If you gave a video camera to a student revue and asked them to make a news parody The Roast is probably what you’d get. Indeed, if you look at the biographies of the show’s cast and writers it’s notable that many of them are barely out of university. Not that this automatically makes them or the show bad – inexperienced writers can’t be expected to produce a good program – what we question is why a show which was a proven dud in its earliest incarnation as WTF! (2010), and then as a web series (2011), made it to TV for a first series (2012) and is now back yet again. For 150 episodes.
The Roast sets itself up as a long-running news show which reports from around the country (and the world) on the issues of the day. Its team of reporters play it relatively straight (unlike in news parodies such as Mad As Hell and Brass Eye which got laughs by making their reporters “characters”) meaning that on The Roast the stories have to do the heavy comedic lifting. The Roast has also chosen to keep it very topical, focusing on real world headlines rather than current affairs. In the hands of a more experienced team these restrictions wouldn’t be such a problem, but it’s hard to avoid wondering whether a bit more freedom in the format might have given the team at The Roast a better chance of getting laughs.
The best episode of The Roast that we have seen was a “from the archives” special parodying period reports of the disappearance of Harold Holt and the introduction of Random Breath Testing. Here, the writers and cast could get a decent amount of laughs from old-style clothes and modes of TV production and presentation. Whereas in a story about a contemporary issue they have to find a way of making that issue funny.
Often, The Roast’s formula is to take an aspect of a topical issue to the extreme and hope for laughs. When Myer boss Bernie Brooks said a levy to fund disability care would mean less people spent money shopping, The Roast did a sketch about a new government levy to help big department stores. They also sent one of their reporters around stealing money from people on behalf of the retail giant. While the basic satirical ideas for this were fine – you could imagine Mad As Hell doing something similar – Mad As Hell would also have done it a lot better. The reason for this is tone – Mad As Hell’s angrier, rantier approach is a lot funnier than The Roast‘s reporter David Ferrier playing it alternately straight and cheeky.
Great topical comedies like The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Mad As Hell and Clarke & Dawe are fuelled by anger. One of the many problems with The Roast is that there just doesn’t seem to be any drive or passion behind it. And that’s the death knell for a topical comedy, because if there’s no passion or rage behind the material why make it topical? Why not just broadcast 10 minutes of dinner party sketches? Or Justin Bieber gags? Or dead air?