by Dan Nolan, photos by Troy Conrad

Switching back to it’s shotgun formatting this past Tuesday evening
in the Belly Room, we saw two solid Roast Battle performances in the early
undercards with Josh Michaels taking a win against newcomer Quinton Alston and
an overtime victory from Jennifer Vally against Jonathan David.

Our next two competitors, Bryan Vokey and Rena Hundert each
enter the arena with undefeated 4-0 records. Rena is called to stage first to a
rendition of the “Mr. Ed” theme song courtesy of Coach Tea. Moses tosses out
the obligatory “why are you battling?” prompt and Rena digs right in.

“I just figured it was time for that cracker to crumble!”

There’s a pause before the line gets its due, a smattering
of half-hearted cheers, and Bryan Vokey follows on stage with little introduction
before the bell. He opens the round.

“Rena’s struggling in LA. You know how hard it is to find a
cheap stable in West Hollywood?”

“Bryan looks like he can’t eat pussy without barbecue sauce.”

There’s a huge pop and the line earns Rena early control of
the round, though Vokey seems unphased.

“That’s a good line. How much peanut butter’d they have to
rub on your jaws to make it look like you were actually talking?”

Aided by some more horse noise cues from Coach, the rebuttal
lands a solid blow and puts Bryan back in the driver’s seat.

“Bryan always looks like he just ate spaghetti.”

The oddly specific line, despite it’s seeming accuracy,
falls almost completely flat.

“I had a comeback ready, but I guess I don’t need to use it.
I’ll just do the last joke. Look at those big hog jowls. Is that where you hide
the gold, you thieving shylock?”

Bryan gets hit with silence.

“I tried to go too mean, I guess.”

Unable to deliver a line deserving of such dismissive
confidence in his off the cuff pre-joke banter, the ball is back in Rena’s
court and there’s a clear chance at a win if she can land a strong enough blow.

“Bryan’s sober from meth, but that mustache says he’s not
sober from rape.”

And that does it. There’s some deliberation among the judges’
table with Rena taking more votes overall, but the Roastmaster Jeff Ross
putting his weight behind Vokey, pointing out that something seemed off about
one of Rena’s jokes.

“That barbecue sauce joke was great, but it did feel a
little familiar.”

Rena takes a close crowd vote nevertheless, and Jeff apologizes for calling out the repeated joke. Accusations of plagiarism don’t
generally lead anywhere in Roast Battle, or comedy as a whole. They’re not
provable, most often ending up dismissed as parallel thinking or, at worst, cryptomnesia.

Unfortunately for Rena, though, it doesn’t end there as
elite roaster, Mike Schmidt, angrily
tweets out an image
from previous Roast Reports covering himself saying not
only the pussy-eating joke (with cheese instead of barbecue sauce), but – far
more bafflingly – the spaghetti joke as well. While one is a play on words that’s
accessible to anyone, the other is so oddly specific it’s repetition can’t help
but ring alarm bells.

Joke theft, whether intended or accidental, is the worst
accusation anyone can make toward a comedian, and the questioning of one’s
integrity isn’t something to revel in. Anyone who’s been doing this long enough
has had the experience of writing a joke they love only to find out it already
exists in some form, and there’s no reliable way to certify your thoughts are
original. I personally once did a joke against Alex Duong – which I thought of
entirely on my own – about him finding a lump on his testicles and then being
relieved to discover it was “just his shaft,” which was immediately called out
as a joke none other than Jeff Ross does in his standup.

It’s a humiliating experience in which your best response is
to apologize for being unoriginal, which then seems like an insult to the
joke’s claimed author from whom your accused of stealing. There’s no winning.
In my case, at least, Jeff offered a semi-conciliatory, “for all I know I stole
it from this fucking idiot,” getting a laugh in response and we pressed on
before the momentum of the show was completely evaporated.

That was the first and only time I’m aware of it happening
to me and I’ve since been overly paranoid if any joke I come up with seems too
good to be true. In the interest of journalistic integrity, though, I do feel
obligated to note – as it’s been brought to my attention in writing this – that
this is not the first accusation leveled against Rena (see
round two coverage of her Jeanne Whitney fight from last year
), and the
full list of accusers who’ve spoken to me about instances of repeated jokes now
stands at four, though none as damningly documented as Mike Schmidt’s.

The Roast Report doesn’t exist to throw comics under the bus
for unprovable accusations of plagiarism, so I won’t offer any such
condemnation, but comics can at least be assured that their jokes will be
documented here if they wish to substantiate claims of their own. Also, the
fucking thing is searchable, so if you want to make sure you’re the first
person to make the joke that a female actress is “non-union, but her tits are
SAG,” please do yourself the favor of utilizing that option.

Moving on from the controversy, our next two battlers are
called to stage. Lonnie Johnson and Jacob Trimmer have both amassed impressive
and prolific résumés this past year as belly room brawlers, making them easy
candidates for our “Rookie of the Year” nominations in the upcoming “Roastie”
awards, which should drop any day now. Lonnie leads out.

“Jacob went to jail for selling ecstacy. I gotta admit it’s
pretty impressive you could sell uppers when you clearly have downs.”

“Lonnie’s like the bombing in Syria. Ashy and nobody cares
about it.”

“That was pretty racist, Girth of a Nation. Jacob’s a moron.
It took him five years to get his GED and another 3 to get his KKK”.

“That was great, Buddy Holly after the plane crash. The only
way Lonnie’s gonna be well hung is if he goes back to Tennessee.”

“First of all, I just wanna say I have a huge dick, Rage
Against the Snack Machine. Jacob you fat racist, I feel like you’d only be in a
Souplantation if it was a real plantation.”

“That’s right, my gut has grown more in the last year than
Lonnie’s standup has in three. The only thing blacker than Lonnie is the heroin
his brother overdosed on.”

Jacob Trimmer takes win by a razor-thin margin in the crowd
vote amidst praise to both battlers from our firing squad. Four fights into the
evening and the crowd reaction and excitement continue to ratchet up with each
matchup.

Rachel Mac glides confidently to the stage next to take on
Jonathan Rowell. Jonathan is played up to Beck’s “Loser,” a nod to the fact
that he never seems to win despite being one of the show’s best writers and
performers.

“Rachel, you look like you play the organ at the Westboro
Baptist Church.”

“Jonathan loves dance clubs, it’s just a shame he doesn’t
live in Orlando.”

“Rachel, you look like a witch whose power is having no
tits.”

“Jonathan’s grandmother still hasn’t learned English. Mostly
because she doesn’t wanna have to talk to Jonathan.”

“Rachel’s just like every Christian girl I’ve ever met. She
got married young to a guy I’ve already fucked.”

“Actually Jonathan, the only way you can get guys to call
you back is by giving them gonorrhea.”

“The only reason Rachel’s husband goes down on her is to
harvest cheese for the winter.”

“Jonathan thought he was an artist in high school because he
used different designs when he cut himself.”

“Rachel’s pussy has one good quality. It’s super tight. I
hear she can barely fit her crucifix in it.”

“Under the Trump administration, Jonathan’s parents may be
deported. But the good news is that Jonathan will finally not have to live with
roommates.”

It’s a flawless match for both, with neither missing a joke,
but Jonathan Rowell comes out on top having delivered an absolute room-rocking
home run, besting only himself each time at bat. Rachel Mac put in another
top-notch performance but the judges are unanimous in awarding Jonathan a
long-sought and well-deserved win.

For our final fight, culminating from a fortnight of hype,
Kevin McNamara looks to level up against one of Roast Battle’s all-time MVP’s,
Jay Light.

To recap, Jay was judging two weeks earlier as Kevin took an
overtime loss to John-Michael Bond, and an off-the-cuff war of words broke out
between the two culminating in a bold call out of Jay from Kevin which brought
us to tonight. Jeff Ross, having presided over the aforementioned battle offers
a stinging assessment as Kevin steps on stage.

“Kevin, this is the moment that makes a comedian right here.
You were losing, and you called this guy out. If you bomb tonight, I don’t ever
wanna fucking see you here again.”

It’s
a crippling attack that could throw off any veteran battler, let alone someone
so new and overly ambitious. It bears explaining that Kevin McNamara is a good
dude. For someone under a year in comedy, his talent and work ethic are not to
be knocked. He writes, hits mics and grinds hard. He even helped me lose thirty
pounds. But none of that matters tonight. A professional actor, he’s
inadvertently cast himself in the role of villain to a room full of people who
– before he even sets foot on stage – want nothing more than to watch him fail.

Jay
Light is another story. He’s endeared himself to the scene as an affable
everyman through years of hard work. He’s been a part of Roast Battle since
it’s early open mic days and helped to build the show into what it is today.
He’s spent years a Comedy Store door guy, climbing up ladders, unclogging
toilets, and mopping up vomit. The clear bias of the room is as much about
their love for him as it is about any resentments toward Kevin for his dramatic
overreach in thinking he could call out someone with whom he’s so clearly
incomparable. He never had a chance.

Jay grabs the mic. He calls out Kevin for buying Instagram
followers, painting him as an actor, poser, and all-around idiot for putting
himself in this situation. The crowd is rabid in their bloodthirst, and Moses
declines to even let Kevin even rebut the claims before going to the bell with
Jay Light opening the round.

“Kevin started acting in musicals at age seven. He’s only
been doing standup for under a year but he’s been a smug faggot for over thirty.”

The room explodes as first blood is drawn, and the crowd
looks to Kevin for a counter.

“Jay’s ex-girlfriend took a break from comedy to pursue
acting. I have no doubt she’ll be successful after over a year of acting like
Jay’s not a complete fucking faggot.”

There’s a befuddled silence. Did he not just hear Jay call him a faggot? The ability to listen and
adjust is learned over time, and Kevin’s misstep from the start shows his
disadvantage against a far more seasoned opponent. The silence sits for a
second and Jay raises his mic to rebut before Kevin cuts him off.

 “I wasn’t done with my joke.”

There’s an awkward shockwave that follows the confusing
aside. The joke certainly seemed done, despite it’s lack of response. To so
aggressively insist on a mulligan is another in a series of missteps pitting
the audience against Kevin as he continues.

“Jay’s the only guy who can’t grow facial hair, but still
lost his beard.”

Another moment of silence follows, being quickly broken up
by angered booing. How did it come to this? Several sentences in and the
savaging begins to look clearly insurmountable for Kevin. Jay stands poised and
digs in for a retort.

“Guys, don’t boo. Please. Give it up for ‘Leonardo
Please Clap-rio.’ Kevin is right, my ex is an actress who tried standup comedy,
and dating her was great training for this battle because I’m amazing at wrecking
unfunny pussies.”

The room is pitched into a frenzy. There’s an applause break
amidst the excited screams. Kevin comes in to return fire, but Jay takes a page
from his playbook and throws it right back in his face, cutting him off.

“I wasn’t done, bitch. That’s not my joke. Kevin’s such a
douche, he was born on Summer’s Eve.”

More applause and howls before Kevin finally fires a
follow-up.

“That’s a good one, Scott Pilgrim’s Grindr photo. That’s a
good one.”

On a dime the crowd returns to angry jeers before Jay jumps
right back in.

“Thank you, Queef Ledger.”

“You’re welcome, One Broke Girl… Jay [inaudible amidst
screams of ‘nigga, you losin’] because it’s easier to prey on 13 year old girls
when you look like one.”

Kevin is way off balance, no longer even waiting for the
heckles to subside before delivering his jokes, as if he weren’t already
struggling enough. He looks to his notes for salvation.

“Shouldn’t you have memorized your lines already, you
fucking actor? Kevin grew up the only white kid in a black neighborhood, but
the blackest part about Kevin is his hair dye.”

The improvised rebuttal and it’s follow-up again elicit rabid
praise from the room.

“And the least thing white about you is your Spanish nanny. Oh
yeah, he’s a rich boy, guys, you gotta know that. Jay spent a summer as a
lifeguard but they fired him because his period kept attracting sharks.”

After again bombing a rebuttal while the audience shouts
over him, Kevin finally lands a punch with the shark line, though he’s so deep
in the hole it gets far less than it deserves.

“Not bad, Tragic Mike. Not bad.”

“That’s a good one, Dyke-el Cera.”

“That was not a good one, you fucking Guy Fieri menu item
come to life. Kevin looks like he perpetuates rape culture and vape culture.”

The match at this point seems an endless string of misfires
by Kevin that have each time been seized upon by Jay and thrown right back in
his face.

“Jay, to be honest with you, I don’t know what’s bigger:
your lips, or the hickeys they leave on Jeff Ross’ ass.”

“Kevin was a Vine star for the same reason his fiancé
cheated on him: he can only last six seconds.”

“Jay’s ex girlfriend has a joke where she talks about how
Jay has never murdered the pussy. But how much damage can you do rubbing two
pussies together?”

It’s another poorly worded misfire for Kevin Mac to close
the round. This was a classic battle for a whole lot of reasons. Jay Light did
everything absolutely right, owning the stage and playing his role to perfection,
while Kevin Mac somehow managed to go wrong at every turn. The crowd cheerily
comes together for a chorus of “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye,” and as all is
said and done, you can’t help but feel bad for Kevin.

Comedy’s
hard. We all suffer for it, and we watch it from the center of its universe,
right alongside the seats of power. We walk the hallowed hallway of the
legendary Comedy store, so close to greatness that it at times seems right
there for the taking.

But
greatness is not an idol to be snatched. It exists in the air, undefinable, as
we lust for it madly. We’re often misguided by its arbitrary signifiers: a TV
credit or podcast appearance, a paid gig, an impressive booking, some perceived
social standing, or even – in this case – a Roast Battle victory. We have a
natural inclination to try and commodify the components of success in our
chosen field, but – in art, at least – success is ethereal in a manner that
transcends materialism.

At
the same time, it’s an occupational hazard that we’ve all at times overstepped
our bounds and been forced suffer the painful sting of failure and humiliation.
It’s what keeps one focused and in check along the way. Defeat has a tempering
effect from which we’re taught to endure. We all get smacked down, even if it’s
not as forceful, public, and all at once as it was with Kevin this evening. The
collective sadism directed his way was a cathartic release from months of
tension as he’s pushed himself harder and harder against the scene. We comics
are a smug bunch who react unkindly to anything with the appearance of
intrusion in our community.

Some
may resent Kevin from the start, simply for his charm and good looks. Maybe you
got rubbed the wrong way when you saw him misstate his Roast Battle record and take
a win for it, or when you see him bringing Tinder dates to open mics, or trying
to talk to headliners on the patio. Maybe sitting next to the Potluck host each
week to try and get up seems like commendable persistence to some, but can be easily
misread as smug entitlement by others. And maybe being a newcomer it was a
horrible idea to put himself against so beloved a member of our tribe as Jay
Light. Maybe he got what he had coming. But maybe – and hopefully, I might add
– he’s learned a few lessons and will keep coming back with priorities
adjusted, and focus shifted. The holes he looked in the wrong places to fill
now cauterized by catastrophic failure. Maybe.

After
all, there are few areas of entertainment as meritocratic
as Roast Battle, where skill and persistence pay off so evenly, and this past
Tuesday’s final clash was an assurance to those who put the time and effort in
to keep making this show so great that their work won’t go unnoticed. The
message is clear. Just keep your head down, stay driven, and we’ll be back for
more blood next Tuesday. Keep roasting.

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 10:30 PM 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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