I once met a young woman who worked at Vice that told me: “It’s a boys’ club over there.”
At the Center for Communication luncheon honoring Shane Smith, CEO and co-founder of Vice, it was hard to ignore that boys’ club. In honor of Smith receiving the Frank Stanton Award for Excellence in Communication, big names in the media industry showed up to roast him in front of the rich and powerful. Smith was in for a beating - by men in suits.
Some 300 guests attended the luncheon, many good friends with Smith, such as MTV founder Tom Freston and Richard Plepler, CEO of Home Box Office Inc.
Roasters also included Eddie Huang, who hosts Vice’s food and travel show “Huang’s World,” and Fred Armisen of "Portlandia," who parodied Vice in IFC’s six-part series “Documentary Now!”
The roasters brought to light the recent transformation of Shane Smith, from a punk rock Canadian kid with a magazine idea to a “plutocrat,” as Plepler called him.
“With the blink of an eye, our boy went from being a voice of the downtrodden to a member of the extraordinary up-trodden,” Plepler said.
He’s now the owner of a company valued as high as $4.5 billion, disrupting the media world with his penchant for traveling the world to find the ultimate shock factor, fueled by the millennials that can’t get enough of Vice’s content.
Smith is "Ted Turner, Christiane Amanpour, and Howard Stern rolled into one," said J. Max Robins, president of the Center for Communication.
But one thing that has stayed constant throughout his rise to the top? Shane Smith is the ultimate drinking buddy.
Roasters incessantly teased Smith about his newfound lifestyle, which may or may not truthfully include copious amounts of drinking, partying, drugs, prostitutes, swearing and gambling.
But he is fun, and the big boys love him.
Freston brought up the wild, extreme titles of many of Smith’s stories for Vice, like “The Guy Who Was On Acid For An Entire Year,” “Drinking Camel Urine In Yemen,” “I Ate A Dog In Hanoi,” and “Smoking Weed With The President Of Uruguay.”
Roasters pointed out the many ways Vice's stories are as extreme as Smith’s personal life, such as his infamous dinner in Las Vegas, where the bill came out to $300,000, or the times he’s dove into countries like Syria, Libya, and North Korea, all with seemingly reckless abandon.
Another roaster at the event, Johnny Knoxville, known for his infamous role on MTV’s reality stunt show “Jackass,” put the flame to Shane, calling him a “big spender” and accusing him of “yellow journalism,” a comment that got its fair share of boos.
Yet Vice’s provocative content has only helped it stand out in the media industry. The company sealed a 24-hour cable channel deal with A&E. The new channel will be called Viceland and will take over A&E's H2 channel in February, with Spike Jonze as creative director.
The roast luncheon is one of the principal fundraisers for the Center of Communication, a nonprofit providing students with free seminars and access to influential media figures to bring more diversity to the industry.
Throughout the event, Sex Pistols songs played intermittently in tribute to the punk rock days of Smith's
youth, reminding guests that despite his current lifestyle of extravagance, once upon a time he was a grungy kid with a knack for storytelling.