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by Dan Nolan, photos by Troy Conrad

“You see this? White guys trying to do the dozens.”

– my Uber driver, commenting on the Roast Battle billboard

“Who wrote those jokes? Jewish people?”

– Moses, on the evening’s incredible all-black undercard 

The room is anxious at the start of the night. There is a standing
room only audience, made up of more than the typical crowd of comics, but of
actual regular people as well, checking the show out for the first time. The
big question in the air looms, whether the show’s television debut will affect
the way things work in our beloved Belly Room version.

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For our first undercard of the evening, Kaela Crawford (1-0, Unranked) takes to the
stage. She’s bright and energetic, no notepad in sight. Her opponent, Julian
Fernandez (0-1, Unranked), seems equally calm and collected considering this is a double virgin
sacrifice, and our first battle back since the Comedy Central premiere. After
the introductions from Moses, we get right to the bell and the gloves come off
immediately.

“Julian lost his virginity to a stripper. It was the shortest
pole she’s ever had to work.”

“Kaela opens for Paul Rodriguez all the time. The only way
Kaela’s gonna become a household name is if she ends up on the side of a milk
carton.”

“Julian, you would know, because you’ve fucked all the girls on
those milk cartons.”

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The crowd goes insane. Any off-the-cuff comeback is always is always a
bold maneuver, and battles can often be won or lost by them alone. But Kaela’s
not done, deciding to let it ride and pull out one more joke.

“Julian looks like the lovechild of Shrek and El Chapo
gangbanged Rosie O’Donnell.”

“Honestly, Kaela is a great comic, she’s very, very funny. It
was only funnier when her material was done by Iliza Shlesinger first.”

The crowd reaction to Kaela, beginning with her post-rebuttal joke
seems headed on a downward trend. Julian lands an insult against her comedy at
just the right time, and we actually feel even. Kaela grabs again for an
off-the-cuff counterpunch.

“It’s only funny when Julian’s pants are down!”

The attempt falls flat, and the energy now seems to be moving toward
Julian. Kaela digs in and does the actual joke she wrote. This time it’s less
out of cockiness than necessity. She’s got ground to make up.

“Julian is an impressions comic. I’d like to see him do an
impression of Andy Kaufman and just die.”

“Kaela’s boyfriend is South African. He had to deal with
Apartheid. Now he just has to deal with a part-guy.”

Both jokes do very well, but of the two, Julian’s clearly gets the
larger reaction. Despite this, Kaela has kept herself the crowd favorite by
dancing and mugging alongside the wave. She’s shown herself to be unfearing and
unflinching before the crowd, and they adore her for it. It’s a dead heat, and
for our first battle back we’re forced into overtime. Julian leads the round
off this time.

“Kaela, you look like Golum halfway through a sex transition.”

“I’ve never actually heard any of Julian’s jokes because the
leafblower is too loud when he tells ‘em.”

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The crowd goes insane before Kaela even finishes her joke. At her
utterance of the phrase “leafblower,” something primal is engaged and the
laughter explodes across the room. Kaela takes the vote handily at the end of
overtime, and we’re on to a second undercard. This is a warm homecoming
already.

Next up, in the first of our two Black Lives Matter battles, we see Tony
Asar (0-2, Unranked) taken down in and incredible debut for newcomer Lonnie Johnson (1-0, Unranked).

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Roast Battle has become a tough room for black battlers. In our latest Top 50 power rankings, after the removal of the great Jerron Horton due to inactivity, Alfred Konuwa with a record of 1-1-1 is now our only ranked black battler, coming in at the very bottom at #50. Were Horton even to make a sudden return, his presence back on the ranks would bump Konuwa out and leave us with still only one black battler to list. Even the Comedy Central version saw it’s only two black competitors, Chris Cubas and Ms. Pat, dismissed within the first round of the tournament. 

While Roast Battle has been elevated to arena-style spectacle, the art of competitive shit-talking
actually has it’s roots deep in the black community, dating back to slavery
with a game called “the dozens.” The tradition was kept alive to this day as it
evolved into “yo momma” jokes, and rap battles, but – for whatever the reason –
this particular iteration of the game has proven difficult for black competitors.

Lonnie Johnson is brought up first. Unlike the newcomers in the
previous undercard, Lonnie’s nervousness is at least somewhat apparent. He
stands his ground, though, getting laughs with intro jokes, and even going toe-to-toe with House Hater, and current #2 ranked battler, Earl Skakel.

“Is it true that your birth certificate is actually printed on
a piece of white trash?”

“Hey, after this guy kills you, you can come to my house and be a
fucking lawn-jockey on my lawn!”

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Suddenly it’s apparent that we’re in for a real treat. Who the fuck is
this guy? Many battlers past have attempted to take shots at the haters table
to their own demise, but Lonnie pulls it off gracefully, deferring to Earl’s
comeback, and suddenly the mutual respect is very apparent. Tony Asar has no
trouble either, having been through this before he comes prepared for combat.
Both battlers let the barbs fly:

“Lonnie’s the only token not allowed within 300 feet of a Chuck
E. Cheese.”

"Tony’s kid literally just fell into a gorilla enclosure, but
on the plus side at least he got to be around a positive male role model for a
change.”

"Lonnie married the love of his life: his UNICEF sponsor.”

“Tony and his wife both played college basketball, the only
difference is she actually got some pussy because of it.”

“Lonnie’s mom owned a thrift store so he’s use to his material
being cheap and outdated.”

“Tony’s roast battle record is a disgrace to black history.
Every week I gotta see him come up here and get owned by a white dude.”

"Lonnie’s not ashy. He’s just too dark to show his true colors.”

"Tony actually lives with his wife’s parents, so when they get
divorced all she’s gonna get is the other half of her fucking room back.”

After the bell, Moses declares this battle to be easily the best black-on-black
battle the show has ever seen in an undercard. Lonnie’s jokes packed a stronger
punch all the way through, but overtime is still requested by the wave because
no one wants this fight to end just yet.

"Everybody in Pomona knows Tony. He’s only a stranger to his
kid.”

"Lonnie’s not black, he’s just the first white man to land on the
sun.”

No one gets Tony’s sun joke, and the major dip in quality only further
cements Lonnie’s already strong command over the match. Both battlers have
promising futures with the show, nonetheless, and we hope to see them back
soon.

After some more standup, our next set of
battlers, Darrin Chase (0-1, Unranked) and Darran Davis (1-2, Unranked), take to the stage to further test the
bounds of Roast Battle’s Black Curse.

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Darran Davis has all the odds stacked
against him. His previous clash was a decisive loss to first-time roaster,
Richie Gaines. The battle was a clear blowout, not only because Richie’s jokes
were incredibly clever and well-crafted, but Darron’s jokes were hardly there
at all.

Beyond just that, Roast Battle has
had a major historic slant toward white battlers in racially charged clashes.
The issue extends beyond simply our show, but across all mainstream
entertainment, and into the writer’s rooms of every major comedy show. The
reflection in the mirror, however, becomes particularly glaring when it’s seen
in live action on a show where records are kept and ranks are issued.

This past year has seen a number of
room-rocking victories for newer battlers going against black competitors, from
Wub Savell’s debut destruction of Brandon Brickz, Phenom Brown’s total
decimation at the hands of the painfully average Ashley Barnhill, and even my
own premiere fight battle where I made my bones taking down the once-promising
Rasheed Stephens.

Historically speaking, the bias is
clear, but as we saw with the one-time dominance of female roasters in nearly
all their battles against males, trends can ultimately fade, as they have in
that case with males striking back against the previously foregone conclusion
of female victories, and hope can remain held out that the edge can be overcome. 

Intros are made by Moses, and both
battlers make a strong start before a quick turn is taken to the favor of Darrin.

“Darrin is half
hillbilly and part white trash, which explains why he look like a retarded Tom
Green.”

"Darran, I’m glad you dressed up for this. Darran looks like a Ninja Turtle that got caught in a house fire.”

Both jokes land, but the Ninja Turtle
slam from Darrin is the clear favorite for the crowd. Suddenly things
look darker for Darran as his next joke falls flat.

“Darrin’s ex wife is a
registered nurse. She divorced him after she found out he has to register as a
sex offender.”

“You get blacker every time you bomb. He’s the ninja turtle that
doesn’t… that gets shot.. ah, FUCK…”

Darrin follows a bomb rebuttal
that misses it’s mark with another joke he’s not even able to get out in
completion, and this suddenly looks like a struggle from both battlers simply
to avoid a double-loss.

"Darrin’s an ex
profession wrestler. His signature move was living in his car.”

“You look like an old Tootsie Roll I found under my seat. Darran
looks like a gingerbread man if the letters in the word "ginger” were in a different order.”

Darran lands a solid blow while Darrin slips back into his grove, countering the car remark with a decent
rebuttal, and following it with a knockout punch before the bell. Moses tosses
to the judges who loved the Ginger Bread joke, but can’t forgive the major
misstep on the second Ninja Turtle joke. Darrin is asked to tell the full
version of the joke correctly, and it ends up being worse than if he had just
left it for dead. We’re forced into overtime to let Darrin redeem
himself. Darran opens the extra round:

“Darrin became a cokehead
when he found out he could snort up his white privilege.”

“Darran was adopted.
For fifty cents a day. You can tell what year it is by the losing Super Bowl
team on the t-shirts that were sent to their village.”

Darran’s coke joke hits and Darrin is left empty-handed. Where the win seemed like a sure thing at
the start, it has now become far out of reach for Darrin, and for the
second time that evening, the Black Curse of Roast Battle seems lifted as Darran has his hand raised in a definitive victory.

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Riding the wave of Darran Davis’
stunning come-from-behind victory is a dream matchup that turned into a nightmare
for Matt LeGrande (1-2, Unranked) at the hands of the always adorable Galina Rivina (2-0, Unranked). Both
battlers came to the table with stunning debuts, and Matt followed his up with
an equally impressive overtime loss to Rachel Mac some weeks ago. 

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"Matt’s very popular in the gay
community. Because everyone knows he gives long forehead.”

“It’s funny you would mention my appearance
when you spent hours to look like Selena Gomez got face-fucked by a bulldog.”

The reaction to the Selena Gomez joke
is noticeably under-enthusiastic, due clearly to the fact that Saudi Prince had
just made a similar, and arguably better joke comparing Galina to the young
pop-star. One joke in, Matt LeGrande has already got his work cut out for him.

“Matt’s parents are religious and they treat him like laundry. They use
him to wipe up cum, and hide him in the closet.”

“Galina, I loved hearing from your friends that you have a therapy dog.
Galina is so insufferable her shrink finally prescribed her a therapy dog, so
SHE could spend all day with a bitch.”

"Matt’s the only flaming thing that’s been passed by more men than the
Olympic torch.”

Suddenly the once-mighty Matt
LeGrande becomes vulnerable after he spends too much time meandering in his “dog”
joke’s wording, and then has a major misstep as he again gets caught up in
exposition and stumbles the setup for his next joke. 

"Galina recently got her wisdom teeth removed… just in time for me to
roast her… it’s gonna be great… Galina’s so thirsty to get ahead in comedy
when she heard this show got picked up by Comedy Central she got her wisdom
teeth removed to make room for Jeff Ross.”

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By the time Moses takes the stage,
there’s hardly any need for a vote. Economy of words is important to landing a
roast joke, and any information the audience needs to know to get a joke has do
be given as concisely as possible. A painful lesson for Matt LeGrande, as
Galina is declared the winner by an overwhelming margin.

After an evening of some of the
dopest undercard’s the show has seen in a long time, we are well-primed for an
incredible Main Event matchup between Ramsey Badawi (3-1, #32) and Jonathan Rowell (0-2-1, Unranked). Ramsey
steps into the driver’s seat early in the first round. 

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“Jonathan is a Latino alternative comic.
You can catch him every week performing with the Undocumented Citizens Brigade.”

“Ramsey, you gay genie, you
look like you live in a one-bedroom lamp.”

“You gotta give it up to
Jonathan, for a guy who looks like he’s allergic to almonds, he sure does
swallow a lot of nut.”

"Ramsey’s back just looks
like 72 virgins shaved their pussies over it.”

"Most Mexicans are worried
about Trump building a wall. Jonathan’s just worried he’ll forget to include a
glory hole.”

"Ramsey’s a bad driver. He
cuts people off faster than his girlfriend’s clit.”

All three of Ramsey’s jokes strike
forcefully, and he is awarded the round as only Jonathan’s "72
virgins” joke managed to match their reaction. For the battle’s second
round, Jonathan decides to lead out, hoping to get the momentum back in his
direction.

“Ramsey did it hurt to see your
family get killed in The Mummy Returns?“

“Ramsey, you look like you have a lot of faggy opinions about hummus.”

“The only times Ramsey drops acid is
when it’s on a woman’s face.”

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This time all three jokes of
Jonathan’s get big reactions, and before Ramsey opens his mouth, a third round seems
unavoidable. Ramsey still digs in and fires off all three jokes.

“Jonathan got diagnosed with
gonorrhea last year which means he likes his coffee like he likes his men:
with a slow drip.”

“Jonathan’s boyfriend used antibiotics to treat the gonorrhea and roofies to
treat the memory of fucking Jonathan.”

“Jonathan, there is one plus-side to
you having gonorrhea. At least when you die, one part of your body will
already be used to burning.

Ramsey has no issue connecting all
the jokes, but the strength of Jonathan’s round is still more than enough to
bring us back to a tit-for-tat third round.

“Jonathan’s grandfather
recently died which is sad, but at least he died doing what he loved: not
accepting his grandson for being a homo.”

“Ramsey will never make it
in comedy, because he bombs whenever there’s a Jew in the room.”

“Jonathan you’ve had more
disappointed gay Latino men inside you than Pulse Orlando.”

“Ramsey used to be a Republican, because even he knew he shouldn’t be here.”

“Jonathan, I hope there’s no
bad blood between us after this battle because then neither of us will be eligible
to donate plasma to the Red Cross.”

“Ramsey quit his band before
they got famous. It’s just like him to walk away from something before it blows
up.”

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Ramsey takes the judge’s vote on the
strength of his jokes having the biggest reactions throughout the night, while
Jonathan still put in an incredibly strong performance. Despite this, though,
the battle-tested Tony Hinchcliffe still wants to see an overtime round, to
which both opponents oblige.

“Ramsey’s such a Samantha
because he’s most likely to get beheaded in Dubai.”

"Jonathan, that joke bombed so
bad I want to throw it into one of your nightclubs.”

Jonathan’s "Sex and the
City” reference falls flat for all but the handful of ladies who cheer it,
while Ramsey gets a big opportunity to fire off a bomb-rebuttal that rocks the
room, only further solidifying his victory, and status as a top-level roaster.

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In the end, the evening rang true to
what the show stands for. A showcase for up-and-coming joke writers, and a
safe-haven for free speech. Whether or not that no-limits approach to content
gives the edge to white battlers in a country where merely broaching the issue
of race is on it’s own considered controversial, at the end of every battle we
still hug. The guideline has always been that a good roast joke must be
funnier than it is mean or shocking, and the fact that we can laugh about some
of the most abhorrent aspects of our culture and still embrace one-another when
all is said and done just holds to the promise that what happens in the Belly
Room every Tuesday may really have some importance in an era so full of fear
and hatred.

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Follow @RoastBattle on Twitter for all the latest updates, check out our Instagram and Facebook pages for the latest pictures from the impeccable Troy Conrad, and watch live on Periscope at 11:30 PST every Tuesday if you can’t catch the verbal violence in person. Thank you for reading, and thanks as always to our sponsor SpeedWeed.

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