Tomorrow night, it begins. Roast Battle presents March Madness 2019: The Road To Texas. A month-long eight-comic tournament that begins in the Belly Room and ends in Houston (with pit stops in Nashville and Huntsville along the way). Our first tournament saw Leah Kayajanian crowned the new Roast Battle champion in front of a sold-out crowd at the Riot LA festival in 2016. The 2018 version featured Bryan Vokey walking away $500 richer after dominating four straight battles. This time, the stakes are higher than ever. After four weeks of battles at the Comedy Store, the two finalists will come on the road for a few shows; the finals will be held at Zanies Comedy Club for the Nashville Comedy Festival on April 11, then the next night the finalists will have battles at Stand-Up Live Huntsville, Alabama, and ultimately they’ll be squaring off again at Rockefellers in Houston on the 13th. This is your complete guide to the field before things get going tomorrow.
Keith needs no introduction at this point. As a two-time Battler of the Year with a record 37 fights under his belt, he has cemented his status as a battle legend. Of course, after we get through the requisite praise we end up at a familiar counterargument – he’s 18-19. Below .500. And in a tournament setting, the amount of classic battles you put up is irrelevant. It’s all about winning. Fortunately for Keith, he finds himself in a first-round matchup with a similar type of opponent in the 12-12-2 Joe Eurell. Joe may represent the only battler in the league who is a bigger target than Keith himself, and as a result we should be looking at an even playing field here.
FUN FACT: If Keith makes the finals, it will be a rematch. Keith has already battled five of the seven other battlers in the tournament, including all four on the opposite side of the bracket (Becannon, Fager, Keller, and Roque).
So that leads us to Joe, who will match up with Keith in the first round. Joe has spent the early parts of 2019 following Keith’s blueprint – having great battles and losing. Even in defeat Joe consistently puts forth a great effort, but his most recent battle saw him experience something he’s not used to when he completely blanked on his last joke prompting the “Jeopardy!” theme from Coach Tea. Joe remains one of the most consistently active battlers on the scene, and one has to wonder how that will affect him in the tournament. Will it prove to be an asset because he’s sharp, or a detriment because he’s burnt out? Either way, this is a big opportunity for Joe to cement his name as one of the best battlers doing it today.
FUN FACT: Joe has historically struggled with fat white dudes, taking losses to Pat Barker, Jacob Trimmer, and Tony Bartolone.
Dan represents the closest thing to a wild card we have here. In a tournament where a majority of the possible matchups would be rematches, Dan enters having only battled three of the other seven comics. He’s also gone the longest without battling, and was on the cusp of being removed from the rankings due to inactivity before the tournament was scheduled. In his most recent battle, however, he scored a win in the Undercard of the Year with Zach Stein, so he’s definitely still got what it takes to compete at the highest level. Dan is a master of clever wordplay jokes, and he’ll have a big target in the first round with Robin Tran.
FUN FACT: Dan has won Roastie Awards in a record three categories – Rookie of the Year (2016), Joke of the Year (2016), and the aforementioned Undercard of the Year (2018).
The left side of the bracket is rounded out by Robin Tran, the battler that statistically speaking is the biggest long-shot to win the tournament. With only four wins to her credit (the other battlers in the tournament have averaged almost 12), Robin will have her work cut out for her. That might cause you to underestimate her. Don’t do that. The 4-8-1 record is the result of one of the greatest per-capita fight cards in the history of the sport; her resume includes nothing but great performances against absolute monsters (without double-checking, I believe she’s the only person to ever battle Pat Barker, Keith Carey, Nicole Becannon, and Connor McSpadden). If anyone in the tournament is battled-tested, it’s Robin.
FUN FACT: If Robin beats Dan, she will face either Keith Carey (against whom she had the 2017 Five Joke Battle Of The Year) or Joe Eurell (against whom she had the 2018 Five Joke Battle Of The Year).
Aside from her recent loss to Connor McSpadden at Best of the Belly Room II, Nicole Becannon has been basically unstoppable. The reigning Battler of the Year posted a 2018 that featured a Comedy Central win, a Belly Room championship victory, and three Roastie awards. She always comes armed with great material and a likeability that’s hard to match. If Vegas were posting odds on this thing, she would probably be the favorite. That being said, the right side of the bracket is full of absolute killers, and she may find a difficult first-round battle from a stylistic standpoint (more on that in a moment).
FUN FACT: Despite this being a tournament of heavyweights, the battlers have posted shockingly poor results in actual tournaments, going a combined 2-5 in the past. Nicole represents the only one in the group with a winning record, bowing out of the 2018 tournament due to personal issues with a 1-0 record.
Remember how I mentioned Nicole’s likeability before? If there’s one comic that will be able to match that, it’s Doug Fager. His constant goofy energy and permanent shit-eating grin always manage to win over audiences, even if it’s confusing to some people. In his last battle, Jeff Ross basically wrote Doug off as being so unlikeable that he becomes likeable. While I’m not sure I’d agree with that assessment, we all reach the same conclusion – he’s easy to root for. He’s also a sensational joke writer and performer with an impressive resume who will come ready to play. Considered by many to be the best battler to have not yet been featured on TV, Doug will have a golden opportunity to prove himself here.
FUN FACT: While he’ll face a tough assignment in the former Belly Room champion Becannon, it won’t be uncharted territory – Doug has beaten FOUR different Belly Room champs (Castillo, Kayajanian, Hooper, and Duong) and never gotten a title shot.
Out of everyone in the tournament, Sarah enters will perhaps the least amount of momentum. Following a killer run that featured three-round wins over both Pat Barker and Keith Carey, Sarah has hit a little bit of a rut with losses to Omid Singh and Alex Hooper sandwiched around a close win over Zach Stein. She will also be battling the current Belly Room champ Alex Duong a mere three days before her first-round tournament fight, so it’s fair to wonder if her focus will match that of the other tourney competitors. Here’s the flip side to that coin though – momentum rarely has much to do with these tournaments. Frank Castillo was on a massive losing streak heading into Season 2. Leah Kayajanian was a mere 2-2-1 before her 2016 tournament run. Bryan Vokey was coming off a loss or two before murdering everyone last year. It doesn’t matter. Once the bell dings and the first fight starts, it’s a whole new ballgame with an even playing field.
FUN FACT: If Sarah makes it to the finals, she’ll likely see a familiar opponent – she’s already battled three of the four options and she is undefeated in those fights.
We close the brackets with the rising star of the tournament (insert shitty joke here about how he can’t actually rise), Greg Roque. Greg has had an unconventional Roast Battle run (insert shitty joke here about how he can’t actually run), debuting with a win over Joe Eurell and then immediately finding himself on Comedy Central against Frank Castillo. After that he was sporadically active before he really got rolling (insert shitty joke) and found his footing (you know what to do) around the middle of last year. Since then, big wins over Paige Wesley, Nate Banditelli, Armando Torres, and Zahra Ali have landed him in this spot. In the past the tournaments have served as a launching pad for certain underrated fighters – could Greg Roque fit that bill this year?
FUN FACT: At 8-3, Greg has both the fewest number of total battles under his belt… and the highest winning percentage of anyone in the tournament.