It’s almost Comedy Central Roast Day, that special time of year when American families gather around the hearth to celebrate Jeffrey Ross getting his annual paycheck. In case all the egg-and-opera-based marketing hasn’t clued you in, this year’s sacrificial lamb is Justin Bieber, still in the “humble contrition and redemption” part of his ongoing attempt to burn through an entire Behind The Music arc in a single decade. Filmed last Saturday, the taping reportedly saw Bieber wearing the traditional roast attire of a fixed, hypothetically good-natured smile, while bottom-tier celebrities, coasting comics, and Shaq lobbed offensive jokes on every possible taboo topic at his perfect lacquered head. Every topic but one, actually, as Comedy Central has announced that a few jokes about deceased actor Paul Walker have been deemed too vile to go out next to all the Bill Cosby and ISIS goofs that will air as part of the roast’s March 30 broadcast.
The jokes, which included one-liners from Ross and Saturday Night Live performer Pete Davidson, were presumably provoked by the presence of Walker’s Fast And Furious co-star Ludacris on the roasting panel. The rapper’s reportedly “incensed” reaction to the jokes about his dead friend was apparently mimicked by the crowd, which greeted lines like Ross’, “‘Move bitch, get out of the way!’—is what Paul Walker should’ve told that tree,” with tired groans.
Of course, in the right context, that line—referencing both Ludacris’ “Move Bitch” and the fatal November 2013 auto accident that transformed Walker from an almost recognizable movie star into a minor Hollywood saint—is actually a pretty decent roast joke, once you accept the basic premise that trees are bitches who can respond to verbal commands. But it’s open to debate whether that correct context involves the words “national television,” or “in front of his friend and also Justin Bieber.” Comedy Central clearly thinks not, issuing a statement saying, “Roasts often push the limits of good taste, and we give the participants free rein to try things knowing we have the edit to shape the show. Sometimes the line is discovered by crossing it. The Paul Walker references will not be in the telecast.” Presumably that’ll leave more room for the reported jokes about Eric Garner, beheadings, and rape deployed by comic Chris D’Elia, none of which had the bad taste to be at the expense of a deceased mid-level action star.