Roast Battle’s multi-night special event from JFL Montreal has seen its share of comedy superstars. Obviously The Roastmaster General Jeffrey Ross, along with judges Kevin Hart, David Spade, Whoopi Goldberg, Anthony Jeselnik, Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Rogen, Sarah Silverman and Judd Apatow. And while The Battles featured big names like Jimmy Carr, Ralphie May and Steve Rannazzisi, most of the contestants are relatively unknown. But that’s what’s great about Roast Battle. The live weekly show at The Comedy Store has been an opportunity for younger comics to get themselves on the radar at The Comedy Store and among the wider comedy community with an out-of-nowhere killer performance. This tournament is no different, with Semi-Finalist Earl Skakel shocking just about everybody with an incredible upset over heavily favored comedy master Jimmy Carr.
We sat down with Earl as he prepared for the daunting task of two live battles in The Finals to talk about stepping out of obscurity as the best pro wrestler in the tournament.
The IBang: How did you decide to get into comedy?
Earl Skakel: My first laugh was in a fourth grade play. I had one line and it got an applause break, I’ll never forget that feeling. I didn’t have the confidence to get into comedy at first, but I had a lot of friends who worked for the big agencies and kept telling me to get into it and they’d help me get my feet wet. So finally around 1999 I did it and in 2000, they all quit to go sell real estate. So I was a little lost the first couple years and was very naive.
The IBang: You’ve been a huge part of The Store and of Roast Battle from the beginning, how did that come about?
Earl Skakel: Let’s just say the first few weeks of Roast Battle were of varying quality levels. So I started imitating the old talent coordinator, because everyone knew him and not too many people liked him, as a way to get the room going. Then week by week, the battles were getting better and the room was getting more crowded and Brian Moses said, “Just keep doing that character” and here we are today.
The IBang: What was it like watching Roast Battle evolve as it has?
Earl Skakel: It’s amazing. Just to give people an idea of the level from the beginning to where we are today, my very first battle was against Boon Shok-a-loka, who is a homeless transvestite who steals things at The Comedy Store and sells them to comics for a dollar. I mean, he has AMAZING deals… But cut to this tournament where I’m going against Jimmy Carr and you have Tom Ballard, Sarah Tiana.. So that’s pretty much the upgrade in quality of the show. You used to have Kenny Lyon v Josh Martin [two relatively younger Comedy Store kids] and now you have Olivia Grace v K Trevor. It’s just amazing. Any one of the sixteen of us could take it.
The IBang: Yeah, as sad as it is that everyone in this tournament is so good, you don’t want to see them knocked out, it’s awesome to have that level in every battle.
Earl Skakel: Well, we’re all nervous. I was just happy when I won last night that I get to stay here the next two days, because if you lose, they send you home the next day.
The IBang: I know Jimmy Carr remarked off camera to one of the other comics, “It’s like this guy’s trying to make it a wrestling match!” and I think that’s pretty apparent to anyone watching. What inspired you to go so over the top?
Earl Skakel: As a child of the 80’s, I always thought wrestling was real. There was no internet back then so you couldn’t go find out some wrestler billed as being from Africa was really from San Diego. But I was always a fan of the pre-match promos they would do where they’d act like they were mad at their opponent. There was this wrestler called Rick Rude, who played a cocky heel, like “I’m better than all of you, I’ve got the best body in here.” So I’ve patterned my Roast Battle persona after him because I think it makes it hard for whoever is battling me. You’re writing Earl Skakel jokes, but I’m up there as Rick Rude. And going against someone like Jimmy, especially. I mean, he’s almost doing a character up there, too, he’s like Christian Bale in American Psycho, just dead and staring at you with a blank look of no emotion. So to go up against someone like him, it felt like I had to out-character him. And he’s going to write better jokes than I do, I acknowledge that, but I can out-perform him in terms of the wackiness factor.
The IBang: How does moving from The Belly Room to this kick-ass Thunderdome stage in another city change how you go about it?
Earl Skakel: I’m a man of “never change” – I still listen to KISS, not just KISS from the 70’s, KISS from the 80’s, which was a dark time for the band. But, you know, The Belly Room definitely has the most energy because it’s a shoebox! It’s the size of this hotel room. But I don’t change my performance at all because I can’t, I’m so locked into this character. I can’t suddenly sit there and go, “I’m gonna try and out-write Jimmy Carr or Jesse Joyce.” And god, Tom Ballard, he’s amazing, a lot of people think he should have beaten Jimmy Carr last year. So I can’t get caught up in wanting the crowd to think I’m this great writer, too. I need them to look at me, with all the theatrics and say, “That one’s the better joke writer, but we like this guy more.”
I actually don’t think I’m a great roaster. I don’t want to say something mean about someone’s physical appearance or disability. And, like, going against Sarah Tiana tonight, what’s bad to say about her? She’s pretty, she’s funny, she’s successful. But we’ve known each other a long time, so there’s some deep cuts coming.