This week, Holy Week, we ponder the life of a man who was born to an unwed teen mother and a carpenter father. A man who started with very little, but whose followers would go on to change the world. A man who knew how to get down with hookers, who was betrayed and tortured by his own people. A nobody who became a beloved somebody, followed by a hated everybody, and finally, a humiliated anybody, cleansed by suffering. I’m speaking, of course, of Justin Bieber.
It took Justin Bieber just months to rocket from obscurity to fame, and years for that fame to sour and curdle into a reputation as one of music’s foremost shitheads. Little short of divine intervention could salvage Bieber. And divine intervention is exactly what Bieber is going for.
As somebody who spent an inappropriate amount of hours during her Catholic childhood pondering the suffering another dude whose name starts with J went through in the hours up to and including his crucifixion, last night’s Justin Bieber roast couldn’t have been more bizarrely evocative if it served as the lead in to Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments. From the moment Kevin Hart (playing the role of a tiny, foul mouthed Pontius Pilate in this analogy) took to the stage in a minister’s robe to introduce Bieber to the stage, the event was pure New Testament.
Bieber’s roast followed a familiar path laid out by what Catholics call the Stations of the Cross, a long somber pondering of the suffering Jesus endured so that we could all be saved. Just replace “Jesus” with “Bieber” and “we” with “Bieber’s career” and we’ve got a Comedy Central Roast Order of Show.
“Tonight we are gonna do what parents and the legal system should have done a long time—give the boy an ass-whuppin’ he deserves,” says Kevin Hart at the top of the show.
There he is, turd-faced Justin Bieber, still gawky in a sharp blue suit.
Bieber emerged from the ceiling wearing enormous angel wings as a gospel choir sang about him, before falling the final portion of descent, only to stand up, grinning winsomely. Subtle.
In the Bible, a guy named Simon helped Jesus carry the cross (an actual wooden object) as the Jews cheered on his suffering. In Justin Bieber’s roast, a guy named Chris D’Elia (Who? Oh. Him. Why does he keep getting cast in things? He seems terrible!) helped Bieber carry the cross (the burden of being a douchebag) as showbiz people (some of whom were Jews) cheered on his suffering. At the end they hugged, but I really wanted them to kiss like Judas and Jesus.
Throughout the night, Bieber put on his best “This is fun and I’m cool with this” face, but every once in awhile, the facade cracked. Like at this moment, when you almost feel sorry for him, a little, because he looks like he just remembered that his dog died. Sometimes he’d hide his near-tears by standing up and clapping. Everybody who has ever tried to stop themselves from crying knows that trick, Justin. I know you’re trying to dry out your tear ducts with a mini whoosh of air circulation.
This technically happened before the show, but what a stunning portrait of a young non-monster who has clearly been cured of his narcissism.
The part where Jeff Ross calls Justin Bieber the “King Joffrey of Pop” like he came up with it (nope, and nope), and Justin applauds appreciatively like he’d never heard it before. That is the part of the roast that made me the saddest.
Hannibal Buress, cold as ice.
RIP Justin Bieber. Deadpan executioner Hannibal Buress has killed you.
During his rebuttal, which contained jokes that he most surely did not write himself, Bieber launched into the redemption speech we all saw coming from a mile away and without our contacts in.
There was really no preparing me for this life. I was thrown into this at 12 years old and I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. There’s been moments I’m really proud of, and a lot of moments I look back and I’m pretty disappointed in myself for. But the things that I’ve done really don’t define who I am. I’m a kindhearted person who loves people. And through it all I lost some of my best qualities. For that, I’m sorry. But what I can say is I’m looking forward to being someone that you guys can all look at and be proud of. Someone you can smile at and see some of yourself in. Someone close to me once said “It’s how you rise from a fall that truly defines you as a man.” I’m excited for that challenge and I want to say thank you so much for taking this journey with me and I’m excited for you to see what’s next. Thank you, God, for your grace and for never giving up on me.
And given a monkey, which he will surely kill soon. RIP, little monkey.
Of course, Bieber’s career resurrection won’t be complete until he actually puts out another album. A “surprise” album. The only people who will be “surprised” by it, though, are those who don’t have a sense that this was all a real-time euthanizing of the “old” Bieber, so a new Bieber, a friendly and chill Bieber, could take his place.
Is Justin Bieber the person actually even remotely comparable to Jesus the person? Of course he is not. No reasonable person would think Justin Bieber is like Jesus, apart from their scant biographical similarities. Actual Jesus was not Canadian. Actual Jesus didn’t go drunkenly drag racing in Miami, as neither cars nor Miami existed during Bible times. Actual Jesus didn’t egg his neighbors’ house just for funsies; he overturned merchant’s tables in the temple for angry-sies. And actual Jesus never used the N-word. But, let’s assume for our purposes that Justin Bieber isn’t a reasonable person. Let's assume instead that he’s a desperate and craven person who is the gravy train for a lot of other people, and all of them are so desperate to save his career from his own immaturity that he consented to having his personality crucified by his heroes in front of everybody he loves, as a means to an end.
Somewhere, the Mel Gibson of Beliebers is writing a screenplay in Aramaic.
Top image by Jim Cooke, others via Getty.