a troubled marriage and a wandering eye.
Last week, NBC’s own Joe Scarborough, who attended the roast but said he left early, feeling uncomfortable, brought it up on “Morning Joe.” Lauer’s peccadillos, he said, were not just known about. At the roast, they were celebrated.
“The whole theme was that he does the show and then he has sex with people, with employees,” Scarborough said. “So was this whispered behind closed doors? No. It was shouted from the mountaintops and everybody laughed about it.”
The 2008 Friars Club roast took place at the New York Hilton and was attended by everyone from future President Donald Trump to TV legend Norman Lear to a constellation of New York’s media elite including Brian Williams, Diane Sawyer, Nancy O’Dell and Howard Stern. Also on hand were numerous top executives from across the business and almost everyone who was anyone at NBC News. Fox News has confirmed many details of the roast with a media executive who attended, and has also drawn on the one contemporaneous account of the roast, which appeared in The Village Voice.
Speaker Martha Stewart joked, “I hear NBC executives call Matt the ‘Cock of the Rock',” according to The Voice.
Another of the roast’s speakers was current CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker ─ then the chairman of NBC Universal ─ who last week adamantly denied that he had any idea about Lauer’s in-office sexcapades.
“It’s just good to see Matt up here and not under my desk,” Zucker said from the podium. “I don’t want to say Matt is a germophobe, but he’s the only guy I know who uses Purell both before and after he masturbates.”
Zucker also made a pointed allusion to Lauer’s marital problems.
“Matt was having some trouble at home with the wife,” he said. “He was sleeping on Bryant Gumbel’s couch.” Lauer and Gumbel, a former “Today” host who is black, are known to be close friends. “What’s more boring than that?” Zucker joked. “Two white men watching golf.”
“Today” co-host Al Roker was the “roastmaster” and Tom Cruise (who had famously feuded with Lauer on air over Scientology) made peace with a surprise appearance as a guest roaster. But while Cruise kept it relatively PG-13, once he finished, jokes focused on Lauer’s in-office sexcapades.
Then “Today” co-host Meredith Vieira was especially crude, making jokes about Lauer and Roker partaking in anal sex during the Turin Olympics, with Roker as the receiving partner. Former “Today” star Katie Couric went next, reading a David Letterman-style Top 10 list of facts about Lauer. Among the digs, “No. 10 - According to his wife, he’s not really an early riser, if you know what I mean.”
But a shot at Lauer’s in-office relationship with Curry, who was in the room, got the biggest laugh of Couric’s routine.
“No. 2 - He loves to eat Curry,” she said as Curry (sitting in the audience) went pale and the crowd roared with laughter. “What? Indian food! What’s wrong with you people?”
Comic Bob Saget eventually took the stage to offer Lauer some marriage advice: “Do what I’m doing, Matt. Come into the Dark Side. My next wife hasn’t even been born yet.”
Another comedian ─ one attendee believes it was comedian Jeff Ross ─ made racist jokes about Lauer using a naked Roker on all fours as his coffee table.
Comedian Gilbert Gottfried was so obscene that Fox News can’t even publish a highly expurgated version of his material, but part of his racist routine – filled with Asian sex jokes about Ann Curry –included detailed remarks about Curry’s genitals.
But the most cringeworthy comments, in hindsight, were made by Lauer himself, who spoke at the end of the roast. The “Today” star alluded to sex with two former colleagues, Couric and Curry.
“Let me just say that I saw that colon a lot before the rest of you saw it,” Lauer said in an anal sex joke about Couric (who famously underwent a colonoscopy on air).
But the twice-married Lauer wasn’t finished joking about sleeping with female contemporaries.
“What’s with all the small-d--- jokes? It was fun to look over and see Ann Curry laughing… like she doesn’t know how big my d--- really is,” Lauer said, wrapping up an event that The Village Voice called “three hours of d--- jokes.”
The Voice, which had managed to have a spy secretly write “down the dirtiest jokes on a notepad under the table,” was the only publication to write anything about the top-secret roast, despite the fact that the room was filled with media luminaries. Cameras and recorders were strictly banned — and this was before iPhones and their audio recorders had become ubiquitous.
Memories of the roast must be especially awkward for the various NBC executives now claiming they had no idea about Lauer’s reputation for sex harassment of women.
“This was a comedic roast, but there was clearly a vein of truth running through all those jokes,” said a media executive who was in attendance. “You had Katie Couric, Meredith Vieira and Jeff Zucker all standing up there joking about his sex in the office, his kinkiness. They all knew.”
NBC News fired Lauer last week for inappropriate sexual behavior, and in the ensuing days, NBC News’ top bosses Andy Lack and his deputy, Noah Oppenheim, have claimed they had no prior knowledge of Lauer’s conduct. Their denials have raised eyebrows within NBC and out, considering that both executive have deep ties to Lauer going back years.
Lack and Oppenheim are so far resisting appointing an outside, independent investigator to look into who knew what about Lauer’s behavior, preferring to control the inquiry themselves. The New York Post speculated over the weekend that Lack is seeking to blame Oppenheim for the debacle.
Oppenheim himself told NBC staff that following his “review,” anyone still working at NBC found to have known about Lauer’s behavior and not done anything would be punished “in the most severe way possible.”