by Pat Barker

For the month of
October, I will be making a new Top Ten Roast Battle list every week. This week’s
subject: battlers getting their “big shot”.

This Tuesday night, after all of the undercards are wrapped
up and Boon Shaka-laka has fired the crowd up with what will surely be a
stirring rendition of “Proud Mary”, it will be time for the main event. On one
side of the stage will be Dan Nolan, the owner of a 7-4 record, two Roastie
awards, and a number 13 overall ranking. This will be Dan’s eighth main event,
during which time he’s racked up some impressive victories. On the other side
of the stage will be Lindsey Jennings. Her tale of the tape is a little
different. Two wins, three losses, and a tie. No main events. No ranking. But
she’s shown enough in consistently good undercards to make the leap to the
final battle of the night. While this may seem like a mismatch on paper, we’ve
seen enough instances of battlers stepping out of their perceived weight class
and stunning the world. Basically, Roast Battle should always be approached with
an Any Given Sunday attitude – anybody can beat anybody on any given night.

I experienced this personally in July of last year. On a
random Tuesday, I (almost sheepishly) approached Frank Castillo and asked if he’d
like to go head-to-head at some point. I didn’t expect him to say yes. I was
4-1, but Frank was the former CHAMP. Frank was the one who had just delivered a
Battle of the Year contender with Jay Light in front of Dave Chappelle, a
battle so good that Chappelle asked them to re-do it as an opening act for one
of his shows a few months later. To my surprise, Frank instantly accepted my
challenge. Some people care about rankings and records and don’t see the
benefit in taking someone “beneath” them. Other people welcome all challengers
as long as they think it will make for a good fight. I got lucky and found
someone in the latter category, and now so has Lindsey. But how do battlers
fare in their first big fight? Let’s look at the top ten instances and find
out.

The Battle: Toby
Muresianu vs. Keith Carey

This is a little bit different, as Toby was pretty highly
regarded at the time. Still, he had yet to score a big main event win over a
top contender. The rankings had fizzled out at this point, but if they were
being maintained Toby would’ve probably been somewhere in the 25-35 range.
Keith Carey, on the other hand, is the two-time Battler of the Year. He entered
the battle as a heavy favorite and ended up taking a decisive loss after Toby
dropped a knockout punch in the final round. The upset was so great that it
earned Toby a Roastie for upset of the year.

The Grade: A

Hard to give a grade below A when you march in and beat
perhaps the most popular Roast Battler (non-Skakel division). Add to the fact
that both guys took the battle on about two weeks’ notice, and Toby’s
performance is even more impressive.

The Aftermath: His
Stock Keeps Rising

Toby’s only gotten better since this fight, chalking up
additional wins over Doug Fager, Dan Nolan, and David Deery (more on that
later). He’s jumped all the way up to number four in the rankings and is
considered a top title contender.

The Battle: Wub
Savell vs. Omid Singh

Our second performance is only a couple weeks old at this point,
as Wub Savell took a swing at Omid Singh in a #37 vs. #9 battle. In this one,
Omid’s experience (13 battles to Wub’s four) shined through as he delivered a
more complete performance with better jokes and took the win. Wub had a couple
of highlights, but overall delivered a pretty run-of-the-mill performance.

The Grade: C-

Perhaps the frustrating thing with Wub Savell is that his
debut was the greatest thing anyone had ever seen. His first battle was an absolute
decimation of Brandon Brickz that people still talk about; it’s an awfully high
bar to clear and he hasn’t been able to do it yet. Perhaps that’s an unfair
standard to hold him to, but it’s the reality of the situation. Wub is
definitely main event material, but in this September clash he looked
outmatched.

The Aftermath: To Be
Determined

Simply too early to tell.

The Battles: David
Deery vs. Dan Nolan and Toby Muresianu

David Deery had an interesting Roast Battle run to start his
career – three fights, all classics, and no wins. He was the only winless
battler (0-1-2) to be ranked and everyone knew that the record was not indicative
of his skills. Enter the aforementioned Dan Nolan to give Deery a big shot in a
#8 vs. #41 fight. Deery took advantage, hitting Nolan from all angles in a
decisive win, and jumped up to #28 as a result. The ranking didn’t last long,
as he got another big shot against Toby Muresianu (#28 vs. #6) and took an
absolute beating in one of the most one-sided main events in recent memory. The
net result of his Chutes and Ladders rankings adventure is +2, as he dropped
back to 39.

The Grades: A-/F

The Dan Nolan battle was great! The Toby Muresianu battle
was not! Any questions?

The Aftermath: A
Battling Break?

Deery’s continued his run of stand-up comedy success and is
about to embark on a three week long European tour, but there are no signs of
his next fight anywhere on the horizon.

The Battle: Olivia
Grace vs. Ashley Barnhill

This was a little different for two reasons. First, Ashley
didn’t give Olivia a shot, as this was a booked battle for Jason Reitman’s
Sundance Film, and second, I’m not sure many people who had seen all of their
battles really considered Olivia any type of underdog. Both were undefeated – Ashley
at 6-0 and Olivia at 3-0 – but Ashley had taken a lot of easy battles en route
to that mark. Still, Ashley Barnhill had displayed sharp writing in the past
and was the recipient of a level of hype befitting a 6-0 battler, so she
entered the fight as a favorite. We all know what happened from there, as
Olivia absolutely bludgeoned Ashley in this one round clash, and cemented her
legendary Roast Battle status in the process.

The Grade: A+++

This could not have possibly gone any better for Olivia
Grace.

The Aftermath: An
Absolute Roller Coaster

From there, Olivia lost her undefeated mark to Keith Carey,
battled Leah Kayajanian to a draw in one of the best fights ever, got banned
from The Comedy Store after an age crackdown, took a loss to Earl Skakel at the
Riot LA Festival, managed to get on Comedy Central despite the Belly Room
inactivity, killed it in a rematch with Leah at the Road to Roast Battle
taping, went to Montreal and immediately almost died while slicing her leg
open, lost in the first round of the tournament while doped up on pain pills,
and just turned 21 and made her triumphant return to the Store as a judge last
week. Pretty crazy run, but Olivia seems poised to be a part of the Roast
Battle family – both on and off camera – for a long time.

The Battle: Joe Dosch
vs. Guy Branum

Another fight from that same night, one that featured one of
us (the recognized Champion and Belly
Room regular) vs. one of them (a
headliner who dropped in only for special events) for the first time that I had
been aware of. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t as dramatic as I’m making it
seem, but there was a definite gap in resumes between the two battlers. Joe and
Guy waged a highly entertaining war with Guy taking the decision based on
superior stage presence.

The Grade: B-

Joe represented himself very well here, and I’ve always
thought that on paper he had the stronger jokes. Battles don’t take place on
paper, however, and Guy was able to overwhelm him with a greater performance.
Still, solid battle from Joe.

The Aftermath: An Ascension
to Headliner

After this fight, Joe Dosch morphed into a Guy Branum type –
someone who was more interested in big one-round battles for special events
than three-rounders on a random Tuesday in the Belly Room. His fight card since
then includes a Keith Carey battle at the Comedy Central taping, a Connor
McSpadden battle at Riot LA, and a couple of classic extended undercards with
Earl Skakel and Jamar Neighbors. Joe’s never been a guy who cares about records
or rankings or titles, just putting on quality performances in big spots. Hard
to argue with the success he’s gotten out of it, and when casting rolls around
for Season Two, his name will have to be near the top of the list.

The Battle: Robin
Tran vs. Keith Carey

Another very recent battle, this one immediately preceded
Omid vs. Wub. In this battle, the challenger not only put up a great fight but
left the stage victorious. Robin Tran followed an impressive Roast Battle debut
with three consecutive losses. Although the battles were all great, a 1-3
record will have pretty much anyone on the outside looking in when it comes to
the ranks. But much like he did against Toby, Keith Carey stepped up and gave a
lower ranked (in this case, unranked) person a shot at the throne. And just
like Toby, Robin stepped up and delivered a complete performance with excellent
jokes. Although this wasn’t a main event, the extended undercard gave Robin
ample opportunity to display her joke writing skill and prove that she belonged
back in the Top 50.

The Grade: A+

It’s hard to imagine this going much better for Robin. Her
jokes were clever, mean, and above all else, hilarious.

The Aftermath: To Be
Determined

We’re going to have to wait to see how this one plays out.

The Battle: Christi
Chiello vs. Jimmy Carr

In this instance, we take a break from Belly Room action and
make the cross over to Comedy Central. I was hesitant to put any type of
tournament battles on here, as the point of the list is supposed to be people giving shots to lower ranked battlers.
With a tournament, you face who the brackets say you face. But nobody can deny
that a comic with 3,000 Twitter followers is getting a big opportunity facing
one with six million, and that’s what happened here. Though she lost rather
convincingly, Christi had sort of a Rocky-like quality to her. Remember, he
didn’t beat Apollo Creed in the original film. There’s something to be said for
going the distance and being likeable, and in that way, Christi Chiello was a
winner. In a more official way, she was the loser and Jimmy Carr was the
winner. But hey, semantics.

The Grade: C

Christi got an opportunity to expose herself to a whole new
audience, and delivered a very enjoyable and engaging performance.

The Aftermath: Back
With a Vengeance

Being 3,000 miles from this one makes it tougher to
evaluate, but in the NYC Roastmasters’ tournament to crown their first ever champion, she’s already advanced past the first round.
That’s a hell of a rebound, and you have to think that her experience against arguably
the best in the world will help her throughout the tourney.

The Battle: Jonathan
Rowell vs. Connor McSpadden

When he stepped in the ring with Connor McSpadden, Jonathan
Rowell’s battle career consisted of one fight – a loss to Jeff Sewing. McSpadden
was 5-2 and ranked number four, and the battle looked like a potential
mismatch. However, Rowell came out swinging in this extended undercard and
pushed Connor to the limits before taking the loss. Jonathan delivered a great
performance, took a shot at judge Thai Rivera in the process, and shared a
deep, passionate kiss with Connor afterwards on stage. Pretty good as far as
losses are concerned.

The Grade: B

Solid performance in a loss to follow up his solid
performance in a loss to Jeff Sewing.

The Aftermath: More
Solid Performances In Losses

After this one, Jonathan returned to make his main event
debut – a loss to Ramsey Badawi. His record now stands at 0-3, and he has a
legitimate claim as the best Roast Battler to never win a fight. Here’s hoping
he comes back and gives it another shot soon, as his battles are always
entertaining.

The Battle: Jeff Sewing vs. Leah Kayajanian

I didn’t know Jeff before this battle, but Leah had built
herself quite the reputation as a main event force. Her three-round clashes
with Toby Muresianu and Doug Fager were big hits, and she seemed poised to keep
climbing higher. Then she suddenly took what appeared to be a step backwards
and faced off with a debuting battler in an undercard. What I didn’t know was
something that Leah did – Jeff Sewing is really, really funny. Leah gave a shot
to her best friend, and he responded with hilarious jokes en route to a
stunning upset.

The Grade: A

This battle was like 18 months ago, and I still remember a
few of Jeff’s jokes. They were that good. It was a tremendous debut, but was it
one he was able to follow up? Let’s find out right now!

The Aftermath: Still
Undefeated

Since then, Jeff has taken three more fights, earning two wins and a draw. He currently stands at 3-0-1, has a top 20 ranking, and has a battle coming
up with #10 Jay Light. He also just got married, but I’m having a hard time
connecting that to the Leah battle. Congrats either way, Jeff.

The Battle: Dan Nolan
vs. Pat Barker

Alright, now we’ve come full circle. Dan is giving a shot to
Lindsey Jennings and he gave one to David Deery, but who gave him his big shot?
Me, evidently! I’m not sure this fits the criteria for the list, to be honest,
because Dan was already 5-2 and ranked #12 when we stepped onto the stage in
the Belly Room. But his main event resume was a little bit spotty – wins over
Alex Duong and Jeanne Whitney and losses to Connor McSpadden and Tom Goss – and
he hadn’t had a definitive trademark victory yet, and I need a tenth one for
the column so here we are. What I remember from our battle was being terrified
because I knew how good Dan was, trading good jokes for 95% of a very close
battle, and then standing there like an idiot when he hit me with the Joke of
the Year award winner to close me out. It was the first time in eleven battles
where I had the words, “fuck, I’m about to lose” run through my head. Didn’t
feel good! However, it was nice to see Dan get the big win that had eluded him
in the year prior, even if it was at my expense.

The Grade: A-

I’m giving him an A- and not an A strictly because I’m petty
and vindictive.

The Aftermath: Ups
and Downs

Since our battle, Dan has taken losses to Toby Muresianu and
David Deery, and scored a win over Leah Kayajanian. His latest battle will be
this Tuesday against Lindsey Jennings. You may remember it from 2,500 words
ago. Will Dan improve to 8-4 or drop to 7-5? Come to the Comedy Store to find
out!

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