by Pat Barker
It’s another week with a main event featuring two people who
have already had Battler Spotlights (Leah here and Connor here), which means it’s time for another in-depth Battle Breakdown. We’ll probably go back
to the Spotlights next week as I can’t maintain a 2,000-word preview pace
without losing my job in the process, so enjoy this one as it’ll be the last
for a little while. For now,
let’s get into a super heavyweight fight, as Leah Kayajanian (6-5-1, #10) takes
on Connor McSpadden (7-2, #5).
Leah and Connor have very different styles, yet they somehow
don’t feel all that dissimilar in the ring. Leah frequently attacks her
opponent’s appearance; Connor opts for assaulting their personality or
character. Leah doesn’t often use rebuttals; Connor utilizes them in the
majority of his battles. Leah zones out, delivers her jokes, and doesn’t often
acknowledge the chaos going on around her; Connor embraces it and invites as
much banter with the judges, Haters, and Moses as possible. Despite all of
this, both deliver their jokes in a very condescending way that makes them feel
the same stylistically. Both exude a confidence on stage that’s tough to match, and both tend to shy away from wordplay in lieu of more straightforward
punches that perfectly accentuate those styles.
Leah’s remarkably intimidating on stage. I’ve heard Earl
Skakel say multiple times that he’s “scared of her”, and that she’s “mean”, a
review that Leah herself disagrees with. I agree with Leah’s assessment that
she’s not “mean” in a traditional way – she often avoids angles that she
considers low blows, which is a rarity in Roast Battling. However, I’ll agree
with Earl’s contention that she’s scary. While the actual content of her jokes
might not be as outwardly vicious as some others, her delivery makes her terrifying.
The way she moves through the battle with an unchanging “all business” facial
expression and her hardened delivery give her jokes that extra edge to make
them seem even meaner than they already are. She’s one of the nicest people I
know off stage, but when she’s in battle mode she’s like a completely different
person. Her writing is very good, but her ability to sell the shit out of her
jokes is what takes her to the next level.
Connor’s got a ton of battling strengths, but his ability to
deliver brutal punchlines with incomparable word economy is insane. His jokes
are short, witty, and brutally funny. He often packages them as rebuttals to
bombs from his opponents, which is effective in turning the tide immediately.
It’s the verbal equivalent of intercepting a pass in your own end zone and
returning it 100 yards for a touchdown – a quick 14-point swing that’s
demoralizing for your opponent. He’s done this several times that I can recall –
most notably against Dan Nolan when he dropped a lightning quick, “wow, that
really bombed. Maybe you should stick to roasting spoons.” It’s hard not to
have your confidence crushed when you have a dud and immediately get called
out on it. That ability to switch the momentum is one of the things that
separates Connor from other great battlers, and just one of the ways he uses his
ultra-efficient joke writing.
Leah is responsible for some of the greatest jokes in the
history of the Belly Room, but in almost every three-round battle she’s been
good for one or two jokes that miss the mark completely. That inconsistency was
nowhere to be found in the one-round Roast Battle tournament, but she’s yet to
deliver a flawless performance outside of the tourney. Leah’s not inconsistent
in the grand scheme of things – I’ve yet to see her have a subpar battle. But
within each of those fights, there are more highs and lows than most top tier
battlers are accustomed to. If she can put it all together this time and have
all of her jokes hit consistently, she will be very difficult to beat. If I
were a betting man, however, I wouldn’t put my money on that happening.
Connor, in his own words, likes to pick on “big targets”. He
holds convincing wins over Drew Lynch, Steve Hernandez, Robin Tran, Joe Dosch,
and Dan Nolan. If you know any of those comics, you probably know what angles
he chose to use. To his credit, the actual jokes he used were phenomenal. He’s
great at picking an obvious topic and writing the best possible joke about it.
However, the Belly Room hadn’t exactly been inundated with jokes about stuttering,
transitioning, and shooting (heroin) by the time Connor did them. They felt new and fresh, whereas the most obvious Leah angles have been done to death.
Can Connor overcome that and write jokes good enough to still make the crowd go
nuts? I think he can. Can he find new ground to cover and debut some truly
unique Leah jokes that don’t involve her nose, age, or Armenian ethnicity? I’m
not so sure on that one.
I’m not entirely sure Leah has one battle that’s the Leah
battle that you HAVE to see… but she’s got a four fight stretch that fits the
description. She got into the tournament as the final competitor and just ran
through her opponents with ease. First Frank Castillo, the former Roast Battle
champion. Then Keith Carey, the two-time Battler of the Year. Then Joe Dosch,
the champ at the time. And finally me. Just a span of four battles where she
was absolutely untouchable. It was really impressive to watch and be part of. I
suppose I’ll take our Riot LA battle as her greatest one – her style played
remarkably well in the room and her jokes were fantastic. I also respect the
fact that she avoided the lowest roads available, which meant no jokes about my
dad dying or my wife’s miscarriage. Everything is fair game in Roast Battle,
but it’s really impressive to see someone have those topics available and not
Connor’s delivered a few top-notch performances – his Robin
Tran and Joe Dosch fights come to mind – but he was never as murderous as he
was against Dan Nolan last December. It was one of the only Belly Room clashes
I wasn’t in attendance for; I was back home for the holidays but still stayed
up until after 3 AM eastern to watch. It was a big match-up that I was looking
forward to. Two of my favorites were going at it, and it came towards the tail
end of the tournament, which had caused some lackluster main events. I expected
a knockdown drag-out fight that would stretch to one, two, three, who knows,
ten overtimes? Instead Connor absolutely destroyed Dan with three brilliant
rounds. And here’s the thing – Dan wasn’t bad! He was fine! His third round was
great! But none of it mattered. When Connor’s on his game he’s really tough to
beat, and he’s never been more on his game than he was that night.
As usual, I polled a random cross-section of ten battlers to
see what their predictions were. Their responses are below.
Alex Hooper: “Connor
by a nose although probably not Leah’s nose. White privilege is stronger than
Olivia Grace: “I’m
picking Leah because she’s a better person overall.”
Toby Muresianu: “Leah.
She’s coming off a close, tough loss and I think she will go the extra mile –
though it could go either way, since when Connor’s on I don’t know if anyone
can match him.”
Omid Singh: “I’m
gonna have to go Connor. Leah is great but I think Connor is a big dog looking
to climb to that number one spot.”
Tony Bartolone: “I’m
gonna go with Connor because he’s a cunt in real life so he’s got the killer
Guam Felix: “Connor!
He sold his soul to the devil! Satan writes for him!”
“Fuck that’s gonna be insane. I think I’d go with Connor because I think he has
the most natural talent in all of roast battle. Their writing is equal in my
mind, but Connor will have one or two punches off the cuff that will give him a
Albert Escobedo: “I’m
voting for Connor, his joke writing is superb and him being genuinely
unimpressed with his opponents makes you love to hate him.”
Ken Garr: “I’m
going with Leah because she is more battle tested and has stood toe to toe with
Courtney Banks: “Roasting
comes naturally to Connor, he’s sharp and mean, but Leah studies her opponents
and always takes an outside angle (plus dudes never call her a slut, which
helps), so I think she will surprise us for a win.”
For the third straight week the community is basically split
down the middle and give Connor a 6-4 edge.
For the third straight week, I’m going against the
community. I think Leah’s got more motivation and more to prove than Connor in
this one. You could call it an upset as Connor is on a five-match winning
streak and Leah’s on a three-battle slide, but I think this is about as even of
a matchup as possible. Connor’s recent Kim Congdon battle wasn’t his best, and
he almost looked like he was on cruise control at certain points. If he brings
a similar performance against Leah, he will not be able to skate by with a
close victory. Don’t let the records fool you – Leah took the champion Alex
Hooper down to the last joke, and her double-OT loss to Dan Nolan was highly
debatable. I think some people have forgotten what Leah is capable of, and I
expect her to remind them with a hard-fought victory on Tuesday night.