Loves: Roast Battle, jokes
Likes: Celebrity guests
Dislikes: Mean jokes
Hates: Real fights on stage
It’s only been six months and Roast Battle already reared its ugly head in a return to Comedy Central that proved the show to be a new staple on the funny network. Jeff Ross brings along his famous friends to watch up and comers and some established comedians go toe to toe in a true battle of wits. Roast Battle II War of the Words is a welcome change of pace from regular comedy specials. But a true fear of overexposure to the brand is looming.
Comedy Central’s decision to prelude this set of specials with a “road to” series was a just one. Road to Roast Battle was a nice teaser of what was to come for newcomers (a special that this reviewer could’ve been a part of but he missed the deadline for submissions). But the true holy grail is becoming one of the sixteen to compete. New friends like Frank Castillo and Jessica Kirson are joined by roast battle staples Matthew Broussard and Olivia Grace only for those kids to have legend Todd Barry breathing down their necks. This year’s cast – that earned their way there, mind you – was exceptional. It could be seen almost immediately as to why each person made it that far.
Also returning is The Wave who are admittedly love them or hate them. They’re funny guys with bits that almost eclipse the jokes themselves. Sparingly used, The Wave put punctuations on already punctuated moments. These three guys are talented in their own right. And they’ll pretty much make fun of everything too. Brian Moses of course returns to hosts. He keeps things moving along quickly when contestants do lose their temper. He also keeps the crowd in check should the show be running over.
But, more importantly, Roast Battle II feels appropriately bigger while also managing to be the exact same special shown back in August of 2016. The crowd is no bigger than it has to be nor has the stage itself changed. Comedy Central made a smart decision in keeping the show at its current size. Not only does it play to the underground fighting nature of the show but it also adds to authenticity. Celebrity guest judges are also always welcome with Sarah Silverman, Patton Oswalt, Natasha Leggero, John Mayer, Jason Sudekis, TJ Miller, Ken Jeong, Whitney Cummings, Anthony Jeselnik and Snoop Dog throwing in their opions – and not to mention some jabs. Background celebs are also here with The Sklar Brothers and Moshe Kasher popping up in the back.
The jokes themselves depend on the nature of the person presenting them. Fighters like Anna Venezuela and Evan Williams told jokes about each other’s dead family members. While also being dark, these felt too inside baseball. Similarly, when Yamaneika Saunders and Joe Dosch (or Saunders and Kurt Metzger) battle, it turns vicious and gets personal. It’s points like that when it turns from comedy into bullying and just gets unfunny. And other battles may come off as one sided (see Olivia Grace vs Keith Carey or Alex Hooper vs Scott Chaplain). It’s those crucial moments of composure that decide a winner early. If Todd Barry was another comedian who couldn’t keep his cool, Kirson may have made it to the finals. Roast Battle works when someone like Barry or Broussard can stay their composed, comedic selves on stage to take it all.
Roast Battle is like freestyle rapping. Some of the most successful rappers in the world can’t pick up a mic and drop verses off the top of their head. It’s the ones who can make sense of a jumbled mess in their brains that stand the test of time. Barry shouldn’t be in this competition battling with a bunch of angry kids. But he did it and made it far. Similarly, Castillo is able to go blow for blow against people who couldn’t. Or Grace is able to take charge of the battle in an instant and never let go of the momentum. And Broussard's heavily multilayered jokes standing out among the masses. Should it have been back this early? It's hard to say because it came off as well produced. But it does work as a live event series as it builds up over the course of four days.
Should you watch Roast Battle II War of Words?
As with the last special, Roast Battle II is still an anomaly. Comedians get a chance to go onstage with their counterparts just to make fun of each other. Sure, jokes do fall flat or someone’s personality is more combative than it needs to be. But these comedians live and die by their work. Roast Battle II War of the Words for all the flubs and awkward post-battle hugs is as funny as it has ever been.