A comedy roast is no place for the timid, as London X’s Ed Dyson found out when he competed against a proper comedian this month
The room is dark and there are roughly 200 people sat down at the Bill Murray comedy club in London, waiting to be entertained, or… perhaps not. A bit like a Gladiator arena, it’s unclear whether they’ll get more enjoyment from watching someone actually be side-splittingly hilarious or from witnessing a person totally bomb.
Shifting from foot to foot, I stand nervously at the back, alongside Nick, a professional comedian, who I’ve been paired with to perform against tonight.
We’re taking part in a Roast Battle – which is a comedy competition where supposedly funny people face-off on stage, trading insults, burns, offensive jokes, back and forth, until one is finally declared the winner, by a panel of esteemed four comedy judges.
A history lesson on this, I hear you cry? Well, if you really must know, the tradition of roasting originated in America in 1949 when the New York Friars Club held their very first roast, with French actor Maurice Chevalier as the guest of honour. Ca c’est drole!
— Roast Battle UK (@RoastBattleUK) March 7, 2019
From there, the first televised roast took place during the final few seasons of the television show Kraft Music Hall – during the 1968 to 1971 era – which included broadcasts of the Friars Club Roast (celebrities roasted included Johnny Carson, Milton Berle, Jack Benny, Don Rickles, and Jerry Lewis.)
So, it’s nothing new. (Like a lot of the material performed these days, many would say.) But the tradition has seen a surprising resurgence of popularity in recent decades, especially given that socially we’re becoming increasingly more and more PC with each passing day. Roasts are, at their core, anything but politically correct. Rather, they’re meant to exist in a unique space where ‘anything goes’ and participants are encouraged to go for the jugular: the darker and more shocking they are, the better!
This has been proved by Comedy Central, who’ve enjoyed great success with their televised roasts, which have become somewhat of a global event, with celebrities such as Justin Bieber, Donald Trump, Charlie Sheen, the late legend Joan Rivers and James Franco signing up to take part.
And now, it’s my turn. I’m here at the Bill Murray, at 11pm, to roast Nick Adamson from Alabama, and, in turn, be roasted by him. The Roast Battle organiser Calum introduced us via Facebook a few weeks ago so that we could swap information about ourselves that could then be used for content on stage. We were told it was considered ‘good sportsmanship’ to give freely when it comes to your own flaws or topics from which mockery could easily be derived.
I was determined to be a good sport. Once we connected on Facebook, I told Nick, first of all, that I was gay, thinking there’d be plenty of material there (just ask the guys I went to high school with…) I told him I’m a journalist, and that I used to work for The Sun. Yet more ammo. Surely there could be some phone hacking jokes etc. I told him I was short – 5’6 – seeing as he wouldn’t know that until he met me the night of the roast, as I carefully hide it in pictures (yes, I’m a 31-year-old man who regularly stands on his tip toes. Not proud.) And I was even gracious enough to draw attention to my surname, Dyson, and how many ‘sucking’ jokes I’d endured because it over the years. This wasn’t really necessary, seeing as he could clearly read my surname with his own eyes, but I wanted to give him as much to work with as possible. I wasn’t really feeling competitive about this challenge, I just didn’t want to make a complete tit of myself, ideally.
And then Nick shared his information with me. In handy bullet points, no less!
Married and have a seven-month-old baby boy
-Had all kinds of jobs from substitute teacher, natural gas pipeline, kids birthday clown (still on the website clowns.com)
-Went to University (Tennessee temple University, closed in 2016) to be a youth minister in Protestant Christian churches.
– I have a Bachelor’s of Science in Biblical Studies degree and was a youth pastor for 4 years
-Parents were never married, both drug addicts still
-Raised by grandparents (both dead)
-Do improv and acting in commercials, tv, and film
Wow. I felt like I’d hit the roast jackpot. Drug addict parents? Bible studies? CLOWN?! As soon as I got this, I couldn’t help but dive straight into all the horrible jokes I could think of.
Although I’ve never performed comedy on a stage perform, I do write material for other performers (yes, believe it or not, they don’t all write every word, despite what they might have you believe…) so I knew I had the ability to craft a set.
But could I perform it myself? With no experience?
‘Nick and Ed, you’re up.’ Our roastmaster had spoken.
We were all about to find out. I gulped, hard.
Together, Nick and I made out way up onto the stage and stood in front of our microphones, staring out into the audience. A sea of eyes soon felt like an ocean. I was grateful it was dark and misty, so I couldn’t really see anyone clearly enough to think of them as a real person. I hadn’t brought anyone with me, as I didn’t want any witnesses that I actually knew – in case this was an epic disaster. If it was, I could pretend it never happened.
Nick began, as we’d agreed, seeing as he was the professional. Straight away he launched into many Dyson-related jokes. Fair-play. I did my best smile throughout it all, not wanting to look like someone who couldn’t take a joke – as in a roast, that’s basically the worst thing you can be. He told them that I’ll suck anything, hoover up spunk and so on and so on. Mostly true, in fairness.
Luckily, I’d prepared a retort in case Nick went for the obvious, which he’d now unknowingly permitted me to use as my opening line.
He’d done, his laughs had simmered, and it was my turn. I moved closer to the mic, hoping my face didn’t show how nervous I was.
‘Yes, I suck dicks…’ I said, to the crowd. ‘But you suck at this.’
Laughter filled the room, and within a second, I felt good. I’d made them laugh! Me – the guy who had never performed comedy on stage before. Now I felt ready to go IN.
The first joke I’d prepared (we were supposed to prepare six each, although the structure was loose,) was about Nick’s drug addict parents. Why waste time?
‘Nick’s parents growing up were criminal drug addicts,’ I explained. ‘In fact, his childhood was so dark, Liam Neeson once tried to beat it up with a cosh.’
More laughter. And topical too. Brownie points for that, surely!
‘I think that’s why they called him Nick… because that’s where they spent most of his childhood.’
I was on a roll, the audience were lapping it up.
‘Your turn now,’ I said, turning to Nick, who was laughing too, because he’s a nice man.
He continued with a section about me having a huge penis (not one of the factoids I’d shared with him, but I figured, by all means, spread the word!) This didn’t go down as well for him, and there was a bit of an awkward silence during this segment.
So, back to me. I hoped I could lift the room again.
‘Nick and I have lots in common actually,’ I said. ‘We both have beards. Mine is on my face, and his is at home looking after their seven-month-old baby.’
More laughter. Man, this was an elating feeling. I was genuinely enjoying myself. Nerves had gone. And it felt like I was winning, to boot.
Nick made fun of the book I released last year, saying no one wanted to buy it, and mocking the title, which got some more laughs, including mine.
But then it was time for me to deliver my killer blow. I said: ‘Nick told me he became a substitute teacher… then a clown… then became a Christian Youth Minister – so still a clown… and then got a degree in Biblical Studies.
‘I don’t know if I believe him though. His story has a lot of holes in it. A bit like his mum’s arm.’
This drew some gasps, but again, a great response, with plenty of laughs. I think it was the most offensive roast joke of the night, of which I was proud.
Nick told another joke that didn’t go so well, which I can’t remember now, and I got to finish with: ‘As I mentioned, Nick used to be a clown. But he quit for two reasons. One, he didn’t like being funny, as you can see from tonight.’ I’d prepared this beforehand, but it worked especially well following one of Nick’s duds. ‘And two, he didn’t like wearing the red nose as it reminded him of his junkie parents.’
And that was it. Ending on a high – higher perhaps than Nick’s parents (sorry, can’t help myself now,) – and another big laugh, and we were done. Ten minutes flew by. And now it was time for the judge’s verdict.
One by one, like on the X Factor, the three male judges, and one female, declared who was the winner. Admittedly, I figured it would be me. It seemed pretty one-sided from my position. But was that delusional?
The first guy praised me, and slated Nick, saying he ‘used to be a comedian,’ and advised that I needed to ‘stop the paraplegic leg movements’ but that I’d done well, and was the winner. I had gone a bit jelly-legged, I was aware, but appreciated the feedback.
The second guy echoed that, and declared me the winner.
The sole female on the panel – on International Women’s Day, which she’d joked had meant she got a token call – praised me highly, complimenting me on being ‘clearly gay’ and voted for me too.
And the final guy basically said he hated both of us, our roasting went on forever, but I was the best of the two. So four out of four! I won!
It felt like a major achievement for me, and I’ve been told I’m the first person to ever take part in Roast Battle without any prior performing experience (unless you count karaoke, which people do laugh at quite a bit when I perform, but for the wrong reasons.)
So, that was my experience of taking part in a roast battle. Nerve-wracking, brutal, scary – but ultimately exciting, enjoyable and triumphant. Well, not for Nick though, on that occasion anyway.
And, guess what… I can’t wait to do it again!