By Bill Simmons
Page 2 columnist

Just so you know, my original plan for today's column was a review of the 2002 Masters Tournament, which fell apart after I lapsed into a coma during the seventh hole of the final round. Fortunately, there was another marquee sporting event on the slate ... that's right, it was "Shaquille O'Neal's Celebrity Birthday Roast," which premiered last weekend on pay-per-view.

Shaquille O'Neal
Larry Johnson

There were two obvious hooks here:

1. Usually we know anything and everything about NBA superstars, but Shaq has always been a tough cookie to crack. He isn't cerebral. He isn't funny. He isn't someone you can easily parody. He gives you a sense of mischief, and you always hear crazy Hollywood-type stories about him, but when you think about it, he's pretty much a blank slate. So how could Shaq be involved in a roast?

2. Not to rely on a double negative here, but I have never not enjoyed a roast. The mixture of comedy, insults, digs and that uneasy "Did they just go too far with that one?" feeling simply can't be topped, as personified by Jeffrey Ross' famous dig on Bea Arthur and Sandra Bernhard during a Comedy Central roast two years ago (which can't be printed here). If there's one sure thing about life, it's this: You can never have enough roasts.

So when I read that Shaq and his company (Capstone Entertainment) were hoping to launch a series of pay-per-view sports roasts -- starting with Shaq's this month and continuing with Emmitt Smith this June -- I was mildly intrigued (and not just because it sounded like another bad business idea from Team Shaq). All roasts are funny, right? This would be a good thing, right?

Well, for $9.95, I found out the answer ... the hard way. And since I watched it for you, the home reader, and since it cost me an hour of my life, it should cost you a few minutes of yours.

A running account:

0:00 -- The Shaq Roast kicks off with the graphic "Somewhere in Washington, DC," as three comedians (Tommy Davidson, Joe Torry and a third comedian who was so obscure that I couldn't even place his name) shove Shaq into a limo. "Where we goin'?" Shaq mumbles, playing dumb and looking like he was bummed out that Chris Rock couldn't make it. Even in real life, Shaq's supporting cast sucks. Davidson seems to be the ringleader, an early bad sign -- I mean, even the Wayans brothers aren't returning Davidson's calls at this point.

Anyway, after they make fun of Shaq's monotone interviews and free-throw foibles, Shaq responds to the free-throw comments by flashing his championship ring to the camera. Rough start. Not a laugh to be seen.

Shaquille O'Neal
Conceptually, the Shaquille O'Neal roast didn't seem like a bad idea.

0:03 -- We join everyone backstage, as the boys tease Bill Bellamy about his suede suit, while the guy from "Hangin' With Mr. Cooper" looks on. Some major star power here. Apparently Tim Meadows is running late. Bellamy responds by ragging on everyone else's outfits, including Joe Torry's "Ex-Bobby Brown Backup Dancer Suit." That got a mild guffaw out of me, even if Bobby Brown would be the second-biggest star in the room right now behind Shaq.

Meanwhile, Shaq is overlaughing at every joke -- either he's finally letting his guard down, or he's trying wayyyyyyyyy too hard. Strangely absorbing. Did you ever think you would see a scenario where Shaq would be playing the Ed McMahon role for the likes of Bill Bellamy? Me neither.

0:05 -- Switch to the beginning of the roast, which features the following group sitting on the front dais: Shaq, Bellamy, Mr. Cooper, Davidson, Torry, The Obscure Third Comedian, Dick Gregory and Queen Latifah. In other words, $9.95 down the drain. It's official. Let there be no doubt. I should have just taken $10, set it on fire and smoked the ashes.

Bellamy kicks things off, teasing Shaq for missing games last season because "his 'tomach hurt," joking about Kobe never passing to Shaq -- "Hey, I'm just keepin' it real! That's my man, he gotta get the goddamned ball!" -- then spending the rest of the time kissing Shaq's butt. Did you expect anything less from Bill Bellamy? How many posses does he belong to? Like 15?

0:07 -- Next up: Michael Colyar, which raises the obvious question, "Who the hell is Michael Colyar?" All I can tell you about him is that A) he's the obscure third comedian from the limo, and B) he apparently bought his suit off eBay from Ric Ocasek. He tries some Shaq-related schtick, joking that the name "Shaquille" sounds like something you would get on the bottom of your foot, and that "Shaq" sounds like a name for a house. For some reason, the crowd is laughing. Is this going to be one of those shows that makes me lose faith in society? We're leaning that way, aren't we?

0:10 -- Queen Latifah to Shaq: "Are you having fun? You're a good man, this is a lot to take." Yeah, it's been rough. Feet jokes and free throw jokes. This isn't a roast, it's a backrub.

0:11 -- DL Hughley to Shaq, via videotape: "The only thing worse than an earthquake in California is you coming out with another rap record ... you made a record that didn't even go wood." DL then jokes that if Shaq ever comes after him, he could dress like a free throw and Shaq wouldn't be able to hit him. Apparently, the "DL" stands for "Don't laugh."

0:12 -- Mr. Cooper steps to the podium. He was available. He rails on Shaq for flying in his guests on Southwest Airlines. When Mr. Cooper is ragging on the accommodations you provided, you know you were skimping costs. I mean, that's gotta hurt. Mr. Cooper hasn't worked in, like, five years. And that reminds me ... are we going to have an A-List comedian on this thing? Anybody? Chris Rock? Jamie Foxx? I'd even settle for Bernie Mac. Or any of the Wayans brothers.

0:12 -- Finally, a highlight: During a bit about Shaq's clothes, Mr. Cooper jokes that Gepetto made Shaq's shoes, causing a confused Shaq to turn to Tommy Davidson and ask, "Who?" (That ranked 9.2 on the Unintentional Comedy Scale. The NBA ... it's FANNNNNNN-tastic! I love this game!)

0:14 -- Finally, a recognizable star: None other than Jamie Foxx, via videotape. Of course, he's bombing terribly. Go figure. If I wanted to see people ad-lib bad jokes into a home video camera, I'd pull out some of my tapes from college.

By the way, when Jamie Foxx makes fun of you for being cross-eyed, you know you're cross-eyed.

Tommy Davidson
After the Shaq roast, Tommy Davidson will be on your doorstep delivering P'zones.

0:15 -- Time for Tommy Davidson's career-ending performance, which might be an oxymoron because he once was co-host of "The Magic Hour." Do you think he even puts that on a résumé? When he meets with a network exec and they say, "Didn't you co-host Magic Johnson's show?", does Tommy just look them in the eye and lie ("No, no, that wasn't me, that was David Alan Grier")? I'd love to know this answer to this.

As for Davidson's roast, he does an impersonation of Shaq's unit (no lie), followed by a "Close Encounters" routine with Shaq's shoes as a spaceship, followed by the predictable "Japanese guys screaming at Shaq's shoes and doing the Godzilla" motif, followed by an inexplicable Stevie Wonder impersonation that brings everything to a grinding halt. Nothing worse than a comedian telling bad jokes and laughing hysterically at them. Maybe my all-time pet peeve. It's right up there with NBA players high-fiving a teammate after they miss a free throw. I just don't get it.

0:19 -- Random thought: Kobe should have been involved tonight, if only because it could have been extremely awkward and tense. Potentially riveting, even. Alas.

0:21 -- Enter a big lady named Mo' Nique, via videotape: "You know what they say about brothers with big shoes and big hands? (Dramatic pause) They wear big shoes and big gloves." This is officially excruciating. Is Mo' Nique a comedian or an actress? We may never know.

0:25 -- You know it's officially a crummy roast when Dick Gregory gives the best speech of the night. He just got a standing O, mainly because people couldn't believe he's still alive. Dick Gregory! Apparently the Smothers brothers and Ruth Buzzi canceled at the last minute.

0:26 -- Here's a question: What were Steve Harvey and Cedric The Entertainer doing that prevented them from appearing in person at Shaq's roast? These guys were busy???? Their rambling video tribute (10 minutes!) includes some cheap shots at Kobe, a subtle dig at Ron Harper's stuttering problem (ouch), and an actual clip of "Kazaam." They should have just showed "Kazaam," unedited. That would have been funnier than anything.

0:37 -- Finally, somebody who knows what he's doing! It's comedian Jimmy Kimmel, who was apparently bullied by Suge Knight into appearing at Shaq's Roast as the Token White Guy. Some highlights from Kimmel's speech (the ones I can print):

  Evander looks totally confused. That's a little-known rule in roasts -- always pick on washed-up boxers. They don't know what the hell's going on.  

  • "Now I know how John Stockton feels."

  • "It's nice to be here tonight with so many funny black comedians ... (pause) ... and Tommy Davidson."

  • "It's great to be here just to see Dick Gregory bomb one last time."

  • "Anyone who thinks Shaq's free-throw shooting is the worst part of his game has obviously never heard him rapping. Seriously, what's with the rapping, you can barely speak! ESPN is talking about running subtitles under your interviews."

  • "I saw 'Kazaam.' That movie was a piece of sha---. That movie was so bad, they wouldn't show it in the Magic Johnson Theaters."

  • "Kobe couldn't be here, he had to drop his fiancée off at a Girl Scout meeting."

    (Now that's a roast! That's how it's done! Take shots at everyone, no mercy. This isn't rocket science. Kimmel gets an A-minus, bonus points for nearly saving the roast and my undying respect and admiration. Unfortunately, there are about 30 minutes to go.)

    0:41 -- From one end of the spectrum to the other: Now we're subjected to an interminably-long video montage of C-level stars and comedians (Doug Williams, Kim Whitley, Joy Williams and former gossip columnist AJ Benza, who isn't even a comedian) doing weak bits on an Improv stage. One common joke seems to keep cropping up all night: Shaq's, um, locker room prowess. The prevailing theme seems to be, "RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!", which isn't really a surprise, because Shaq is 7-foot-1 and has size 23 feet, but still ... some things you just wish you didn't know. These are the tidbits that don't turn up on "SportsCentury and Beyond."

    0:49 -- There's bombing, there's really bombing, and then there's comedian Dawnn Lewis' performance at the Shaq Roast. You really had to see it. Here was her opener:

    "Back in 1992, Shaquille was only 5-foot-10. (Scattered laughs ) He was only 5-foot-10 because he didn't have all that money; he's only as tall as he is now because he stands on his wallet. (Crowd doesn't laugh, seems confused) Shaquille walks around with half the wallet in one shoe, half his wallet in the other shoe. (To Shaq) How tall are you now, eleventy feet tall? (Dead silence) Stand up. (Shaq stands, embarrassed) See, he's eleventy feet tall. This here (pointing to his waist), and down, it's money. All one-dollar bills. (Dead silence)."

    Jamie Foxx
    Jamie Foxx couldn't be here tonight, so he bombed via videotape.

    0:52 -- Shaq officially has the "Maybe this whole roast thing wasn't such a good idea" face going (a distant relative to the "I can't believe there's 20 seconds left in a tie game and I have to shoot two free throws" face).

    0:55 -- Dawnn Lewis finally exits to relieved applause.

    0:56 -- Stepping to the podium, Joe Torry asks the crowd, "Y'all tired of laughing yet?" I'm not even sure how to answer that question. Torry actually makes a couple of decent jokes, comparing Michael Colyar's suit to a "ghetto disco ball," wondering if Colyar is the manager at Foot Locker and asking if Bill Bellamy's suit came from the Eddie Murphy Starter Kit. Of course, that prompts Tommy Davidson to do the "jump-up-and-down/holding his nose/theatrically laughing" thing. And Shaq's practically choking to death.

    (One thing about Shaq: He's definitely much more lively than I thought. Seems like a fun guy. Seriously. He's been laughing, overlaughing, selling everyone's material ... he's like Jason Kidd tonight. If you could fake-laugh during Dawnn Lewis' routine, you're capable of just about anything.)

    1:01 -- Torry points out music producer Jermaine DuPre in the crowd, compares him to an African witch doctor and wonders, "Is that Li'l Bow Wow with him? It looks like Li'l Bow Wow. Or is that the Brat?" For some reason this sends the crowd into convulsions and makes everyone go "Whoaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!" I'm feeling very white right now.

    1:02 -- More from Torry: After ripping Shaq for getting flipped by Charles Barkley in their infamous fight, Torry tells Shaq to get fighting tips from Evander Holyfield (in attendance), then tells Shaq, "But that's it, just take the fighting tips ... you ask him for some condoms, he don't have any." Maybe the best dig of the night. People are audibly groaning; Evander looks totally confused. That's a little-known rule in roasts -- always pick on washed-up boxers. They don't know what the hell's going on.

    1:04 -- Shaq wraps up the roast by thanking everyone for coming, adding, "I don't have much to say. I do want to say one thing ... all the comedians who had something to say about me? Your mother."

    Shaquille O'Neal and Laker Girls
    Even the Laker Girls could have had better material than most of the B-List and C-List talent at the Shaq birthday roast.

    (Classic Shaq. He hasn't had an original moment in 15 years. Still, he seems like a fun guy to hang out with, especially if you need someone to laugh at your jokes and especially if he's paying. I like him more than I did an hour ago, if that makes sense.)

    1:04 -- Instead of closing credits, we cut to Las Vegas, where Shaq sits on a hotel balcony chair and tells us that, yes, there's another roast coming: June 28, Las Vegas, MGM Grand. Emmitt Smith. Tickets and VIP tickets are still available. Of course they are. Let's just hope they spend the extra cash, find some funnier comedians, and encourage them to actually insult people and turn up the Cringe Factor. Until that happens, it's not really a roast.

    So looking back, maybe the Shaq Roast didn't supplant "The Magic Hour" and "Kazaam" as the worst entertainment project ever launched by an NBA superstar, but it was in the same relative ballpark. Thankfully, we weren't subjected to Shaq rapping or anything, you know?

    1:06 -- The PPV telecast ends with a rap video from Shaq.

    You couldn't make this stuff up.

    Bill Simmons writes three columns a week for Page 2.

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