As I mentioned a few weeks ago, one of the most exciting things about watching the development of a new Roast Battle dojo is seeing the difference in roasting styles develop across the coasts. Even Roastmasters host Luis J. Gomez has his own twist on LA’s famous “at the end of every battle, we hug” rule:

“That’s a faggy LA thing. I feel like here, at the end of it, the loser gets punched in the face and we ban them from comedy for a month.”

Shots fired.

After introducing the judges’ panel for the week – Impractical Jokers’ Sal Vulcano, returning judge Ari Shaffir, recent battler and rising star Liza Treyger, and special guest advisor Jeff Ross – Luis calls the night’s first battle to the stage: Gibran Saleem versus Alex Pavone.

Once again, the New York style of using long, intricate jokes was on display, particularly with Gibran’s material, which meandered through lengthy setups peppered with smaller attempts at punches. Often, only the closing lines would work: 

“Alex Pavone’s career has as much movement as the bodies of Cosby’s victims.”
“Alex Pavone has been molested so many times he thinks he deserves it. True fact: he does!”
“Alex Pavone looks like if Mankind the wrestler wrestled with AIDS. He has the determination of a cancer survivor as well as the body. The only difference between Alex and cancer is Alex takes longer to kill and cancer has a home.”

Alex’s material wasn’t always as biting as Gibran’s, though his energy on stage and disdain for Gibran’s long jokes helped propel him through the round:

“Gibran uses the same premises as every brown comic. You should be called Russell Repeaters.”
“Gibran Saleem, which in English means swipe left. SHORT AND SWEET! FUCK! KEEP IT MOVING! WE’RE THE FIRST ACT!”

The judges and audience agreed that the first round was basically a train wreck:

“Thank you for having me, this is so cool. I can’t wait for the Roast Battle to start.” – Sal Vulcano
“I feel like this was so bad, it was like the Special Olympics of Roast Battle. They should get gold medals then go home.” – Jeff Ross
Liza gave her vote to the only aspect of the round that stuck out in her mind:
“Who had the cancer joke? I remember laughing at that.” – Liza

Ari and Sal voted for the looser Alex, giving him the W. Luis called for Alex to begin the second round, which he promptly did by fucking up his first two jokes. Then, his strikes finally landed:

“Gibran’s a little creepy, I wouldn’t let him around kids. I wouldn’t say he’s like Jared from Subway or anything, though, because Jared’s done a tight 7 before.”
“I don’t know much about Pakistan. I know their national sport is cricket, Gibran doesn’t play it, but they’re all he hears every time he tells a joke.”

Gibran went dark. And by dark, I mean slightly racist:

“Watching Alex Pavone’s act is like watching Eric Garner’s video on YouTube: all you hear is yelling while a body shakes uncontrollably." 

The crowd doesn’t like this, booing and chanting "Black Lives Matter!” I’ve rarely seen such a poor crowd reaction at a joke that actually got some laughs. Gibran tells us the next joke is worse. Someone from the back yells out “Longer?” and gets a bigger laugh than either of the battlers.

“Alex Pavone’s act has more screams than Thomas Jefferson’s female slaves.”

It was worse. 

“That was, like, an incomplete, right?” – Sal Vulcano
"Please don’t make us do another round.” – Luis J. Gomez
“I feel like your parents aren’t embarassed enough.” – Liza Treyger                 “I just can’t believe I wasted half a joint on this show.” – Jeff Ross

Before he votes, Ari admonishes Gibran for milking his time and only telling two jokes in his allotted thirty seconds. Though Gibran gets Ari’s vote in the end since “the other guy didn’t have any good jokes at all,” Liza and Sal both vote for Alex, sealing his victory.

With the warm-up battle out of the way, it’s time for the first big bout of the night: Sean Donnelly versus Jono Zalay. Luis’ roasty intros draw return fire from the contenders:

“Thank you, Puerto Rican Good Charlotte!” – Sean Donnelly

One coin toss later and the first round is underway:

“Jono looks awful tonight. You look like the guy at the IRS in charge of the birthday parties.”
“Sean Patrick Donnelly was born May 19th, 1978. His middle name is Patrick because the hospital wouldn’t allow the name Sean Shillelagh Leprechaun Crippling Alcoholism Shamrock Donnelly.”
“What kind of shitty mustache is that? You look like you run an open mic at the Dallas Buyer’s Club.”
“You can tell Sean’s Irish from everything about him. You would know by the way he eats French fries like there’s another potato famine around the corner.”

Jono’s jokes slay, while Sean’s enthusiastic demeanor overpowers weaker material, especially when he interacts with the unresponsive audience:

“You look exactly like me, you should have laughed. There’s a brotherhood that’s supposed to happen here, you fat fuck!”

The judges like Jono’s jokes, but Sean’s winning attitude earns more praise:

“I love Sean’s confidence! I don’t know where you get it from.” – Liza
“In the end, laughed harder at Sean. I kind of want him to be my alcoholic dad.” – Sal

Sal and Liza both vote for Sean, while Ari goes with Jono, calling Sean out for getting more laughs with riffing and not with his actual material.

The Roastmaster General provides his signature insight:

“It was one of those rare times, Sean, where you win the round but have the shittier jokes…that’s the mark of a great comedian: When your jokes don’t necessarily work but you’re still funnier than the other guy.”
“I think they fucking worked! Fuck you assholes!” – Sean Donnelly
“And the mark of a star is being able to take a compliment and shut the fuck up.”

Jono, having lost, elects to start round two. He spends his entire thirty seconds on a scathing list:

“Sean, if you ever move to Hollywood, you’d have no trouble getting a role as any of these: head chef at a restaurant that specializes in nachos, Mrs. Potato Head’s first husband, prison softball umpire, open-faced corned beef sandwich, a sex tourist in Buffalo because you can’t afford the trip to Thailand, an overnight security guard at a hot dog factory, the partner that a renegade cop is assigned to as punishment, the poor dispatcher who notifies fishermen’s wives that they died at sea.”

Sean fires back with a few jokes that land:

“Jono is Hungarian. A lot of people don’t know this, but his name is Hungarian for ‘can I do your show.’”
“Jono went to school for neuroscience, and then became a comedian, then dated Kaytlin Bailey, which begs the question, ‘is there a limit to disappointing your parents?’”
“You dated Kaytlin Bailey, who is a former prositute, so you even dated someone who got paid to do something they love before you did.”

However, none of the response to Sean’s jokes reaches the dizzying heights Jono achieved. Ari calls out Luis for fudging the time limits in favor of Sean:

“I gave Sean a couple extra seconds because he was so slow.” – Luis J. Gomez
“Just like his mile time.” – Jono Zalay

Ultimately, Jono wins round two in a clean sweep, paving the way for a crackerjack round three:

“Jono earned his PhD giving cocaine to rats, which marks the only occasion he left an audience wanting to come back for more.”
“Sean isn’t a cop because he was too winded to finish an obstacle course. It also explains why the NYPD had no sympathy when they heard the phrase ‘I Can’t Breathe.’”
“You could have been a doctor, saving lives around the world. Now you’re here, saving open mic spots for people around the city.”
“Perhaps the least believable thing about Sean is that he’s a picky eater. But it’s true: he doesn’t put syrup on pancakes nor cheese on burgers. Instead, he puts pancakes on burgers, adds lo mein, covers it in gravy, and eats it off the floor without hands.”
“The only difference between Jono and Hitler is that Hitler’s mustache wasn’t the most interesting thing about him.”
“I should think Sean would be good at catching child molesters, since he can smell the candy in their van from a mile away.”
“How do you pull off looking like the sex offender and the cop that arrested him?”
“I asked Sean if he had any interesting details before the roast, to which he replied, ‘oh, my dad died, so you can use that.’ Thanks a lot, Sean. That’s super fucking sad and nobody will laugh at that, which I suppose is two more things your dad’s death has in common with your Letterman set.”

Jono’s bravado and sharp joke writing finally get the better of the jolly Sean Donnelly:

“I give it to the 1970s vice squad.” – Ari
“I’m gonna go with who needs it more, and that’s Jono.” – Liza
“I gotta give it to the best joke, which was the I Can’t Breathe joke.” – Sal

A hush falls over the crowd before the main event: bundle of joy Pete Lee versus bundle of muscle Aaron Berg. Pete and Aaron both fit the lengthier New York style to a T, with layered jokes and biting tags that sting long after the main punch:

“Aaron is a very good friend of mine, and today is his birthday, so give a big round of applause for Travel-Sized Vin Diesel.”
“Pete is so nice, he’d even welcome AIDS. ‘Hey AIDS, welcome to my body! I lost 30 pounds in a week. Silver lining. I’m from Wisconsin.’”
“Thanks, Bruce Willis of the Shire.”
“Pete’s opening joke on his Comedy Central Presents was, ‘My name is Pete Lee. I was hoping I’d be Asian too.’ His parents also wish he was Asian, and a girl, and their second born, so they can drown him.”
“Aaron, look at you. You look like you’re proving every Jewish stereotype wrong with your big muscles, by squeezing every penny out of your gym membership. You look like Arnold Schwartz.”
“As you can tell by Pete’s body, yes, he is divorced. It’s an honor to roast Pete Lee. I Googled his name, and ‘Pete Lee comedy’ came up in the results after ‘Pete Lee divorce’. More people care about Pete’s divorce than Pete’s comedy because less people have seen his comedy than banged his ex-wife.”

The end of the round sees some jokes that causes the audience to react a bit defensively, but it’s clear that these two friends have no qualms about talking so much shit on each other, which is the goal of every great roast battle. Sal and Liza both vote for Aaron, and Ari votes for Pete, blaming it on Aaron’s attempt to make chlamydia sound like a problem dealt with exclusively by black people.

“It is more of a black name.” – Jeff Ross

The Roastmaster General commends the contenders on putting out such a strong first round, urging them to keep up their A-game as the second round gets underway.

Aaron, sharply-dressed and showing steely resolve, kicks off the round:

“Pete has moved on from his ex-wife and has a lovely new girlfriend named Emily. She has a tattoo on her lower back that says "sorry i’m not a guy but keep going anyway Pete.”
“Pete’s ex-wife has a tattoo of a bullseye on her tits and an arrow pointing to it that says "Black Lives Splatter.”
“Pete Lee’s hairstyle is called a fauxhawk, which is just a mohawk that’s pretending it didn’t go through a vicious divorce.”
“Pete’s performance on stage is like a condom. You find it in places that fun occurs, but you don’t feel anything and you know the closer’s gonna end up in the trash.”
“Pete’s act is like date rape. He seemed nice enough and was smiling the whole time, but afterwards you know it was just wrong.”
“Pete’s on Best Week Ever, or as he calls it, ‘Isn’t Every Day Of The Week The Best Week Ever? I’m A Fag!’”

Pete, grinning and boisterous, is ready to fire right back:

“Thank you, cancer patient Carrot Top.”
“Some of those hurt a little bit, and right now I wish I could just ignore you completely, so I’m just gonna act like I work for Comedy Central.”
“It’s ironic that you used to have an apartment overlooking Toronto, because now that you live in New York, you get completely overlooked by Montreal.”
“Aaron, the comedy industry ignores you more than Jackie Mason ignored Sheba Mason.”
“Aaron, the industry hates you more than the audience hated the first roast.”

The round goes to Pete in a unanimous decision. Jeff continues to shower the battlers with praise, with Aaron’s delivery and Pete’s enthusiasm being high points of the bout.

They’ve got their work cut out for them in round three, but these pros have no problem getting that work done:

“Pete’s comedy is like an I Love New York shirt. Locals hate it, you want to get rid of it after seeing it twice, and only tourists pay for it.”
“Aaron used to be an exotic male dancer. It’s great that they let him keep the wardrobe.”
“These divorce jokes I did are sad, but Pete’s a comic, and in true form, he turned it into edgy comedy gold like ‘My wife uses so many lotions and moisturizers in the shower!’ Replace lotions and moisturizers with ‘random chlamydia dicks’ and you’ll know the truth.”
“That one hurt, thumbnail image Jason Statham.”
“Pete’s ex-wife didn’t cheat on him in his car, because four black dudes couldn’t fit in a Fiat 500.”
“Aaron, I love that you have two Hebrew tattoos on your arms. You’re so deep. So tortured. I just want to know, how did you find the Hebrew words that meant ‘sun’s out, guns out’?”
“Pete came from a small town called Janesville, WI, a population of 63,575. He missed his home so much he let 63,575 people bang his ex-wife.”

Sal votes for Aaron, and Liza switches her vote from Aaron to Pete for dramatic effect. Ari Shaffir mulls over his options, disagreeing with Aaron’s heavy references to Pete’s ex-wife instead of just roasting Pete. But, in the end, he feels Aaron’s jokes still had the necessary edge to win, giving him the final vote and the win overall.

In the end, tonight proved that some of the best battlers are the ones who are most in tune with their own voice as a comic. Even if your jokes aren’t all bangers, likability is still a huge factor in the Roast Battle ring, and it’s important to not get dark for the sake of getting dark. Ultimately, the point of Roast Battle isn’t to be mean-spirited; it’s to bust balls the way only close friends can, digging deep and hitting hard with a smile on your face. Though, as an LA battler, I suppose that viewpoint could seem a little faggy.

post by Jay Light

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