The great YouTube vs TikTok battles of 2020 have brought the roast back into the mainstream. We’ve had TikTokers roasting Youtubers, who then responded, till Kunal Kamra eventually had to step in and read them the rules of the game. Meanwhile Kusha Kapila deconstructed the roast and turned it into an UnRoast. In fact, there hasn’t been as much conversation about roasting since All India Bakchod made the format a household term in 2015.
The concept of a roast is simple. You invite someone, preferably a person you dislike. You get all their best friends and enemies in the same room. You get an audience, ideally one that hates the guest of honour too. And then you insult the life out of them. Over and over again. No holds barred, nothing is off the table. Just for balance, the roasters insult each other too. And to soften the blow, you pay a compliment here and there. There you have it: a roast. It’s basically what every group of friends does, but this time with cameras.
But as the current spate of ‘roast’ videos shows, it takes a lot of skill to ensure that a roast doesn’t degenerate into an unfunny insult-fest. There’s a very thin line between insult comedy and just being a dick. If you can manage to walk that tightrope though, the pay-off is immense. For the novice roast connoisseur, we’ve put together a list of some of the most notable roasts from years past, including the famous Comedy Central Roast series and more.
The AIB Knockout, a roast of Bollywood types such as Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor and hosted by Karan Johar, was a landmark moment for comedy in India. It opened up a promising, off-mainstream art scene—one that was surviving in urban clubs and YouTube channels—to a much broader mainstream audience, all thanks to the stamp of approval offered by Big Bollywood. The people of the country had a new thing to get angry about. And oh my they got angry. The roast united politicians, Bollywood prima donnas, gatekeepers of comedy, guardians of society, the moral police, the actual police, all under the banner of hating AIB for offending Indian sentiments by bringing a vulgar American concept to our shores.
The actual jokes were little more than milquetoast interpretations of ‘yo momma’ punchlines over and over again, but that’s almost incidental. The AIB roast opened up standup comedy to greater scrutiny, greater infamy, and, well, the big bucks.
The Roast of Donald Trump
The roast of Donald Trump happens every single day in his Twitter mentions, but there’s an actual show too. The roast dates back to 2011, with comedians and celebs mocking Trump’s megalomania and corporate evilness years before he became the most powerful man in the world. More than the one-liners, the best part of it is the cold, lifeless grin plastered on Trump’s face—you can see the wheels turning in his head. “I’ll show ‘em,” he seems to be thinking. Sadly, he did.
The Roast of Justin Bieber
“What do you get when you give a teenager 200 million dollars?” says a deadpan Justin Bieber. “A bunch of has-beens calling you a lesbian for two hours.” This roast, like so many others, works not because of the insults—which become by-the-numbers eventually—but by the novelty of watching people like Snoop Dogg or Shaquille O’Neal or Martha Stewart doing bits, with professional comedians on each roster making sure that at least some of the jokes land.
The Roast of Charlie Sheen
Charlie Sheen, by all accounts, does not seem like a very nice person. So there’s some well-earned schadenfreude in watching people say horrible things to him, with Mike Tyson on the side losing his mind at every joke. But then, roasts are also a great way to make a person seem more likeable—for agreeing to the show, for laughing along gamely, for being a ‘good sport’—so it’s a dilemma, but a funny one at least.
Michelle Wolf at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner 2018
Trump makes a second appearance here, as Michelle Wolf lays into the American establishment at the White House in 2018 as part of what was then a long-running tradition. Pointing out, in her classic aloof style, how Trump is immune to the regular criticisms he faces, she decides to talk instead about how he may not actually be all that rich. “Trump is so broke…,” she says. “How broke is he?” the crowd asks. “…he has to fly failed business class.” Trump was miffed enough that the next year’s dinner was the first since 1983 not to feature a comedian.
The Roast of James Franco
The most interesting part of the roast of the deeply uninteresting James Franco is Andy Samberg taking some hardcore shots — at himself. He inverts the idea of the roast, first by making fun of himself instead of the people present, then going so far as to compliment them, aiming to add some so-called wholesomeness to a notoriously mean concept.
The Roast of Michael Scott
No list on the internet is complete without a reference to The Office, so here it is. Michael Scott, a fictional character suffering from extreme delusions of grandeur, organises a roast for himself, expecting some playful joshing around. But his subordinates at work, most of whom hate him deeply, go instead for the jugular.
His reaction is how most normal people would react to a roast if they weren’t being paid a lot of money, as Michael goes from jolly and excited to uncertain to distraught to completely shattered, about to burst into tears. And that’s really what a roast is: you try your best to make a person reach the point of tears, and then stop before the dam breaks.