Craig Gass Roast follows comedian’s 3 shows at ProArts
Prior to moving to Maui, I was a special events coordinator at The Friars Club of Beverly Hills and worked many of their legendary roasts 20 years ago. This weekend, a roast is coming to Maui as ProArts will host the roast of comedian Craig Gass at the ProArts Playhouse in Kihei.
In addition, Gass will present three standup comedy concerts with special guests, two on Friday, a third at 6 p.m. on Saturday followed by the 8 p.m. roast in celebration of his 50th birthday.
I spoke with Gass by phone last week and he shared why he was looking forward to the event.
“They say you only roast the ones you love. They’re the same type of vicious jokes we share with friends and family — inside jokes. But when that becomes a public spectacle, it’s even funnier. I won’t see anything until it happens live and comedians have the thickest skin of anyone. It’s all in good fun,” he said.
Gass has been coming to Maui for his birthday every year for the past 12 years.
“It’s my favorite place on Earth. I love and respect the locals so much. It’s paradise. My theory is that the beauty of Maui has an effect on local personality. It just warms my heart to be so welcomed. Maui makes me feel so happy and grateful for life,” he added.
While with the Friars Club, I was treated to many classic showbiz stories and the history of the roast by entertainers such as comedian Milton Berle, singer Tony Martin and his wife, actress and dancer Syd Charisse. Berle shared his first roast experience with comedian Eddie Cantor in 1920. Cantor was Berle’s mentor and he snuck a 12-year-old Berle into the 18-and-over Cantor Roast. He bought Berle a suit to make him look older and sat him next to the king of Broadway, George M. Cohan, telling Cohan that Berle was his cousin and it was his 18th birthday. Cohan proceeded to buy Berle whisky birthday shots at the prohibition-defying Friars Club. According to Berle, after the second shot he told Cohan, “Mr. Cohan, I’m not really 18, I’m 16. To which Cohan replied, “Sixteen, (expletive) kid I thought you were 12.”
Twenty seven years later, Berle was the president of the Friars Club, a post he would hold for over 50 years. The most famous roast Berle ever presided over was that of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz over Thanksgiving week 1958. Comedian Harry Einstein (father of comedians Albert Brooks and Super Dave Osborne) suffered a massive heart attack while performing. Thinking it was part of Einstein’s act, the audience laughed hysterically. Berle stopped the show and emergency surgery was performed backstage, but Einstein did not survive. In an effort to calm the crowd, Berle asked Charisse and Martin to entertain. Martin decided to perform his current hit song, “There’s No Tomorrow.” Again according to Berle, Einstein was laughing at the choice of song as he passed away. Some call Einstein’s death the perfect comedian’s death.
Roasts are intended to be irreverent, off-color, aggressive, yet at the same time good-natured fun amongst friends. Friends joining Gass on the dais will be Courtney Cronin (“The Wayne Brady Show”), Jason Stewart (“The Howard Stern Show”) and comedians Brian Beaudoin, Ted Anderson and Chuck Thompson. In addition, video comedy segments will include Dee Snyder of Twisted Sister fame and members of Guns N’ Roses, Pearl Jam, Maroon 5, KISS, The Goo Goo Dolls, Korn and Five Finger Death Punch.
Readers might know Gass from his many television appearances, which he describes as, “The good fortune to wind up in hit shows.” They include Miranda’s “Glazed Donut” boyfriend on “Sex and The City,” “The New Guy” at Kevin James’ work on “King of Queens,” and regular appearances on The Howard Stern Show. However, it is his voice-over work that is the most recognizable on “Family Guy” and “American Dad.”
I asked if he had a favorite voice-over character.
“The one that stands out is so embarrassing. I think I scared Seth McFarlane. I was a huge fan and I think I was trying too hard for him to like me. It was a scene when Peter Griffin says, “This is more uncomfortable than being around Al Pacino in a slum laundromat.” So I start saying, “You’re out of order, and you’re out of order and you’re out of order.” I asked if he wanted to hang out after we finished, and I think I freaked him out. I’ve never seen him again. To this day he’s never there when I go to tape something for ‘Family Guy,’ “ he said.
Gass attributes his voiceover skills to an uncommon childhood. “I’ve always had a knack for it. I was the guy who does voices. I can copy any voice I hear, and the reason is everyone in my family is deaf. My mom, dad and sister. Living in a deaf family I couldn’t learn to speak from listening to my family, so I started copying voices on TV. I grew up in the Bronx, but I have no accent. Everyone in the Bronx sounds like Tracy Morgan,” said Gass. He then went into a dead-on Morgan impersonation. “Everyone talks like that in the Bronx, and it’s weird to hear that voice coming out of a 14-year-old Vietnamese girl. The weirder the voice the easier it is for me to do.” He then proceeded to demonstrate perfect impressions of Christopher Walken, Adam Sandler and Pacino.
Gass has appeared in the televised roasts of Gene Simmons and Snyder. I asked what his favorite aspect of roast-style comedy was.
“It’s frightening. You only get one shot. You can’t prepare and test out the material in front of an audience. And it’s sad, but one person always does horribly, so they become roadkill. They’re fodder for the rest of the dais — it’s an easy fallback joke for everybody else. But hey, survival of the fittest.”
* Join Craig Gass and friends for a weekend of Valentine’s comedy shows. Performances are at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 14, 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 15, followed by the roast at 8 p.m. at the ProArts Playhouse. Tickets are $20 (plus applicable fees) for the stand-up shows, $50 (plus applicable fees) for the roast. For more information or to purchase tickets for any ProArts event, call 463-6550 or visit www.proartsmaui.com. This event contains adult content and is for audiences 18 and over only.
Maui High School Saber Theatre presents William Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” directed by Roxanne Wada and with music by MHS Music Club. In one of the Bard’s best loved comedies, Rosalind, a princess in exile dressed as a man for protection, her beloved cousin Celia, and the witty court clown, Touchstone, head to the Forest of Arden to seek Rosalind’s banished father. All three find the banished Duke, and love too, but not until Rosalind and Celia’s true identities are revealed at a quadruple wedding.
In Shakespeare’s original productions, music was often featured and MHS Music Club will set his lyrics to music to create MHS Saber Theatre’s first musical.
Performances are at 6:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, Feb. 21 through 29, 1:30 p.m. Saturdays Feb. 22 and 29 in the B-Building Courtyard on the Maui High campus in Kahului. Tickets are $5 and are available at the box office before show time or through www.mauihighschoolfoundation.com.