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Inside the pit of Jeff Ross Presents Roast Battle on Comedy Central

Jeff Ross Presents Roast Battle opens its four-night run tonight on Comedy Central with perhaps two of its most epic showdowns of insult joke-offs ever, both tragically and comedically.

The first round taped overnight from Montreal’s Just For Laughs with four battles, presided over by host Brian Moses, “The Negro Wave,” and Roastmaster General Ross joined by the two most recent roastmasters for Comedy Central — Kevin Hart (The Comedy Central Roast of Justin Bieber) and David Spade (The Comedy Central Roast of Rob Lowe, taping Aug. 27 and premiering on Labor Day).

“I’ve never been to a roast before!” Spade said, when asked to give his first verdict after the battle between Sarah Tiana and Chris Cubas.

To which Tiana quickly replied: “so this is another event you weren’t invited to.”

“Welcome to Roast Battle,” Moses interjected.

The jokes came fast, furious and often unrelenting in their ferocity.

Perhaps the most anticipated roast of the entire tournament happened in this first round, as Sam Morril took on Steve Rannazzisi — and nobody in the specially-designed pit at Montreal’s L’Astral venue, which Comedy Central put extra production dollars and values in to reimagine the space as an underground fight club worthy of a B-movie you enjoy seeing over and over again on cable TV — let Rannazzisi forget his long-term devotion to a fraudulent story about barely escaping the World Trade Center during the 9/11 attacks. Never forget?

Even in the lead-up to the Morril-Rannazzisi battle, Moses and everyone in the building brought up Rannazzisi’s 9/11 lies.

So Ross asked him point-blank: Why is he putting himself through Roast Battle?

“I don’t know why I’m here, either, Jeff,” Rannazzisi replied. “I just want to put some shit behind me.”

Morril’s excuse? “This is like 8 Mile for Jews and I want to soak this up.”

Rannazzisi clearly hoped that falling on his sword on TV, with Comedy Central, would provide sufficient amends in the court of public opinion to allow him to move forward with his comedy and TV/film careers. What happened? Well…I don’t dare spoil everything for you. But tune in tonight and you’ll see a roast battle that turned dark quickly and never found the light.

“That was fucking depressing,” Ross said afterward.

Spade offered: “I appreciate the balls of you coming out, Steve.”

Hart, on the other hand, chastised Rannazzisi, saying: “Rule┬ánumber one of roasting, you don’t show weakness!”

That was followed by the main event — pitting “defending champion” Jimmy Carr (he won the 2015 “Roastmasters Invitational” held at JFL Montreal) against newcomer Christi Chiello (so new she wasn’t even added to the New Faces showcases). It was akin to a #1 vs. #16 matchup in the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament.

And Chiello’s high-pitched animated voice, combined with Carr’s over-the-top laugh, threw Hart for a loop from the get-go.

“What the fuck is going on?” Hart asked. “I feel like this is one big-ass prank and I’m the only jackass that don’t know what is going on!”

Spade joked: “Why is the magician holding a clipboard?”

But both Carr and Chiello were genuine and committed to going for it from start to finish. Even if the sincerity was so strong that it provoked Carr at one point to say: “I don’t know if I can do this? She’s adorable.”

Oh, he did, though. They all went in on Roast Battle.

Even other famous comedians, such as Saturday Night Live‘s Jay Pharoah, JB Smoove and Rich Vos, sitting behind the judges, got into the act — with Hart’s ribbing of Pharoah coming back to bite him in hilarious fashion.

Tune in tonight to watch it unfold. The second round tapes tonight for air Friday night on Comedy Central, with guest judges Whoopi Goldberg and Anthony Jeselnik. Jimmy Kimmel and Seth Rogen will judge the semifinal rounds, airing Saturday. Judd Apatow and Sarah Silverman will join Ross and Roast Battle to judge the live finale Sunday night on Comedy Central.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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