by Pat Barker
The Los Angeles vs. New York bloodfeud has developed so
quickly, it’s almost impossible to remember a simpler time. A time when the two
scenes didn’t even interact, let alone fly 3,000 miles to tear into one
another. Shockingly enough, that time was only six months ago. As recently as
December, there was virtually no link between the two cities and their roasting
communities. With the exception of a few Season One TV clashes (Sarah Tiana vs.
Mike Lawrence comes to mind) and a couple of isolated instances of battlers
crossing the country to try their luck, Roast Battle and the Roastmasters
operated completely independent of one another. In January, that all changed.
Several New York roasters headed west to compete in Season Two of the Comedy
Central version of the show, and despite quality performances they took a
handful of losses to LA battlers before west coast vet Frank Castillo was
eventually crowned champion.
Some silent grumbling about a perceived home field advantage
was vocalized loudly and clearly in early February, when Eli Sairs won the New
York championship at The Stand. He proceeded to take the mic and lay into the
Los Angeles scene, claiming that they were nothing more than subpar roasters
who danced around in stupid costumes and got their friends to write their jokes
for them. His call-out didn’t fall on deaf ears, and less than a month later,
Alex Hooper, Keith Carey, and myself were boarding flights to defend
California’s honor. After Keith and I pulled off consecutive victories against
Scott Chaplain and Christi Chiello, respectively, Eli put his money where his
mouth was and emerged victorious over Hooper in a title unification match.
Despite losing two out of three in their home club, New York came out of it
with two shiny championship belts and promised that they would be returning the
favor and travelling to LA to play a road game. True to their word, they will
be invading the Belly Room this Tuesday for the latest installment of this
rapidly developing bicoastal war. Let’s take a detailed look at what LA vs. NY
Part 2 has in store.
How do you put together a panel of judges qualified to preside over the biggest non-televised night in the show’s history? Well you start with the Roastmaster General Jeff Ross, obviously. Then you add someone with a lengthy history in both LA and NYC – Steve Rannazzisi fits the bill nicely. Finally, you close it out with the only two television champions in the show’s history, Mike Lawrence and Frank Castillo.
Before we get to the quadruple main event, we begin the
night with an all-Los Angeles undercard. Two handi-capable Roast Battle vets
will square off, as Joe Eurell goes up against Danielle Perez. After an
impressive debut victory over Heather Marulli, Danielle has endured three
straight losses. Despite always giving a quality performance, her recent
performances just haven’t translated to wins. She’ll be looking to break the
streak tonight against one of the most consistent undercard performers in the
show’s history in Joe Eurell. Joe’s put together a few great battles in a row,
going to a draw with Sarah Keller and then decimating Eric Abbenante. On a
night where the Comedy Store will feature a big-fight atmosphere, this
hard-hitting singular undercard will be sure to get the crowd on their feet
(the battlers, not so much. They’re in wheelchairs, guys).
In our first of four main events,
Luis J. Gomez will square off with Kim Congdon. Despite only having a couple of
battles under his belt, Gomez is perhaps the face most synonymous with the
Roastmasters show, having been the host for the last couple of years. Not
content with just being regarded as one of New York’s finest young comics and
hosting one of the best shows the city has to offer, he will be heading to LA
and stepping into the ring against one of LA’s finest fighters in Kim Congdon.
After a 6-0 start to her battle career, Congdon struggled through a three fight
losing streak. Since then, her writing and performance have been at another
level, as she’s scored wins in classic Belly Room brawls with Keith Carey and
Dan Nolan. In addition to those two Battle of the Year nominees, she also
appeared on the Atlanta regionals of Season Two and scored a win. Kim’s latest
fights have all come against some of the most prolific battlers in the show’s
history – Jay Light (24 battles), Frank Castillo (22 battles), Omid Singh (20
battles), Keith Carey (24 battles), and Dan Nolan (21 battles) – but it remains
to be seen how she will fare against a relatively unknown roasting commodity
What can we really expect from Luis tonight? I have no idea,
to be honest. He only has two battles to his credit and neither one gives us a
great read on his true roasting skills. His first battle, with Aaron Berg, was
a collection of extenuating circumstances – it was a mystery battle, Luis
hosted it (he hosted his own fucking battle!), and Berg dressed up as Gomez’s
dead father and did the entire fight in character. The jokes Luis brought to
the table in this one were extremely solid, but a shaky delivery was the result
of all the aforementioned mitigating factors. His TV debut, in the Season Two
regionals, went much smoother. He beat ex-girlfriend Kerryn Feehan in the main
event that night and clearly delivered a more prepared performance than against
Berg. Overall, Gomez is undeniably a quality writer and seasoned performer.
Whether that will translate to the Roast Battle stage or not remains a mystery.
A mystery we’ll be solving later tonight.
In the second main event, New York sends Mike Feeney out to
face Comedy Store stalwart Anna Valenzuela. The selection of Feeney led to a
little bit of controversy in the New York scene, drama which briefly caused
Luis to resign as the host of the show (he reconsidered and returned a short
while later). While some Roastmasters battlers felt that Feeney’s lack of
experience (career 4-2 record) should disqualify him from receiving this
opportunity, other prominent people in the scene – most notably Gomez and Season
One champion Mike Lawrence – went to bat for the rookie, arguing that his
talent should carry more weight than his still developing resume. He will come
to Los Angeles to square off with a similar track record in Anna Valenzuela.
Like Feeney, Anna boasts a relatively small fight card – at 8-3 she has the
fewest career battles of any of the LA comics on the bill. However, there’s no
denying that she’s maximized all the opportunities in those eleven fights, as
she managed to parlay an early 5-1 record into her first television appearance
only two years in to her stand-up comedy career. On TV she scored wins over
Keith Carey and Evan Williams before falling to eventual winner Frank Castillo.
Following her Comedy Central run, she took a little bit of time off before
returning in a losing effort to Quentin Moscaritolo. Now coming off of
consecutive defeats for the first time in her young career, she will look to
get back on track in this Rookies vs. Sophomores game.
For as much as she has accomplished in her year-and-a-half
of battling, Feeney has made a comparable impact in his scene with only six
fights. A casual perusing of his battle catalogue reveals that Feeney is
actually quite similar to Anna stylistically – he employs a lot of short, quick
“look like” jokes with an absurdist twist. While some New York battlers would
potentially run the risk of employing the longer jokes that the LA crowd
despises, Feeney should have to do very little work to adapt his style to the
new crowd. If anything, his most recent Roastmasters battle with Corey Reppond
proves that Feeney will have more work to do on the stage than with the pen.
While his jokes were all solid, the style of reading your jokes off of a
notecard while standing in one place could look pretty amateur next to Anna,
who excels at commanding the stage and winning the “stage presence” battle
within the actual roast. Reading your jokes is much more frowned upon in LA
than in New York – if Feeney adjusts accordingly, we should have a great fight
on our hands.
Next up is a fight for the ages, as former New York champion
Zac Amico makes his Comedy Store debut against Belly Room heavyweight Doug
Fager. While Gomez and Feeney represent somewhat unorthodox choices, Zac
Amico’s inclusion on this supercard should come as a surprise to no one. Zac’s
track record is as impressive as anyone in Roastmasters history, as he’s
compiled a resume that features a battle with half-a-million views, a victory
over Mike Lawrence, a lengthy title reign, and a Season Two tournament appearance.
This fight is actually the only one where the New York battler has as many
fights under his belt (12) as his opponent, an especially impressive
achievement given that, until now, New York has only hosted a show once every
Doug’s twelve battles include more than a few classics, and
his most recent fights versus myself and Dan Nolan figure to be Battle of the
Year nominees when the Roasties roll around in July. In addition to putting on
all-time great battles, Fager’s also been winning quite a bit – he actually
hasn’t lost in the Belly Room in over a year. Always respected as one of Roast
Battle’s most underrated competitors, he’s recently ascended to a new level as
one of the undisputed top battlers on the west coast scene. While this battle
appears to be a style clash based on appearances alone, these two comics both
thrive based on the strength of their writing. While Amico relies on overly
clever, intricate jokes and tags the shit out of them, Fager hits with
whimsical observations and an insane level of likability. For a battler who
thrives on visually based jokes, battling someone who looks like Zac Amico is
probably an assignment Doug will excel at. Likewise, for a battler who enjoys tackling
the darkest subjects possible, Zac should have a field day with Doug and his
dead brother. The result should be a fantastic fight leading up to our main
Finally, someone will be walking out of the building and
onto Sunset with a shiny title belt over their shoulder as Unified Champion Eli
Sairs takes on Keith Carey in a three-round slugfest. Before we get into the breakdown, let me
acknowledge the elephant in the room. The selection of Keith as the number one
contender has been a hot button topic of discussion in the Roast Battle world.
Much of that discussion has been fueled by Earl Skakel, the man who was assumed
to be next in line for a title shot for much of the last six months. Alex
Hooper vs. Earl Skakel for the belt was thought to be an inevitability at the
end of last year, but then Hooper had to tend to Season Two business, Eli Sairs
set off the coast war, and the rest is history. Eli chose to defend the title
against Keith, much to the chagrin of Earl, and the end result is the scheduled
title match and subsequent retirement of the former House Hater.
Argument for Number One Contender Earl Skakel is a compelling one, and I get
it. I’ve heard his thoughts on the subject, and they all make sense. He was
ranked higher, he had a better record, and he’s virtually unbeatable on that
stage. However, to act like Keith’s skills are defined by his 12-12 record or
#16 ranking is frankly ludicrous. He has, bar none, the absolute best battles
in the history of the show, driven by both his own laundry list of roastable
flaws and his insane joke-writing and performance skills. He’s been voted
Battler of the Year two years in a row by his peers, and although the most
recent 12 months have not been his strongest in terms of a win-loss record,
he’s the absolute best bet to end this night with a classic battle.
But will he be an equally strong bet to keep that belt from
boarding the plane back to New York? I’m not so sure of that. Amidst all the
Keith vs. Earl debate, people have been forgetting one thing – Eli Sairs is
really fucking good at this. While I have doubts as to how some New York
battlers will adapt to the “LA Style” of shorter and quicker jokes, I have no
such doubts with Eli. Perhaps it’s because I saw him in person in New York,
dismantling Alex Hooper in a fashion that would have played just as well in the
Belly Room as it did at The Stand. Sairs brings out longer jokes, but they’re
not meandering. Every word serves a purpose. That night, he was the only New
York battler to take the stage without notes. He writes great jokes, memorizes,
and commits to them, delivering with a quiet confidence. It’s why he’s 7-1 and
his last few battles have ended with clear and convincing wins. It’s because
he’s really fucking good at this.
Eli will have a myriad of angles to work with for Carey, but
for every punch he throws I expect Keith to counter with a haymaker. Keith
knows how to work that room better than almost anyone, and he should be pairing
his usual quality material with what could be a distinct homefield advantage.
As good as Sairs was against Hooper, there was a noticeable crowd bias for
their fight. We can probably reasonably expect the same tonight, but make no
mistake – Carey won’t be able to just ride the wave of a hot crowd to a win. He will
be packing the same level of punches as he does in all of his battles, which
could mean trouble for Eli. Keith is perhaps the most consistent battler in the
show’s history, so if Eli is hoping to catch him on an off night he’ll be in
for a rude awakening. Either way, expect an all-time great fight card to wrap
up with a battle that has potential to be one of the best we’ve ever seen. Don’t believe me? Take it from the champion and challenger themselves. They’ve got a few things to say before tonight’s war.
I don’t know about you guys, but I’m fucking hyped. Let’s roast!
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