1993 Pulitzer nominee American Culture

You’re Invited to a Special Benefit Roast, But It Won’t Be Much Fun

Mirthology column, 1st run Thursday 6 August 1992 in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

By Ben S. Pollock
Copyright 1992 Ben S. Pollock

Ever wonder what you’re doing wrong if you’ve never been asked to one of those fund-raising roasts? Me, too. Why, I’m almost an executive. So where’s the invitation?

Why is success in a community measured by being obligated to attend a mediocre evening’s entertainment in black clothes for a good-size buck, albeit one for some good cause? Heavy dinners followed by well-intentioned speeches are tedious for anybody, no matter whether you’re wearing a suit or tuxedo, an office dress or evening gown.

Let’s have our own Special Dinner. You’re invited. They’re not.

“Dear (name): We would be utterly honored if you and your delightful life partner, M–. (name), could attend our dinner, a fun-filled benefit roast for the Donenough Foundation. Rather than a guest of honor, the institution of the mock testimonial itself will be gigged. Bow ties required. R.S.V.P.”

Thank you all for coming tonight. Because of your generosity, after we pay for the dinner and the hall, the Donenough Foundation will be able to clear a week’s worth of expenses.

Since this is an amateur affair, we will flag each joke with an exclamation point — the equivalent of a talk show applause light. So if you don’t get it, fake it!

Because this dinner excludes the exclusive, we considered serving a freshly prepared meal that many would like. Yet our overriding goal was to offer a typical roast, to see what we have been missing.

This explains your small salad with tired lettuce, followed by either dry prime rib with salty au jus or baked chicken over mushy rice. You also had the option of having your brown-and-serve roll made soggy by being served atop the canned string beans or the gravy-drenched mashed potatoes.

Most of you, regrettably, missed that generous introduction of me, offered while the peach cobbler with aerosol whipped topping was served. Clinking forks against plates provides necessary atmosphere!

The time has come for the self-deprecating remark.

Hearing all my colleague’s quips and heartfelt opinions has been a privilege. It will take me through next week to decide which ones were which!

The body of the talk is nigh.

We are here to celebrate the roast. For those of you who are vegetarians, we instead will applaud the cow. Do I hear moos … or boos? Oh, you’re calling out “booze”!

The Friars Club apparently invented the roast as a parody of the testimonial.

For the traditional testimonial to have filled the tables, the guest of honor must have been not only successful and widely known but also well-liked. A city the size of ours still can handle only one testimonial a year. Roast are offered almost once a month, and this hotel room has reservations to the turn of the century!

Roasters since the Friars have aspired to be Don Rickles, who disguised bile as sarcasm.

Each roaster thus tells a few stories then offers the same tribute: “But in all seriousness, folks, this person is the most generous professional I have ever known. And I really mean that.”

Thus the conclusion tonight turns somber.

What does the lighthearted testimonial dinner say about society? Why do we need a roast of fraternity hijinks and jokes on aging to help some charity? Direct donations feed more funds straight to the goal.

I move that next year, let’s have another $50-a-plate roast, then offer diners with discretion the option of sending $35 to the Donenough Foundation, skipping dinner and pocketing $15.

But in all seriousness, folks, tonight’s roast has been the most generous we professionals have ever known. And I really mean that.


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