The annual Friars Club dinner in the main banquet hall of the New York Hilton is a raunchy exercise. No holds barred. So, imagine that some of the guests on the dais are not ready for this and do not have a politically incorrect sense of humor.
Count Donald Trump and Debbie Harry as two of those people.
Right after jokes zinged off the podium about Trump's orange hair and its odd cut the New York icon grabbed girlfriend Melania Knauss and darted out of the Hilton. Trump also didn't care for Alan King's line that "Hugh Hefner makes Donald Trump seem like Elie Wiesel."
Harry, from the group Blondie, sang "America the Beautiful" at the evening's start. She couldn't have appreciated references by a comic in jest to her nether regions. She was also gone in the first half-hour. It's unknown whether or not she heard the jokes.
The Friars Club Roast honoring Playboy magazine's Hugh Hefner will air on Comedy Central in a much-abridged version later this month.
There was some trepidation about going ahead with such an event two weeks after the bombings. But Friar Freddie Roman explained: "This is what we do. We tell dirty jokes. It helps us get back to normal."
Said Alan King: "We only roast the ones we love." He finished the line when he turned to Hefner: "But I never met this guy in my life."
There is little from this evening that can be quoted in a family newspaper or Web site. The Friars, who are otherwise a sedate, mostly geriatric gang, go out of their way to make this evening a spectacle to get ratings on Comedy Central.
Carson Daly, the MTV personality, didn't seem too upset when host Jimmy Kimmel talked about his lack of success at golf. "He has trouble getting his balls into the little holes. Just ask Jennifer Love Hewitt and Tara Reid."
But there were poignant moments. And political activist/comedian Dick Gregory, who looked embarrassed during the sex jokes, took his chance at the microphone to provide such a moment. Gregory recalled how Hefner had been the first nightclub owner to allow a black comedian to perform in his Playboy clubs. It changed Gregory's career. Hefner, who'd come to the Friars Roast with seven blonde Playmate girlfriends constructed from silicone and laminate, seemed to tear up a little when these real emotions surfaced.
Gregory also moved the crowd with his thoughts on the recent terrorist attacks. "Fear and God do not occupy the same space," he said. "America is not a great nation because we react to a negative. We have always helped people around the world."
Otherwise, the jokes at the Friars Roast were older than some of the comedians, if that's possible. The very funny Jeffrey Ross continues to be the only regular Friar under the age of 90, it would seem. The club is still depending on its legends, Alan King and Freddie Roman, to see them through. But where is the next generation?
As usual, Jerry Seinfeld, Paul Reiser and other star comics in their mid-40s are missing from the Friars. It's a shame. Drew Carey, the biggest contemporary star to roast Hefner, mostly bombed although he did draw laughs by calling Usama bin Laden several four-letter word names. "I know you have cable!" he said, hoping the international terrorist was watching.
Gilbert Gottfried, that annoying little comic you see on TV, closed the show with the absolutely dirtiest set of the night. "Hugh Hefner is so old his first condom was made out of bark," Gottfried cracked. You get the picture. He said that bin Laden translated into "hasn't been laid." Now that got a big laugh.
Heiress and onetime kidnap victim/bank robber Patricia Hearst was on the Friars dais too. She was more than a little taken aback when she was introduced thusly: "She first became famous when she was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army."
Indeed, if you're too young to know, the 44-year-old Hearst was part of a headline-making story in 1975 when she was kidnapped by the SLA, a fringe political group, and started knocking over banks with them. She made tapes in which she called herself Tania and seemed to align herself with her captors. She later married her bodyguard. Now they have two daughters, ages 17 and 20.
Hearst was 19 at the time.
I asked her how she felt about the introduction, and how she handles the story with her kids. "You know, it's the Friars, but I was surprised," she said. "We don't really talk about it at home. The one thing I made sure to do was not send my kids to Berkeley. That's where all the trouble started."
Hearst's daughters, who were sitting at a guest table with their dad, said they hadn't heard too much about their mother's previous notoriety or adventures. They hadn't gotten that in school. "They told us about the newspapers and that kind of stuff," one of the daughters said, referring to their great-grandfather, publisher William Randolph Hearst.
The TNT tribute to John Lennon, called Come Together, airs live tonight on TNT and the WB Network, which are both owned by AOL/CNN/TimeWarner/etc.
Sean Lennon, John's son with Yoko Ono, is scheduled to attend and may perform. Yoko, who danced so nicely with Petula Clark at the Michael Jackson show last month, will also be there.
But Julian Lennon, John's elder son, and Cynthia, his first wife, will most likely be absent. "Julian has been cut out of most everything," says a source. "Yoko doesn't like reminders of John's first marriage."
Unknown is whether Sam Havadtoy, Ono's live-in lover since Lennon's death, will be on hand. And it's generally acknowledged that Lennon's collaborator, Paul McCartney, was not invited either. But who knows? A live show with a charity twist to it could cause all these people to give peace a chance.
Ric Burns' massive documentary about New York has finished its run on TV, but there's a DVD set in stores right now.
On Friday night, a group of Ric's friends helped him celebrate the final two episodes with a private screening and dinner at the Monkey Bar.
Appropriately, one of the guests of honor was former New York Mayor Ed Koch, who got the city through its worst financial crisis in 1975. Other guests included the famous writer Kurt Vonnegut, his wife, photographer Jill Krementz, and sculptor/architect Maya Lin, who designed the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Koch, by the way, said he thought the World Trade Center should be rebuilt "exactly as it was, from the same plans."
Maya Lin disagreed. "It's too soon to say what should be there," she told our group. "It took the people in Oklahoma City at least 6 months to make a decision. And we haven't completed our cleanup or buried all the victims. We should wait and think about this a little."
Lin is not happy, she told me, about the placement of the World War II memorial between the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. "It cuts off the flow on the mall from all but one angle. It's a terrible idea, but I'm afraid it's going ahead." Lin is certainly not opposed to the memorial itself, just its aesthetics.
Meanwhile, Vonnegut, whose accounts of the bombing of Dresden, Germany, during World War II figure in most of his classic work including Slaughterhouse 5, told me he was indeed tinkering with a new novel. He'd previously said that after his last, Timequake, the 79-year-old writer was finished. He also told me the central theme of the new book, but I'm sworn to secrecy. Suffice to say, it's extremely pertinent to baby boomers of a certain age.