If you watch Futurama, The Daily Show or The Colbert Report, you’ve probably been inundated with commercials for Comedy Central’s Roast of David Hasselhoff. Airing this Sunday night, it’s their annual public humiliation of a dubious celebrity under a vague guise of mutual respect.
Though it may very well be funny, the art of the televised roast was already perfected more than three decades ago, courtesy of Legends of the Superheroes.
Back in the magical bygone era of January 1979, NBC aired an hour-long special called Legends of the Superheroes — essentially a live-action version of Superfriends, headlined by Adam West and Burt Ward reprising their roles as Batman and Robin, and also starring Captain Marvel, Green Lantern, Flash, Hawkman, The Huntress (odd choice, huh?), The Atom, and Black Canary.
Now, what do you think might have motivated these all-stars of altruism to gather? The Joker poisoning Gotham’s water supply? Lex Luthor teaming up with Brainiac to try and take over the world? Doctor Polaris doing, um, something involving magnets?
Nope. They’re plenty of bad guys there — Dr. Sivana, Mordru, Weather Wizard, Sinestro, The Riddler, Solomon Grundy, Giganta — but it’s because they’re participating in a roast of the superheroes, hosted by a surprisingly unembarrassed Ed McMahon.
The opening narration states, “On this special occasion, our dauntless heroes have been summoned for an evening of special tribute. So if there’s any call for their super-services tonight, forget it!” Clearly, a simpler time before comic book characters were involved in multi-hundred million dollar movies; when publishers weren’t overly concerned with how their assets were portrayed in the mass media.
I don’t know why more people don’t know about this. I don’t know why I just found out about this. It seems like it should be the comic book fan version of the Star Wars Holiday Special, a hilariously awful legend passed around semi-surreptitiously. Just the mere fact that there was an actor playing someone as obscure as the Weather Wizard on TV 31 years ago is enough to challenge everything you accept about the way the world works — outside of Grant Morrison’s run on Animal Man, the nature of reality has never been brought so much into question by something involving DC characters.
But the proof is in the watching. The video has embedding disabled, but you can watch Weather Wizard’s entire bit here.
If you thought dying during Crisis on Infinite Earths was the worst thing to happen to the Flash, you probably never knew that Weather Wizard made it rain on him during a roast and he just had to sit there and take it, forced to play along and impotent to stop his meteorological mischief. Weirder still, the actor playing Weather Wizard is Jeff Altman, from infamously bad 1980 series/recurring punchline Pink Lady and Jeff.
The most memorable part of Legends of the Superheroes, though, didn’t come from an established DC character. No, it came from a decidedly un-politically correct original creation called Ghetto Man.
That video also has embedding disabled, watch it here. Ghetto Man’s act starts strong with Batman’s spirited high-five and butt bump greeting, and then doesn’t let up with “hey, it was a different time!” jokes like “we don’t feel the Green Lantern qualifies as colored people.” The standard roast cut to the butt of the joke cracking up is pedestrian on the Comedy Central shows, but there’s something wonderfully surreal about it when it’s some no-name ’70s actor in a Green Lantern Halloween costume.
Unlike Harley Quinn and Chloe Sullivan, it’s safe to say Ghetto Man probably won’t be making the leap to actual DC comic books. But he does make a lot of Sammy Davis, Jr. jokes. I guess that was a thing back then.
The entire hour has been uploaded by some great, great person here. This is actually the second of two Legends of the Superheroes specials, but the other one sounds much more mundane — something involving bombs and a retired superhero’s birthday party, according to the Wikipedia article. No Star Search hosts to speak of.
So yeah, Greg Giraldo and Jeffrey Ross might get some laughs, but can they compare to lines like “Look at all these capes — this looks like Truman Capote’s closet!”? The bar has been raised. (Well, was raised, 31 years ago.)