by Dan Nolan, photos by Troy Conrad
Of all the evening’s sixteen battlers, Steven Alan Green is the only one who gets to park in the lot downstairs, or hang out in the back bar and order drinks at a discounted price. His name is on the wall outside, and his headshot still hanging in the hallowed hallway. When he steps on stage to battle Houston comedy’s Nia De-Bose, though, expectations remain low among the more perennial attendees of the comedy coliseum that is the upstairs of the black box theater known as the Belly Room. In the world of competitive insult comedy, Steven Alan Green has taken far worse than he’s had an opportunity to give.
Thirty-some years back, at a time when paid regular status at The World Famous Comedy Store was the first major step on a clear-cut path through The Tonight Show and on to television superstardom, Steven Alan Green was passed by the club’s own Queen of comedy kingmakers, Mitzi Shore. He remained in residence through a long chunk of the venue’s storied heyday. Years later, at the tail end of the comedy boom, Steven expatriated to Britain and found some continued success before a series of career missteps and misfortune led him to the Belly Room on a Tuesday night with all the cards stacked against him.
Nia De-Bose is an up-and-coming ten-year comedy veteran out of St. Louis by way of the Houston standup scene. She’s an extraordinary talent, and before the introductions are even over, her victory seems inevitable. Nia confidently offers to open the round and the evening’s first fight kicks off quickly.
“Steven, the only thing more stalled than your career is the abandoned car you sleep in.”
“I’m glad you took time away from shooting Luke Cage to be here tonight.”
Steven gets as solid a pop as he ever has in competition, though it still seems like it’ll be Nia’s night until her next joke fails to land.
“The only way you could drag Steven Alan Greezy into a shower is if you drag him off a boxcar from Auschwitz.”
“Wow, I’m double parked and they’re still laughing at that one. Nia DeBose is so horrifying-looking, she’s going out on Halloween as Nia DeBose.”
Despite the dud from Nia, both Steven’s rebuttal and second joke fall equally as flat, and suddenly it could be anybody’s game, or – just as easily – nobody’s.
“Steven Alan Green has burned more Jewish bridges than a Nazi Panzer division.”
Nia’s WWII tank warfare reference is lost on the crowd, and it suddenly becomes clear that after decades of downward spiral that’s left him homeless, living out of the car he drives for Uber, Steven Alan Green can turn the gears back in the other direction, if even just for one brief moment.
“Nia DeBose likes to hang out with the people from Black Lives Matter. In fact, she has a nickname: ‘the exception.’”
The crowd explodes. Even House Hater Earl Skakel offers praise before Moses tosses to Jason and Randy Sklar, who haven’t seen Steven in years. The trio get right into it like old friends. Just a couple long-time comics busting balls in one of the smoothest exchanges between judge and battler the show might’ve ever seen in an undercard.
“It’s good to see you guys. Did you ever get a career?” – Steven Alan Green
“I love that you’re big in England. It looks like you’re getting big in America, too.” – Jason Sklar, on Steven’s weight gain
“Your wife’s pussy puts on calories.” – Steven Alan Green, setting the room on fire.
The whole thing feels like that scene in Sunset Boulevard when Norma Desmond returns to the studio lot after decades of solitude in her mansion since the death of silent movies. The spotlight hits her and suddenly everyone remembers who she is, or was, and she’s swarmed with adoring fans. However hard the past fifteen-or-so years have been, Steven Alan Green has still got it. Maybe he’s as big as he ever was, and it’s just the audiences that got small.
Less cinematic, though still entertaining, is the second fight of the show’s first quarter where Kevin McNamara makes his debut, trouncing underdog Darran Davis.
Kevin McNamara is a good dude. Still a newcomer to Comedy Store’s Monday night festival of disappointment known as the Potluck, he’s quickly integrated into the community by showing up, doing the work, being funny, and still remaining the most fuckable person in the room wherever he goes.
That being said, it’s hard not to root for his opponent, Darran Davis. Darran’s goofy charm opposite Kevin’s hulking masculinity and poised demeanor make him the clear underdog in this fight on optics alone. It doesn’t matter that experience is on his side, when so much of Roast Battle is guided by the senses.
Kevin’s introduction is smooth as silk and self-effacing as he dances along to Coach Tea’s choice of intro music, N’SYNC’s ‘Bye Bye Bye.’ Darran, in contrast, is brought up to the ‘Power Rangers’ theme song, prompting raucous laughter from the crowd.
“Kevin’s a pretty boy who’s not all there. Just like his father.”
“Darran almost got laid once but the girl wrote her number on the back of his hand in sharpie.”
“Kevin’s so generic he was typecasted as the fuckboy next door.”
“Darran is black and a faggot, which means he’d probably have AIDS if his sickle-cell would allow it.”
“Kevin maintains his body by eating dicks on stage.”
“Darran’s a lot like Trayvon Martin. Nothing is funny about him and he’s getting murdered by a white guy.”
The room explodes at Kevin’s closer and unlike with his last appearance in battle, Darran is unable to overcome the room’s bloodthirst for sweet, delicious racism. The battle is clearly over, but Darran is kept on stage a bit for some playful roasting by the Sklar
Brothers that culminates in Darran doing the “Carlton” dance, and a chant of “Hard Wayne Brady! Hard Wayne Brady!”
Kevin won the fight fair and square with better-written jokes, but afterwards Darran still managed to keep the vote close by winning the audience over.
Kelsey Cook and Dave Williamson don’t seem to know each other all too well as they make their way through their introductions to the crowd. They seem both settled into comedy’s middle class, earning more or less a living at their craft. Kelsey tours with Jim Norton, and Dave occasionally opens for our own Jeff Ross, whether Jeff knows it or not – which he apparently does not. Dave fires the first shot.
“Alright, you guys just heard that Kelsey is on Jim Norton’s ‘Mouthful of Shame’ tour, which is also the name of her comedy business plan.”
“You think I blow Jim Norton? I can kiss your mouth if you wanna know what a successful dick tastes like. Can I do a real joke? Dave’s Dad left him when he was a year old. It’s hard to do well in comedy when you start by walking half the crowd.”
“Kelsey has a Youtube channel dedicated to applying makeup, which proves the saying, ‘you can put lipstick on a pig, but it still won’t be funny.’”
“Dave takes his kids on the road with him in an RV to show them that failure is not an option, it’s their destiny.”
“Kelsey is a professional foosball player. Her pussy is like a foosball table, whatever frat guy does best gets to stay for another turn.”
“Halloween is next week. Dave’s kids are so excited to go trick-or-treating. It’s the only night of the year where it’s okay for them to go door to door begging for food.”
Kelsey is commended for her writing, and Dave for his delivery by the judges. Both battlers make it through the three jokes without a dud, though neither ever seems to open the room up entirely. On any evening other than what’s likely one of the dopest lineup we’ve ever seen on a Tuesday night, this could have been a much more memorable matchup, but with eight fights to cover before a deadline, it’s hard to wax poetic about a perfectly competent debut for two veteran standups.
Next up is a clash between two friends of Moses’, with Nicole Aimee Schreiber vs. Justine Marino. This is the first of two all-female undercards, and both ladies come ready to kill.
“I handed out free samples at Costco, but you’ve handed out so many free samples you should have a toothpick through your pussy.”
“If you’ve ever had a conversation with Nicole, you know she suffers from aggressive IBS. Her ass is such a shithole, there’s open micers living in it.”
“Justine’s comedy is like HPV. 1 out of 4 of us will get it and nobody likes it.”
“Nicole, your pussy is so fucked up it inspired the Upside Down on Stranger Things.”
“Justine fucks a white DJ from Denver. She may not write jokes, but she definitely fucks one.”
“Nicole’s dad has Parkinson’s. That or he’s just still shaking from watching her bomb on Oxygen’s ‘Funny Girls.’”
Justine’s last joke is stepped on by Jason Sklar, and she kills it with a Parkinson’s act out when she’s given a chance at another joke. However it’s not enough to overcome the crowd’s adoration of Nicole who comes out with a second straight victory with killer material.
Keeping in the theme of comics battling their own similar “types,” our next undercard featured Anish Shah coming out on top over bottom Sameer Suri.
Sameer’s swagger is as on point as ever, with his adorable limp wrist, bushy eyebrows and Joan Rivers-esque cadence. He opens the round against Anish.
“Anish performs in India. Well, they would love him in a country that measures a man’s value in rape victims.”
“Great joke, Disease Ansari. Sameer is like a sommelier, he can tell you the age, vintage and origin of any strain of herpes.”
“Anish is the dullest man on the planet. If they put him in the attic with Anne Frank, she would’ve called the Nazis on herself.”
“Sameer’s been fucked by over a hundred guys, but he’s never had a dick that’s thicker than her eyebrows.”
“Despite his divorce, Anish has a new relationship. I think. We’ll see what she says when the Rohypnol wares off.”
“Sameer’s a hipster, so he’ll get his AIDS the old fashioned way: from an organic monkey.”
Despite being such a natural on stage, Sameer can’t quite pull it off against the solid material and unshaken stage presence of Anish Shah, and leaves with his third consecutive loss.
Opening the show’s third quarter is probably the best all-female matchup the show’s ever seen in the undercards, with “Lotto Grotto” co-hosts Rachel Mac and Logan Guntzelman in a resting bitch face-off. Logan is brand new to the ring, but her experience as one of L.A. open mic comedy’s rising stars is plenty enough reason for her to stand up to Rachel Mac, whose debut win against Matt LeGrande was enough to get her added to Roast Battle’s elite top-50 power rankings. Rachel starts the round.
“Logan looks as if she just farted and is proud no one noticed”
“I’m so glad you made it to the battle, Rachel, I was worried you wouldn’t find parking for The Magic School Bus.”
“Logan’s Dad campaigns to end slut-shaming because he’s sick of paying for Logan’s therapy.”
“Rachel has resting ‘I’m gonna blog about this’ face.”
“Logan calls herself a social activist, but really she just lets black guys cum on her face.”
“If you close your eyes when Rachel talks, you can almost hear how dry her pussy is.”
The audience is blown to pieces. In six short jokes, the round is too close to call as the crowd and judges call for overtime, with Jeff Ross chiming in.
“I feel like the winner gets a cat.”
Logan bites the bullet, opening the impromptu second round.
“Rachel does comedy whenever she can get away from her other job: haunting Civil War battlefields.”
“Logan looks like a 40 year old got plastic surgery and then celebrated with Taco Bell.”
There’s a weird sound that moves through the room after the second closing joke hits, where the audience has a collective realization that it wasn’t as big a pop as the first person’s joke, and it’s clear that there’s a winner. Logan and Rachel are the stars of the evening and we can only hope they’ll keep coming back for more.
For the evening’s final undercard, Omid Singh sets his sights on Canadian battle rapper Corey Charron. Omid dedicates this match to Jamar Neighbors, who lost to Charron in his last battle, giving him whatever credibility got him battling top-tier opponents he’s never met before. Charron comes up and seems put off by the request to spit some bars. He asks for three suggestions from the crowd to prove he’s really freestyling, and then just completely disregards them to spit something irrelevant with a Donald Trump reference. The bell rings for the round and Omid opens with a rap of his own.
“Charron is a white rapper from Canada who thinks he’s hard. But the only fight he’s ever been is with the sun, you fucking retard.”
“I find it ironic he did a rap, Omid was actually in the movie ‘8 Mile… Radius from High Schools.’”
It might be easier to do a rap as a comedian than it is to do comedy as a rapper, or at least that’s likely the case in what is essentially a joke writing competition. Correy’s joke gets more of a polite “ah hah!” where Omid’s risk pays off with a solid pop. Also, it may have hurt that the word “ironic” doesn’t mean whatever Correy thinks it does. Omid offers a rebuttal to the 8 Mile reference.
“You were in 8 Mile playing the part of Mom’s Spaghetti.”
The room breaks up and he launches into another pre-written joke.
“Charron tried to get on BET, but they were like ‘Nah, fuck you, go to HGTV’”
“Omid reminds me of the NBA finals, because he’s got the hairline of LeBron and he smells like Curry.”
“Charron looks like he got his beats from the farmer’s market.”
“If your people created the Kama Sutra, how come your career is always in the same fucking position?”
By the end, Correy Charron has made up some lost ground, but Omid is still clearly the winner, returning to peak fighting form after a short run of lackluster performances.
Keith Carey and Kim Congdon is a matchup so good even just on paper that it’s a complete shock that in the 2 years these battlers have been among the show’s top ranks that it somehow hasn’t happened sooner. Kim has been less involved the past year or so. Her last victory came against Jay Light on the same night a man was gunned down on The Comedy Store’s patio during their battle. Her handful of fights since that time included losses to Connor McSpadden, Omid Singh and even a shocking upset by Pete Cornachionne at the start of last year’s tournament.
Keith Carey steps to the stage second and comes out swinging immediately.
“First of all, bitch, why’d you bring your purse on stage? Are you worried someone’s gonna steal your $6 and one Plan B pill?”
It’s a murderous shot before the bell even rings, and with no rebuttal from Kim, Keith takes an early lead, and opens the first round as well.
“Kim Congdon has a body for porn, and a face for cheaper porn”
“Keith looks like a fat guy got stung by a bee”
“Kim is half Native American, and every time she gets booked, all I can think is ‘How’”
“Keith’s eyes are so small because they’re the only part of him that works out”
“Kim supports black lives matter, because who else is gonna settle for her when she gets fat again.”
“Keith looks like breathing makes him run out of breath.”
The judges are basically split, but the round is awarded to her as the only vote actually cast went her way. Keith volunteers her to open round two.
“Keith has depression, but he doesn’t cut himself, he lets Comedy Central do that for him.”
“No one in Keith’s family has been on TV. But his mom has done 30 Rocks.”
“Keith’s the only person I know whose drug addiction is six months older than he is.”
Kim’s second round is flawless, and after such a fire first, it becomes an uphill climb for Keith Carey.
“For Kim, opportunities are like dicks, if you put one in front of her, she’s gonna blow it.”
“Kim’s standup proves that women can be funny, but they surely don’t have to be.”
“Many people have accused Kim of taking jokes from better comedians. That’s absurd. Kim can’t read.”
Keith doesn’t miss a joke either, and while on crowd reaction, Kim might have edged him, the closeness of the first round and the overall quality of jokes are more than enough to bring us to our third and final haymaker round. Both battlers throw out their final jokes.
“Keith just got his own spinoff series on Netflix called House of Carbs.”
“Kim is a big supporter of Colin Kaepernick, because she knows what it’s like to be a second-string nobody who does their best work on their knees.”
“Keith lost his virginity to a Juggalo, because the only pussy he can get is Insane Clown Pussy.”
“Kim’s standup comedy is so lazy, if it had a body it would be my body.”
“Keith is bisexual, which means he has girlfriends, and AIDS.”
“It’s true. I am fat and bisexual, and Kim is a lot like my stomach. 120 pounds filled with cum and garbage.”
Keith’s closer is so strong it almost prompts a joke-off before Jeff Ross intervenes and forces the other judges to call the round before making a decision on overtime. The vote is close, but Kim’s performance was just solid enough to sweep the second round of voting. Any time a battle is as solid as this evening’s was, the audience can’t help but clamor for a sudden-death fourth round, and it’s a tough spot for battlers to risk saving a knockout punch for an opportunity that might not even come to fruition. Overall, Keith’s performance and jokes was everything you could hope for from a two-time battler of the year, but the strength with which Kim brought it, coming back for her first win in over a year, was undeniable.
For such an overpacked fight card, the evening never seemed to drag, from the first battle to the last. It was one of those rare evenings where everything hit, or before it could fall flat was picked up and repurposed by any number of comic greats to keep the wheels in motion. Roast Battle is a show that’s built for that. Great comics can turn their weaknesses into strengths, or bad jokes into beautiful moments. It’s a show that can go off the rails at any minute, but somehow never quite seems to. See you next week. Let’s roast.
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