by Dan Nolan, photos by Troy Conrad

As Roast Battle continues to grow and evolve, the audience DNA is ever changing. It’s gone from a comics-only crowd of open mikers, to a mix of die hard fans and comics, to now something new entirely as Moses asks who’s been before while introducing the standup pre-show. About three hands shoot up among the half-full seats, and though the true die-hards tend to opt for the standing-room seats it’s becoming more and more a trend for the audience to feature mostly first timers, only aware of the show from television or various podcasts.

An audience that was not too long ago out entirely for blood has more or less mellowed, and with that their role has maybe shifted just a bit. What was once the Roman Coliseum is now a little more American Idol. Is it possible this reporter may be waxing a bit too poetic, or romanticizing a time gone by in the name of growth? Sure. But the affects of this altered audience landscape have rarely made themselves more apparent than this past Tuesday night.

After the pre-show and the introduction of our judges’ panel, Aston Wallace is brought to the stage. He’s cool and confident and Moses makes a point to explain that for the first time ever, someone – his opponent Jonathan Morvay – has booked this battle through a manager. It’s a sign of the show’s entry into the comedy main stream. Aston opens the round.

“Jon’s such a boring Jew, his birth certificate is a recipe for Matzo ball soup.”

“Thank you, DMX-tremely unsuccessful. Aston, you grew up in a Jewish suburb. You only date white women…”

There is a too-long silence. Jonathan Morvay suddenly seems to have forgotten one of the three jokes he prepared for the evening. He continues, repeating the setup twice more.

“That’s accurate, right? You grew up in a Jewish suburb. You only date white women…”

Aston feels compelled to respond to break up the silence.

“Yes. Is that the joke?”

“No. You grew up in a Jewish suburb. You only date white women… you’re a weed lawyer. I haven’t seen Get Out but I imagine it’s about you and the black community.”

The joke appears to have now officially ended, but the silence remains. Aston stays in the pocket and fires off his next punch.

“I’m better than Jon in every way. He was a lawyer’s assistant, I’m a lawyer. He drive a Prius C, I drive a Prius full-size. He was born with one undescended testicle, I was born with two. Even my balls drop twice as hard as yours do.”

“Aston is a lawyer by day, and a poor man’s Jak Knight.”

The jump in skill level from Jonathan’s first joke to his second is vast. The Jak Knight reference lands hard and is basically perfect roast joke. The crowd remains in Aston’s corner, though, for the misstep from Jonathan and it’s his match to lose.

“Thank you, Jonathan B. Moore Gay. When the challenger space shuttle exploded, Jonathan was in the middle of his circumcision. But it wasn’t the first time Jews were ended by fire and tragedy.”

“Aston used to work the day shift at McDonalds. Even they wouldn’t let him close.”

Jonathan Morvay finishes the round incredibly strong despite blowing it on his first joke. While the two jokes he did tell were incredibly strong, he never fully recovers and Aston Wallace receives a unanimous crowd vote.

Next up, Boston’s India Pearl is brought to the stage first and takes the opportunity to call out her opponent for eating a lot of mac and cheese without gaining weight in an attempt at a pre-battle rebuke that falls flat. Her competitor, Daria doppelgänger Lauren Bancroft, responds with equally ill-received banter before the bell and it’s anyone’s match. Lauren leads off the round.

“My friend India is so pretty. She’s one of those girls you see walk into an open mic and think, ‘God please don’t be a fucking comic.’ And then you see her set and realize she’s not.”

“Lauren is an improv comic… so not a comic.”

“India is from Worcester, Massachusetts but she likes to think she’s from Nantucket. That’s the difference between Jackie O’s pearl necklace, and the pearl necklace she’s used to getting.”

Despite the lukewarm response from the general audience, the comics are entirely unimpressed. Roastmaster Jeff Ross Interjects.

“I don’t get it.”

India continues.

“Lauren loves Doctor Who. She loves it. In fact she loves any Doctor Who tells her the test came back negative.”

“I love Doctor Who. But when I say, ‘Doctor Who’, Im referring a British sci-fi show. But when India does, it’s ‘Doctor, who knew you could get pregnant from anal?’”

“Lauren’s fucked more nerds than the director of Batman vs. Superman.”

The jokes in regulation all land, somehow or another. Though, despite the audience reception, our judges weigh in with some ferocity.

“You both felt like oatmeal I didn’t want.” – Megan Gailey

“This was an interesting technical battle. You both started with jokes about how the other one’s not a comic, and I believe both of you." – Tony Hinchcliffe

What might’ve been booed off stage entirely in the darker days of Roast Battle passes for just mediocre by the skin of it’s teeth, and the win goes unanimously to India Pearl by crowd vote.

Next up is a return to form for both Mark Stevens and Michael Schirtzer who are both coming off a tough string of losses. Schirtzer opens the audience up for the first time in the evening with a rap assisted by Coach Tea. The reception is enthusiastic and he’s followed by Mark, who at the prompting of Tony Hinchcliffe spits an off the cuff couple of bars about how Michael sucks almost as bad as Tony’s Netflix special. It’s an insult that’s now become a go-to to win over the comic vote and it serves Mark well before he throws the first punch at the bell.

"Michael, I gotta give you credit. You’re a comic, a rapper, and a slam poet. You’re a triple threat to moving back in with your parents.”

“Thank you, Planet of the Rapes.”

“You’re welcome, Hack Miller.”

“Wow, that had less substance than your eyebrows.”

“What?”

It’s a mild fumble from Schirtzer and he quickly regains composure.

“Okay… Mark is Armenian, and I am Jewish. The difference is like our genocides. No one will remember his.”

“Michael claims his SoundCloud has over 6 million listens. Wow, typical Jew. Making a big deal over 6 million things that just don’t matter.”

“Good one, Quasi Bloato.”

“Any time Faglemore.”

“Mark, you retarded Armenian. You’re so stupid, you couldn’t even pass the hookah bar.”

“Michael looks like what would happen if the Beastie Boys fought for their right to study.”

“Mark calls himself ‘The Shark,’ because he only cums if there’s blood.”

“Michael looks like a rapist who slips his dates a mixtape.”

While both Mark and Michael had some high highs and low lows, the energy remained electric all the way through and Jeff declares the battle the night’s best so far. Michael receives plenty of props but ultimately Mark takes home the W, finally breaking his loss streak.

Veteran comic Esther Ku makes her Roast Battle debut against perennial competitor and elite writer Alex Duong. Esther gets a shot in before the bell.

“I chose a Chinese guy to pop my Roast Battle cherry, cuz I knew it wouldn’t hurt.”

Esther elevates the energy of the room with undeniable stage presence and gets in a dig at Haiti when asked if she would let the Wave smash, saying all but him would be welcome. Special guest Wave-member, Big Black from MTV’s Rob and Big is proposed as an alternate, which Esther rebuffs prompting him to make his way to her on stage for a sensual slow-grind.

“I’ve never before seen this level of Donkey Kong." – Saudi Prince

Esther fires first against Alex.

"You guys know that Alex and Haiti host an open mic at Big Wangs. But really it should be called ‘Big Wang, Little Wang.”

“Good one, Ali Wrong. Esther’s the only comic that’ll ride your coat tails and have ’em dry-cleaned by 3pm.”

“Thank you, Jackie 4chan.”

“You’re welcome, Margaret Choke.”

“The only way you’ll get on TV is if they do a remake of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Faggot.”

“Esther’s just mad I got my SAG card and them titties look non-union.”

“Alex sucks at comedy. The only time he’s killed was that one time at Virginia Tech.”

“Esther is very comfortable among white people. Because she was smuggled her in a box of size 7 Jordans.”

A new peak has been hit for the evening and Jeff offers props to each roaster. Esther came in with confidence and years of experience on stage, but in the end Alex came out on top with swag and solid joke writing for which he’s awarded the victory.

Jay Light and Pat Barker take to the stage as two of the show’s most seasoned combatants. Jay adorned in a Hawaiian shirt while Pat fills out a novelty t-shirt featuring the character Squints from The Sandlot, a nudge at Jay’s nerdiness.

“This looks like Margaritaville vs. Margarita – Jeff Ross

In their pre-bell shots both more or less lay out a grocery list of one another’s defects. Pat suffered through a tragic miscarriage, Jay just got dumped and lost his tournament battle on TV. Jeff comments before any jokes are even told that this is gearing up to be one of the meanest battles on record. Pat – in his usual aggressive confidence – opts to open round one.

"It’s fitting there have already been a few rappers here tonight because Jay’s while face reminds me of old school hip-hop…”

Apparently thinking that was the punchline, some inebriant in the general admission section hollers some garbled nonsense in excitement. Pat remains composed.

“Your lips say B.I.G. and Puffy, and your eyes say NWA…”

The drunk again blurts out a groan like he just witnessed someone get hit by a car. Pat continues the joke for a third time before attacking the hostile crowd.

“Nerd With Astigmatism. You guys could wait for the punchline, you laughed at like four fucking setups. What the fuck are they doing?”

Pat realizes the misstep in going after the audience and offers a self-effacing apology which redeems him on likability. Jay finally throws a swing after the odd exchange.

“Pat’s excited to have a catch with his son. It’ll be the first time he’s tossed a pigskin that wasn’t fried and aimed toward his mouth.”

“Wow, Jay. That was pretty vicious coming from a guy who looks like a state fair caricature come to life. I am fat, but I’m on a diet. I just have a lot of cheat days that involve pizza and ice cream. Jay’s girlfriends have a lot of cheat days that involve fucking guys that aren’t Jay.”

“Pat’s as likely to lose some weight as I am to lose some white.”

The quip gets met with silence. Jay digs in.

“Too abstract for you fuckers?”

Now with both battlers having yelled at the crowd, at least the playing field is leveled and after a brief riff between the two addressing their turning on the spectators, Pat continues.

“Fuck you and your hall monitor swagger. Jay thinks he’s important because he books the battles and works the door, and Moses calls him ‘The Glue.’ They only call you The Glue because your career has been stuck in the same place since the show started.”

“Pat has a degree in management. The only thing he can’t manage is having a kid that wasn’t grown in a test tube.”

Jeff jumps right in at the bell.

“This is the angriest battle I’ve ever seen. What the fuck is going on here?”

The energy has been on a downward spiral since the conclusion of the Duong/Ku undercard for a number of reasons beyond the sudden shift from Alex and Esther’s lighthearted barbs to the darker, more personal jokes between Pat and Jay. With no Boon Shaka Laka to reset the room for the abrupt tonal shift, coupled with the drunk guy derailing the first joke, we seem to have hit a bit of a slump. Pat is given the first round in a 3-1 vote, and hope is held out that the room will recover. To see two of the show’s absolute best struggle in such a way is a bit disheartening.

Jay Light is given the decision as to who goes first in round two, and is happy to volunteer Pat to take the bullet.

“Before Jay was dumped, him and his comedian girlfriend hosted a podcast together. It’s like The Sixth Sense, because if you listen to it now you can tell their relationship was dead the whole time.”

“The podcast was called ‘You Should’ve Planned Better.’ I’m not sure why she broke up with Jay, but she now has a solo podcast called ‘You Should’ve Fucked Better.’”

“Jay’s girlfriend dumped him because of the old saying: if you love someone set them free. And if you’re just pretending to love someone because you think it’ll get you spots at The Comedy Store and then you find out you’re wrong, dump their ass.”

With that it’s now Jay’s chance to turn the battle around.

“Pat’s dad fought in Vietnam, and thanks to Pat’s squinty eyes, no one knows which side he fought for.”

“Pat, the most beautiful part of your wedding ceremony was when the priest looked at you and your wife and said ‘I now pronounce you Mr. and Mrs. Pac-Man.”

“People have made jokes about Pat’s wife being ugly. She’s not. She’s beautiful. She could be a pageant queen. In fact I heard she won Miss Carriage 2013.”

After a rocky start, Jay recovers with a miscarriage joke that Jeff calls the best of the fight so far. Megan Gailey has a hard time choosing a winner for the round.

“Do I vote for who I feel the saddest for? Who do I feel sadder for?”

An unknown comic calls out from the back:

“The audience.”

At the pop, Big Black steps on stage and snaps a laptop with his bare hands prompting howls of excitement from the previously docile crowd. With a split decision as to whether to award Pat the battle in two rounds or move to a third, the decision is made to keep going. Pat volunteers to open the round for the third straight time.

“Jay, you’re considered a success in this room and this room only. Your career is like my dead baby. It’ll never make it out of the belly.”

“Pat’s dad is a war hero, which Pat recently learned is not a sandwich.”

“Jay is in a new relationship and it’s getting pretty serious. Any day now you may hear someone pronounce them Mr. and Mrs. Jay and Flesh Light.”

“Pat is from Philadelphia, home of Boyz II Men. Also known as something Pat will never see his children become.”

“You were successfully born and I could say the same thing about your father. Jay was born into a very rich family but he gave it all up to become a Comedy Store groupie. He had to pull the silver spoon out of his mouth to make room for Moses’ dick.”

“Pat doesn’t eat eggs for breakfast because he takes them over-easy, and his wife’s eggs are scrambled.”

The judges are split with the consensus more or less that Jay won the round while Pat won the whole battle, and after some deliberation a sudden death joke-off is requested with Jay Light opening.

“When Pat thanked me for battling I said ‘sure, no sweat.’ But, obviously, Pat can’t follow directions.”

“Jay has the chemical molecule for oxytocin tattooed on his arm. And the chemical molecule for estrogen tattooed on his personality.”

Almost in unison with the closing bell, Jeff Ross calls the match a tie and the show is abruptly over. While the third round was still the best and both battlers recovered from earlier fumbles, the electric energy of earlier in the night never quite returns. It’s an anti-climactic end to what only months ago might’ve been seen as an all time battle, instead derided for its jokes being “too mean.” Is punk rock dead in the Belly Room as the show moves into the mainstream, or was this an isolated incident? Will we be forced to battle through another set of growing pains to come out stronger, or can the evening’s entire downshift simply be traced back to one drunken idiot’s misplaced laughter at the start of the main event? Only time will tell. Until then, let’s just keep on 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 11 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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