It was not meant to be a roast, but there was certainly some ribbing happening at the Friars Foundation’s annual gala honoring Robert De Niro and Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim on Oct. 7 at the recently sold Waldorf Astoria.
A parade of industryites appeared in-person and via video including David O. Russell, Sharon Stone, Christopher Walken, Martin Scorsese, Orlando Bloom, Billy Crystal, Barbra Streisand and Don Rickles. All paid tribute to thesp, who received the Friars Club’s fifth-ever Icon Award.
Sting, Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin also serenaded De Niro and Slim, who took home the Icon Award for Philanthropy. Warren Buffett, in a pre-recorded video alongside Paul Anka, sang a rendition of “My Way” to Slim.
As the event’s emcee, Larry King (Friars’ Dean) attempted to keep the crowd — full of old men and their model/drag queen dates — in check by “shushing” the room several times.
“Larry sent (all presenters) personalized letters stressing emphatically that this was not a roast,” Edward Norton told the audience. “(That) disappointed me at first but then on second thought I figured it was probably a good thing because as my friend, Jeff Ross once observed — Larry King is to comedy what Martin Luther King was to comedy.”
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He went on to joke about De Niro’s communication skills.
“You might be interested to know that this man who communicates so much wordlessly gets off screen and uses words to communicate just horrendously. He is the worst, most cryptic articulator amounting to total confusion in the listener. There is an entire generation of actors who gather in bars to discuss, ‘What the fuck was Bob saying?’ Nobody knows.”
Fellow De Niro co-star, Ben Stiller, gently teased the actor via video.
“Your acting is so frighteningly good,” Stiller said. “And by frighteningly good, I mean I’m scared. We’ve worked together (several times) and I (still) address you as Mr. De Niro, which always feels weird even though you insist on it.”
Ricky Gervais remembered how supportive De Niro was after his infamous Golden Globes hosting duties.
“You called me a couple of days later and said, ‘You were great. Fuck’em. They were jokes.’ And I said, ‘I don’t think the Hollywood Foreign Press is going to invite me back.’ To which you responded, ‘Do you want me to have a word?” And I thought you said, ‘Do you want me to have a wack?'”
After a steak dinner, Joel McHale expanded on his White House Correspondents’ Dinner jokes about De Niro’s willingness to take on any role.
“There was an awkward moment earlier when Mr. De Niro was handed a menu and he immediately signed on to star in it.”
But perhaps the biggest laughs came when SNL’s Kenan Thompson took the stage and thanked the crowd for joining him in the induction ceremony of “Mr. Robert De Niro into the African American Hall of Fame.”
“He will be inducted as an honorary black man because he is very, very cool. He is so cool that my people have noticed him even though they never see the first 45 minutes of his movies. He’s only the second honorary black man; Larry King was the first (to be inducted). And as an honorary black man you are going to have to sell your interest in Nobu and start investing in Red Lobster.”
The comedian then proposed reissuing the actor’s films with brand new titles.
“‘Taxi Driver’ is going to be ‘Can I Get a Cab?’ ‘Goodfellas’ can become ‘Good Brothas.’ ‘Mean Streets,’ well, that’s going to stay ‘Mean Streets,’ and ‘Awakenings’ will become ‘Wake Up, Bitch!'”
The one solemn note of the evening came when Penny Marshall played never-before-seen outtakes with De Niro and Robin Williams from “Awakenings.”
When he finally took the stage, De Niro dedicated his award to Williams, but closed with a final joke: “There are lots of bad movies left to make. Joel McHale. I’ll see you later.”
(Pictured: Carlos Slim, Larry King and Robert De Niro at the Friars Foundation Gala)