The location, L’Astral at Just For Laughs. The event, The Roastmasters Invitational presented by Jeff Ross. What is it you ask? Four days of head-to-head roasting amongst comics from around the Globe. The United Kingdom, United States, Canada, and Australia were all represented in the joke-for-joke slamfest that took place at this year’s JFL Festival. The show was hosted each night by Roast Battle staple and comedian Brian Moses. The tit-for-tat tournament kicked off this past Tuesday with the finale of the competition taking place on Saturday night just before midnight. Each showcase featured guest celebrity judges including director Jason Reitman, Gilbert Gottfried, Wanda Sykes, Moshe Kasher, Dave Chappelle, Trevor Noah, director Jeremy Garelick, Artie Lange, Ari Shafir, Saturday Night Live‘s Michael Che and more. The list of competitors included your champion Jimmy Carr (UK), Wil Anderson (AUS), Mike Ward (CAN), Joe DeRosa (USA), Tony Hinchcliffe (USA), Luenell (USA), Tom Ballard (AUS), Randy (AUS), Sarah Tiana (USA), Katherine Ryan (CAN), Ashley Barnhill (USA), K. Trevor Wilson (CAN), Mark Forward (CAN), Sean Cullen (CAN), Jak Knight (USA) and finally 2nd place finisher Matthew Broussard (USA).
If you haven’t experienced Roast Battle, it’s a must. Each night featured four rounds of one-on-one battling. Three undercards were included and one billed as the Main Event, with the winners moving on to the next round in the competition. The comics would trade five jokes each with a bonus joke or two coming into play if it was too close to call.
Wednesday July 22
The energy and excitement from the audience was like a bunch of caged animals who were anticipating the gate finally being opened for the first time in years. The show kicks off with Jeff Ross warming things up with a round of “speed roasting” as audience members join him on stage to get torn apart. It sounds unpleasant, and it is, but it’s also endearing and quite the honor to be roasted by the Roastmaster General himself. Then host Brian Moses takes the stage and introduces the judges, the Haters Section, and the Wave which is the supporting cast for the live show that has traveled from L.A. to Montreal for this momentous occasion. This night would however turn sour quickly.
After the first round for the evening took place between Jak Knight and Mathew Broussard, veteran comedian and judge Wanda Sykes vocalized her displeasure not only for the performances, but for the show and the competitors use of phones and notebooks on stage for their jokes. A comment that instantly sucked the energy right out of the room and made it uncomfortable not only for the performers, but the audience. This was clearly Sykes’ first experience at a Roast Battle, not understanding that these comedians have but hours to prepare for their opponent. Writing jokes is hard enough, but writing roast specific jokes directed towards a comedian in an afternoon’s worth of time is another level. And as the night went on, it didn’t get much better for Sykes and her comments. She would later get a hearty rebuttal on Friday evening. More on that later. The crowd had enough as did the comics with Sykes, who appeared to have been drinking quite a bit. They turned on her and came about as close to asking her to leave as one could. The crowd did get some wind blown back into their sails as Dave Chappelle appeared mid-event to aid in the judging process after an apparent and rumored fight had broken out at his show that evening. The fight was eventually found to be true, but it was too little too late for the overall experience of that night’s competition. Unfortunate, but when the wrong moons align, an evening can be ruined. And it was, however, the competition must go on. And it did.
Thursday July 23
Another day, another set of judges. Michael Che (SNL) and Trevor Noah (The Daily Show), stepped in for Keith Robinson, and joined director Jeremy Garelick (The Wedding Ringer), and Jeff Ross to take care of the those duties. And coming off the previous night’s event, it could only go up. And up it did, as word was getting out that the Roastmasters Invitational was a site to see at the festival. The lines to get in were getting longer and the crowd was growing more fierce as was the competition. This particular night saw comedian and writer Sarah Tiana (The Burn, Reno 911!) take on Canadian up-and-comer and fan favorite K.Trevor Wilson. Wilson ended up taking it, but it was awfully close. After riding in an elevator with Wilson later that evening he said, “My parents are going to be horrified by what I said about that lovely lady.” A pair of JFL “New Faces” faced off in Ashley Barnhill and Mathhew Broussard. Both L.A. based comics and both regular competitors in the L.A. Roast Battle scene, Broussard eventually advanced to the semis by defeating Barnhill who had been asked back despite losing the night before. That was due to the poor performance of Mark Forward and Sean Cullen’s delirious half-drunken face-off resulting in neither comic winning. The 3rd match saw Roast Battle staple Tony Hinchcliffe take on Australia’s number one comic, Tom Ballard. Ballard proceeded to light Hinchcliffe up like a Christmas tree and instantly word spread that he could be the one to give tournament favorite, Jimmy Carr, a run for his money. But first Carr had to defeat Joe DeRosa. And he did, soundly. DeRosa could see and feel he was the underdog, looking nervous wondering all around the stage. The audience could sense it as well. He delivered more fire power at the judges and crowd than at Jimmy, but unfortunately he wasn’t facing them in the competition. He went down swinging which was nice to see. The semi-finals were now set.
Friday July 24
Friday night, as any Friday night would be, had a different aura in the air. A weekend in Montreal was now underway during the festival of festivals with everyone’s focus being sent towards the show that now had been capping off each night that week. Word had spread like wildfire. It was the type of night were your connection who gets you into shows was calling their connections to get into the show. We overheard every excuse in the book to try and get past that doorman. The celebrity and comedian attendance had tripled that night. Various members of the Saturday Night Live cast made it a point to come out including Taran Killam who was fresh off his participation in the Mike Myers Gala. Every comic that wasn’t performing and every agent and manager seemed to blow off whatever they had on their docket to witness who would be heading to the finals. The air and tension in the room was palpable. The judges for the evening were Gilbert Gottfried, Moshe Kasher, and Jeff Ross.
Every battle was toe-to-toe starting with the single undercard that included newcomers to the JFL scene, Luis J. Gomez and Alex Edelman. Gomez took personal shot after personal shot from Edelman, mostly focused on his difficult childhood and current family situation. But Gomez had thick skin and warded off the attacks and fired back just enough to win. It was quite the bout. Canadian favorite, K. Trevor Wilson ended up losing to New Face Matthew Broussard, who blatantly stated he didn’t want to win and doesn’t know how he kept moving on. After having Wilson backed in a corner and all but knocked out, he proceeded to use his final joke as a public service announcement aimed right at Wanda Sykes for her off-putting comments towards him two nights earlier. He proceeded to slam her on how she handled her judging duties with the support of a roaring audience backing his every word. And he didn’t stop there. He proceeded to take a shot at not only her personal career and her relevance, but also the timing of her deceleration and coming out as being gay. The crowd was now in a full on raucous and had the two been in competition, Sykes would have been eliminated with ease. It was undeniable, Broussard was to move on and face the winner of Carr vs Ballard in the finals.
That said match between Carr and Ballard was to be the match of matches. The one the kids on the street were talking about. And it didn’t disappoint. The barbs were so intense you couldn’t tell when the jokes began or ended as several jokes were baked into one. It was very impressive with the stakes being so high. But in the end, it was Carr to move on by Jeff Ross’ decisive vote.
Saturday July 25
Unfortunately we weren’t present for the Saturday night finale, but it could be summed up by Matt Broussard’s tweet post defeat, “Had fun getting my ass handed to me by @jimmycarr at Int’l @RoastBattle #JFLMTL. Congrats @realjeffreyross.” Broussard put up a fight but Carr was just “that good.”
Here are some picks from the tournament and congratulations to Jimmy Carr, Jeff Ross, and all the competitors who have the balls to lay it all out on the line in what is one of the most entertaining showcases the comedy scene has to offer.