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Comedy Central sharpens skewers for Charlie Sheen

“Two and a Half Men” and its fired star, Hollywood bad boy Charlie Sheen, will return to TV this fall together — but not together.

Sheen, who was ousted from the CBS comedy in March after numerous run-ins with the law, battles with substance abuse and fights with his boss, will be roasted on Comedy Central on Sept. 19, the same evening that “Two and a Half Men” premieres with new cast member Ashton Kutcher.

The actor and his former show won’t compete against each other: The sitcom will air at 9 p.m. while “The Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen,” which is being taped Sept. 10, will be broadcast at 10 p.m. Still, scheduling the roast on the same night as “Two and a Half Men” is an obvious ploy to capitalize on both the curiosity over the fate of his character and, more broadly, Sheen’s bizarre behavior.

“You could say I’ve been providing kindling for this roast for a while,” Sheen said in a statement released Tuesday. “It’s time to light it up. It’s going to be epic.”

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Sheen’s outlandish antics, drug-fueled shenanigans and legal troubles are easy fodder for the roasts, which have proved to be some of the cable network’s most popular offerings, attracting typically between 2 million and 3 million viewers. The most recent roast, of former “Baywatch” star David Hasselhoff, drew 3.5 million viewers when it was first broadcast last August.

The roasts, characterized by rude jokes, foul language and politically incorrect humor designed to simultaneously embarrass and honor the roastee, have previously skewered such celebrities as Pamela Anderson, William Shatner, Flavor Flav and Bob Saget. No roasters are set yet for the Sheen event. Regular participants in the past have included comedians Jeffrey Ross, Lisa Lampanelli and Gilbert Gottfried.

Though Comedy Central executives were quick to announce the roast Tuesday, they did not make themselves available to elaborate. Kent Alterman, head of programming and production for Comedy Central, said in a statement: “Charlie has assured us that nothing will be off limits in this roast … which scares even us.”

The roasts have at times attracted controversy: The Anderson roast in 2005 was nearly overtaken by singer Courtney Love, who kept interrupting the proceedings with outrageous and apparently inebriated behavior.

Sheen had been getting $1.2 million per episode. The studio said he had been unable to perform with any reliability. The actor in the last several months has repeatedly blasted his former employers, given a series of rambling interviews and toured in a stage show in which he joked about his life.

Reaction to the news was positive. Marty Kaplan, director of USC Annenberg’s Norman Lear Center, called the roast “a great stunt. There will be a large audience who will be eager to see someone on the edge like Charlie surrounded by his peers. Is it provocative? Yes. Is it in bad taste? Potentially. Will it hurt our children? I doubt it.”

Paul Levinson, a Fordham University media professor, said Comedy Central and Sheen have everything to gain and nothing to lose.

“This is the perfect subject and vehicle for Comedy Central,” he said. “It’s not exploitive or unethical — Charlie Sheen has not been convicted of any crime. He’s flamboyant but there’s no evidence of mental imbalance. There’s no way something like this should be off-limits. Charlie Sheen is being what he’s always been: an entertainer.”

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greg.braxton@latimes.com


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