Since we've made a habit of mocking James Franco for his James Franconess, we were all geared up to enjoy the James Franco roast on Comedy Central on Monday night. But because Franco, the people with him on the dais, and the audience already knew what jokes are coming, it only proved that roasting Franco is futile.
That's not all Franco's fault. Part of the reason the roast wasn't fresh is we already knew so many of the jokes from reports promoting the airing of the pre-taped roast. (Sample post: A gay joke count. There were a lot.) But many of the jokes seemed rote because Comedy Central stacked the dais with a number of Franco's friends. Roastmaster Seth Rogen chuckled through his own set making a nonsensical joke about how Franco prepared for 127 Hours by sticking his hand up The Rock. Jonah Hill seemed to nervously pace at the podium as he remarked that Franco got into Yale "just like everybody else" does, by becoming famous and then asking if he could go. The most original sets came from Andy Samberg, who tried to recreate Norm Macdonald's anti-roast; Bill Hader, who performed in character as The President of Hollywood; and Aziz Ansari, who took it upon himself to call everyone else out for their myriad racist and homophobic jokes.
But the real problem is that James Franco doesn't seem to be particularly earnest about anything. His nonchalance extends beyond the roast. His Instagram video announcing his new TV show was lazy, lugubrious. Even the recently launched Oscar campaign for Franco's role in Spring Breakers has a winking, insincere quality to it, as it asks Academy members to "consider this shit," in a reference to a speech from the movie.
One of the common digs at Franco during the roast was his lame performance at the Oscars. "Look at me doing all the talking while you sit there doing nothing, I feel like I'm co-hosting the Oscars with you," Rogen said as Franco smiled his toothy grin, mouthing "I wish." Part of the reason the joke doesn't really hit is that Franco feels no shame in his "awful and borderline contemptuous" (Rogen's words) performance at the 2011 ceremony. Franco doesn't care. He shrugged when Jonah Hill suggested that he makes one movie for "them" and five for "nobody." The roast was hard to enjoy because there was no chance Franco was actually going to be fazed by anything anyone said. It's not easy to make fun of someone when you can tell they don't really care.
When Franco finally got to make his rebuttal, anyone could have told you what his big gag would be. "This is not a roast," he said. "This is my greatest, most elaborate art installation ever."
The problem is Franco is a parody of himself, and it's hard to mock someone who is that self aware.