- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 1, 2014

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - The jokes about adult diapers and hearing aids were there, but a celebrity roast of former Gov. Brendan Byrne on Tuesday night for his 90th birthday turned into more of a lovefest than a cringefest, led by Gov. Chris Christie, who called Byrne “a New Jersey treasure.”

The event raised more than $100,000 for arts education programs at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, which hosted it. Or, as Mark Krantz, executive producer of the New York Friars Celebrity Roasts, cracked: “Congratulations, you raised $100,000. If there were more Jews here you would have raised $2 million.”

Christie, the master of ceremonies, got into it with television host Joy Behar and was the butt of several jokes about the George Washington Bridge traffic jams scandal. But when it came time for him to talk about Byrne, he used a light touch, extolling Byrne for standing up for his principles no matter the direction the political winds were blowing.

“They told me I was supposed to roast you tonight and wrote me some extraordinarily corny material,” Christie said. “My job tonight is to let everyone know how much I support you and love you and what an example you’ve been.”

The age quips were many, of course. The middle-age Behar cracked that “to him, I’m jailbait.” Comedian Reese Waters told Byrne, “I don’t mind that when you took the oath of office the Bible wasn’t completed yet.” Former Gov. Jim McGreevey joked that there’s no truth to the rumor that Byrne’s co-pilot during his wartime flight missions was Wilbur Wright.

Byrne took all the ribbing in stride, if a beat late. Seeing his wife, Ruth, repeating the jokes to him provided every successive speaker with the opportunity to poke more fun at him. Several speakers expressed their chagrin that Byrne’s name was taken off the arena at the Meadowlands, now called the Izod Center.

Not Vince August, New Jersey’s judge-turned-comedian.

“You should be happy they took your name off that building. Did you see what the hell’s going on over there?” he said, referring to the long-delayed American Dream project. “There’s a mall with no stores that hasn’t opened yet.”

Byrne told a few self-deprecating jokes before a birthday cake was brought out to jazz guitarist John Pizzarelli’s rendition of “Happy Days Are Here Again.”

“I survived 90 years. I can survive another half-hour,” Byrne said. “I think I did come out of this pretty well. I hope to have another similar dinner 10 years from now, and you’re all invited.”

Byrne, a Democrat, served as governor from 1974 to 1982. He has continued to be an active voice and has weighed in on issues including the recent governor’s race and controversies in Rutgers’ athletics department.

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