It’s another Sunday on VerbalViolence.TV which means it’s time for the latest Battle Breakdown, and this is a big one. Alex Hooper. Jay Light. Title match. Let’s get right into the analysis.
Actually, first, let’s address the “title” situation. Throughout the history of Roast Battle, there has always been a champion – though sometimes it’s been advertised more prominently than others. Jesus Trejo was crowned the first ever RB champion by virtue of a win over Tony Hinchcliffe back in the early days of the show. While many battle fans (myself included) weren’t around yet to watch that fight take place, it is forever memorialized with a framed poster in the bowels of the Comedy Store. After accumulating a 3-0 record, Trejo announced his retirement from battling. At this point the title was awarded to Frank Castillo, the young up-and-comer who was racing to a 6-0 record and a coveted Door Guy job. Castillo’s loss to Alex Hooper signified the first ever title change, and Hooper remained the champion until May 2015 when he was defeated by Joe Dosch. From there, the history gets murky – Dosch never really defended the title and hasn’t been in a three-round fight since the Hooper clash. Around that time the rankings also disappeared, and the idea of a champion or #1 overall battler faded.
The lack of competition remained until late last year, when the first ever Roast Battle tournament kicked off. Several months later, Leah Kayajanian stood tall as the tournament winner and new champion, having defeated Dosch in the process. Her January victory at Riot LA cemented her as the top dog, a status that was made official when the rankings returned on April 2. Three days later, she defended the spot and the title against the former champion Hooper, who came out victorious and began his second title reign. While Roast Battle has since gone on to Comedy Central and crowned Mike Lawrence as its official world champion, make no mistake about it – Hooper reigns supreme as the title holder in the LA division. But will that be the case come next Wednesday after his clash with Jay Light? Let’s break this thing down and find out.
The last battle breakdown featured two very similar competitors in Dan Nolan and Toby Muresianu. This one is the exact opposite. Alex and Jay are both highly successful and decorated fighters, but the styles they use to achieve results are very different. Jay is Barry Sanders – more technical savvy, more creativity, more highlight reel material. Alex is Jerome Bettis – he just lowers his head and plows through his opponents. Not much about Bettis’ game was pretty, but boy was it effective. Same goes for Hooper’s bulldog-like approach and the league-best 9-2 record that it’s led him to. If sports comparisons don’t work for you, try this… Jay is a Mercedes Benz or BMW, and Alex is the Grave Digger monster truck. So what’s more important – a good 0-60 time and superb handling, or the ability to just crush things in your path? We’re going to find out this Tuesday.
I had a lot of thoughts here in regards to Alex’s greatest strength. His stage presence and aggression are both top notch, and he might just embody the “battle” part of “roast battle” better than anyone else in the Belly Room. Ultimately, however, I can sum up his greatest strength in one word: winning. His 9-2 record is the best in the room. He got a spot on Jason Reitman’s Sundance Film Festival card. He won. He got a spot on the Comedy Central Road to Roast Battle show. He won. He got a title shot against Frank Castillo. He won. He got another one against Leah Kayajanian. He won. It’s all he does. Minus the Dosch battle, he’s never lost a three-round battle. Ever. His hyper-aggressive style and straight-forward punches both lack subtlety and nuance, but they almost always result in his hand being raised at the end of the battle.
Jay Light is a master of strategy. He’s a great joke writer, sure, and he delivers those jokes cleanly and with confidence. But his greatest strength is knowing WHERE to use those jokes. His three rounds are always wonderfully crafted, his rebuttals (while infrequently used) are usually effective and economical, and he manages to cover a multitude of angles while still making them accessible to the crowd. It’s very rare to see Jay take a misstep in the planning part of the battle, and he’s going to need similar flawless preparation for this heavyweight fight.
Alex is as emotional on stage as anyone in the rankings, and it oftentimes provides mixed results. His intensity can be a great strength or weakness, sometimes checking both of those boxes simultaneously. Case in point: his Road to Roast Battle contest with Guy Branum. When Guy attempted a run of half-a-dozen jokes for his last turn, Alex thwarted the attempt halfway through. The chaos continued as Moses took the stage, at which point Alex dropped a post-match rebuttal that set the room on fire. His lack of sportsmanship drew criticism from Jeff Ross and Dane Cook, but when the episode aired on Comedy Central the out-of-bounds slam was featured prominently in the show’s opening. It wasn’t the first time Alex’s emotions got the best of him. In his fantastic Keith Carey battle, he had a first-round slip-up when he tried to brush off a quality Keith joke with an off-the-cuff “I already said that about myself against Brendan Lynch”. He recovered nicely en route to a victory, but that momentary loss of self-control resulted in a bewildered and uneasy crowd. Alex will need to avoid coming unglued in this fight, especially since his opponent is unflappable in the ring.
Jay’s an excellent roast writer, and on paper his jokes match up with anyone in the league. Battles, however, are not fought on paper. Personality counts, and this is where Jay’s most glaring weakness goes up against one of Alex’s biggest strengths. Jay has thrived in battles against other writers, notching impressive wins over Connor McSpadden, Frank Castillo, and Tom Goss, among others. He hasn’t fared as well against big personalities, taking Ls against Keith Carey, Hormoz Rashidi, and Kim Congdon, all of whom can be fantastic at being personable and winning over the crowd. Alex will be the biggest personality he’s ever faced, and will almost certainly be connecting with the audience via an elaborate entrance before the first joke even lands. Simply outwriting Alex will not be enough to carry Jay to a victory here – he has to find the appropriate balance of energy to neutralize Alex’s frantic approach. He can’t match theatrics with Alex Hooper, but he also can’t let himself be overpowered in the personality department.
Alex’s win over Keith Carey stands out here. He’s had bigger wins in terms of acclaim (all of which were covered in the “Strengths” section), but the Keith battle was his most complete top-to-bottom performance. After a mediocre start, Alex caught fire with an electric second round and rode that momentum to an overtime victory over the two-time Battler of the Year. It also featured one of the more creative joke structures I’ve seen in the battle, as he used the rapid-fire second round rules to hit Keith with a big punch and immediately follow it up with “if you liked that last joke, blink your eyes repeatedly”. It was an interesting way to use the unique rules to his advantage and land a 1-2 combo.
While Jay’s fight with Keith was regarded as the best in Roast Battle history at the time, his clash with Frank Castillo is my choice. It was a great battle between best friends and roommates, with quality joke writing, tremendous chemistry, and the judging debut of Dave Chappelle. Jay won the war in one of the first overtimes in Belly Room history, but the result almost seemed irrelevant. The battle was so impressive that Chappelle asked them to recreate it as an opening act for one of his shows in LA a short while later. Jay’s winning joke (“I fuck so much Frank has to use my toothbrush to remember what pussy tastes like”) was a rare departure from Jay’s normal clever style of layered jokes and a foray into 2Pac Hit ‘Em Up swagger territory.
As usual, I polled a random cross-section of ten battlers to see what their predictions were. The responses are below.
Dan Nolan – “It’s Hooper’s first full title defense, so he’s definitely gonna be bringing it, but Jay’s been on such a hot streak all year, I’m giving him my pick.”
Kim Congdon – “I’m going to go with Alex Hooper. They are both strong roast writers but I feel like Alex always ends it when it’s close.”
Jeanne Whitney – “It’s a tough call because both are so great. Alex has sharp, mean jokes and is an expert at finding unique angles on people, which will come in handy for Jay who I think would be difficult to write for. On the other hand, Jay is a great joke writer who is only getting better and is fun to watch on stage because he rolls with the punches. Plus, he’s got so much added confidence from his new and slightly annoyingly relationship. I’m gonna go with Jay for the win!”
Hormoz Rashidi – “I am picking Alex Hooper because he’s obviously been roasted his whole life as is evident by his witty comebacks and also by his roasted looking skin.”
Wub Savell – “Oooooh a battle between the kid who was bullied in school vs the bully’s mom. My guess: three solid rounds with Jay’s joke construction leading him to a win in overtime.”
Robbie Goodwin – “I’d probably go with Hooper – he has the drive and the record (and Jay has been coasting on his jawline long enough).”
Lindsey Jennings – “Both battlers are great and have the same number of wins, but I’m gonna go with Alex. I think his onstage persona could dominate Jay before they even open their mouths.”
Robin Tran – “Alex Hooper, because he’s more cerebral and I think that will throw off Jay’s more mechanical approach. It’s gonna be real close though.”
Brendan Cooney – “I would say Hooper in overtime because they’re both real good, but Jay looks the way he does.”
Jerron Horton – “Jay Light’s gonna win cuz it’s his birthday week.”
If you’re scoring at home, that’s 6-4 in favor of Alex. I do question the validity of an Alex Hooper pick using Jay’s looks as the basis for the selection, but I’m not here to police the community choices.
This battle is going to be great. Both battlers (Hooper especially) are very discerning when choosing opponents, so I expect both to be highly motivated and excited for this particular matchup. I expect a close battle, but for the second straight week I’m going to disagree with the consensus. I’m picking Jay Light to pull off the upset, become the first battler to ten wins, and take home the title. While I worry about Alex’s personality dominating the battle, I expect Jay to figure out a way to counter it. Betting against Alex Hooper is very rarely a smart play, but it’s the one I’m going with here.