Last week’s roast of ex- Viacom CEO Tom Freston at New York’s Center of Communications looked like a night at the Improv. Host Stephen Colbert was in full bluster, but it was Freston himself and News Corp. CEO Peter Chernin who killed.
Both are known to be funny guys, but this time, they had professional help.
Freston pals say his bit was largely crafted by Mark Katz, best known as the Clinton White House’s joke man. Katz, who also wrote for the short-lived ABC sitcom Madigan Men, is now "resident scholar" of the Sound Bite Institute, which specializes in humor routines and speeches for corporate bigwigs, including Time Warner chieftains Dick Parsons and Jeff Bewkes.
Katz charges between $10,000 and $20,000 for an elaborate bit. "He’s worth it," says a onetime client. "His stuff can be gold."
Freston, who was ousted last month by Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone over his apparent lack of a "digital strategy" (read: failure to buy MySpace), got laughs when he outlined his new "personal digital strategy": buying a computer and posting clips to his MySpace page.
Chernin cited Freston’s tenure at MTV for creating "a generation of
self-absorbed, celebrity-obsessed, book-burning Peter Pans with a sense of entitlement that is only matched by your $75 million severance package."
Far from coy about getting help on his spiel, Chernin says he called on several writers under contract to Fox’s network and TV studio: "There’s $16 million worth of talent behind this."