It takes a very specific skill set to effectively and hilariously insult another human being. And that’s what local comedians showcased — or tried to — during the one-night-only Comedy Roast BattleSF on Thursday night, March 10, a joke-to-joke showdown that pitted comedians against each other to verbally rip each other to shreds in the hopes of winning $50.
“It’s a different kind of joke writing that most comedians don’t get the chance to do,” said the Battle’s producer and host, comedian Paco Romane.
By “a show like this,” Romane means really, really politically incorrect. Comedian Kaseem Bentley, one of the show’s celebrity judges and a San Francisco native, said the Bay Area can be a tough audience for politically incorrect humor.
“If they hiss at your joke,” observed Bentley, “they’re hissing for someone they’ve never met. But they still feel responsible to hiss for them.”
Hisses, groans — none of it stopped the six pairs of comedians. Romane invited six comics to pick a friend and fellow comedian they’d like to roast. The teams then had about a month to prepare for the battle. After a 10-minute set by each of the night’s three judges — Bentley, Butch Escobar and Kabir Singh — warmed up the crowd, the battle began.
“Don’t get offended,” Escobar warned the audience Thursday night. “Have a good time. These people are going to murder themselves for you, so at least enjoy it.”
Round one consisted of each of the six pairs lobbing five insult jokes back and forth. Only three teams made it to round two, where remaining comics had three big “burns” to win over the judges. The comics in the funniest finalist team were each given 30 seconds to skewer one another.
“I already have lots of mean jokes about him, and I’m lazy,” Fisher confessed.
Fisher was one of two women who made it onstage Thursday night. The other was Krista Fatka, who tore her teammateRichard Sarvate to wonderful shreds.
“Richard works at Yahoo,” Fatka told the crowd during the roast. “I found that out using Google.”
Fisher has participated in roasts before, and wasn’t necessarily nervous about taking the insult-heavy stage. She admitted, however, that “before every roast, I’m like, ‘Oh, is this going to be the one that hurts my feelings?’”
The crowd at Doc’s Lab, a North Beach basement that many might remember as the Purple Onion, was diverse. Comics and their friends hung toward the back bar or sat along the emergency exit stairs, while an unexpected collection of middle-aged couples on dates filled the cabaret tables. A couple in front of me ordered a beautifully plated ahi appetizer, which they ate while listening to vagina insults. In front of a wall covered in framed portraits of world-famous comedians, a confident DJ in a perfectly disheveled beanie played cricket sounds every time a joke bombed.
The battle leaned heavily on white privilege jokes and included two barbs about school shooters. And of course, it can’t be a comedy show — or even a roast — in 2016 unless someone mentions Donald Trump.
After a solid hour of mostly funny cruelty, the night’s finalists were comedians Jesse Hett and Ben Kolina. When push came to shove, the judges had to hand the title to Kolina, who was still surfing on residual laughs from saying that his buddy Hett looks like a Muppet that Jim Henson invented to talk to kids about anger management.
“I did not expect to win at all,” said Kolina, who stepped outside of his comedy comfort zone to compete in the roast. “Jesse is one of my favorite comedians.”
While posing for a photo with Romane handing over a cash-filled envelope proclaiming “Winner,” Kolina considered how he might spend his hard-earned $50. After first giving an answer that the comedian worried might get him in trouble at his day job driving a mattress-delivery van, Kolina revised his reply: “I’m going to pay one one-thousandth of my rent.”
The Comedy Roast BattleSF left all existing comedy friendships intact, with most of the comedy teams hugging it out onstage. As 30-year-old comedy sage Ash Fisher wisely noted, “All’s fair in love, war and roasts.”
Beth Spotswood is a Bay Area freelance writer.