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Pop Rhetoric: The Ann Coulter Roast with Rob Lowe

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American actor Rob Lowe is an unlikely catalyst for a bipartisan debate. Following in the footsteps of a yearlong media cycle fascinated with a farcical U.S. election, Comedy Central’s Roast of Rob Lowe was no exception to politically charged comedy.  When the special aired on Labour Day, it was not Lowe, but rather Republican commentator Ann Coulter who attracted the public’s attention. The other comics eviscerated her and the audience booed her; Coulter’s only redeeming moment came when she aptly described the night as, “The Ann Coulter Roast with Rob Lowe.”

The event consisted mostly of celebrities who have exited the limelight—including the Karate Kid Ralph Macchio, 90s pop-darling Jewel, and ex-NFL quarterback Peyton Manning. It was ironic that, despite her bigotry and prejudiced propaganda, Ann Coulter was the most currently relevant persona on stage. More than just an instinctive reaction to a polarizing figure, the ruthless Coulter-directed attacks felt like an attempt to plunge the Roast into elevant territory. Whether intentional or not, the effort was a success—Coulter’s humourless reaction and poor performance dominated headlines. 

Hosted by David Spade, the performances were solid—slightly predictable, but still clever. The comedians primarily chided Lowe’ for his infamous sex tape with a minor. David Spade had one of the evening’s best lines when he quipped, “Rob was in Austin Powers 16 years ago. Can you believe it’s 16? Or as he calls it, 18”. Well-known stand up comics Pete Davidson, Nikki Glaser, Jimmy Carr and Rob Riggle were proficient in mocking Lowe’s inability to translate his Hollywood good looks into an actual movie star career. Yet even without the microphone, Coulter stole the spotlight. The majority of material was directed at her, and most cutbacks were close-ups of her dry, irritated profile. 

Coulter’s horrified facial expressions and abysmal performance satisfied the comics’ entertainment. She giggled a couple, “Obama is biracial” and “Hillary is old” jokes to uncomfortable silence. At one point, she was shameless enough to pull out a hardcopy of her newly-released book, In Trump We Trust, only to be met with boos from the audience. Davidson spat an ironic, “Good one!” at her from right stage. A now-famous shot of the audience shows an agitated Maria Shriver dramatically rolling her eyes. In fairness to the crowd, Coulter’s act truly was terrible. Her delivery was smug as she directed her jabs towards the very “college liberals,” who populated the theatre. Still, the immense anger she incited from those present felt grander than a simple reaction to her routine. It was a frustration not only with the Republican spokesperson, but with a broken political system at large. 

The roast revealed mainstream America’s frustration with a disastrous election and the hypocrisy inherent to Hollywood’s liberal elite. The comedians skewered Coulter for her history of racist politics, yet there was not a single person of colour on the panel. They admonished her anti-gay marriage stance and regressive ultra-right wing politics, yet British comedian Jimmy Carr said Coulter was “one of the most repugnant, hateful, hatchet-faced bitches alive,” and Saturday Night Live cast member Pete Davidson called her a “racist c***.”  Many of the attacks were almost as childishly vulgar as the Trump rhetoric they condemned. Still, it is difficult to muster any sympathy for the woman who advocates for racial profiling, believes in the overturn of Roe vversus Wade, and who once said, “If we took away women’s right to vote, we’d never have to worry about another democrat president.” As Jewel so eloquently stated, “as a feminist that I can’t support everything that’s been said tonight, but as someone who hates Ann Coulter, I’m delighted.” 

If the main character of the roast was Coulter, then the key theme was anger. Ann Coulter is frustrated with America; a country she believes is marred by immigrants and Muslims. And America is resentful towards people like Ann Coulter. This collective exasperation is one that is all-consuming, and oozing out of the unlikeliest of places—even a Rob Lowe Roast. 

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