Roast Battle Canada K. Trevor Wilson Sabrina Jalees

Roast Battle Canada showcases the northern brand of vicious comedy

We spoke to comics K. Trevor Wilson and Sabrina Jalees about their new show and the folly of decrying cancel culture.

If your type of comedy involves devastating burns and sharp-tongued insults, this is the show for you. Roast Battle Canada will be making its series premiere on the CTV Comedy Channel on Oct. 11, with episodes airing Mondays at 10:30 p.m. ET. Adapted from its American counterpart Jeff Ross Presents Roast Battle, and hosted by actor Ennis Esmer, the Roast show will feature an array of Canadian comics duking it out to see who can deliver the most blistering putdowns.

Over eight episodes with two battles each, contestants will be judged by Canadian comedic royalty: Russell Peters, K. Trevor Wilson and Sabrina Jalees. Cult MTL got the opportunity to chat with Wilson and Jalees to find out more about Roast Battle Canada, the types of humour to expect and how comedy can thrive in the “cancel culture” era.

Dave MacIntyre: How did your involvement with Roast Battle Canada as a judge come about?

K. Trevor Wilson: My history with Roast Battle goes all the way back to when they were testing it out to see if it would work as a TV show. I was in the first Jeff Ross Roastmasters Invitational tournament at Just for Laughs a few years ago. That was the dry run for taking the Roast Battle format out of the Comedy Store in L.A., and then travelling with it. Jeff Ross, Brian (Moses), and the Roast Battle gang put on a week-long tournament in Montreal during the festival. Jimmy Carr won the inaugural edition. I came in third or fourth. I lost to the guy who ultimately lost to Jimmy. The following year, they televised the first season of (the American) Roast Battle on Comedy Central. I got invited back to compete again based on how well I had done the year before, and how familiar I was with the format, and also because I got along with all the Roast guys.

Sabrina Jalees: I’ve been doing shows at Just for Laughs for almost as long as I’ve been doing comedy, so two decades. Just for Laughs put this show together, and my manager called and said that they were interested in having me on as a judge. Honestly, the idea of being a judge made me so horny for the power. You spend so much time as a comic earning people’s respect. The idea of being able to roll up behind that table with my pants undone, flip-flops on and be in the position to wield power of my own was very sexy to me.

DM: What do you think makes a good comedy roast?

KTW: The best roasts are done by people who truly respect and enjoy the people that they’re roasting. If you’re battling out of hate or spite, it’s not going to be funny. It’s going to come across as awful. But if you actually like the person you’re battling, then it’s going to be funny. Not to say that their jokes aren’t going to be mean and that there’s not going to be bite to them, but no one knows you better than your friends — and no one can take you down better than your friends. What you want to see is both parties enjoying themselves. I think that’s what we have a lot of on the show.

SJ: A good comedy roast, just like a good joke, is built on some dark, dark truths. If you get past the first glance of someone, there’s the first layer of a roast, which is like, “This chick looks like Michelle Rodriguez meets Kelly Clarkson!” Someone might say that about me. But the deeper you go into the onion, the more research you do on the person, and the more clever and dark the joke is, I think that’s where you’re scoring major points.

DM: Since it’s on CTV, how raunchy or dark can we expect the humour to get?

KTW: If you’re expecting stuff that you can’t see on television, you’re going to be disappointed, because it’s a television show. But we push the envelope a couple times. I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised with how mean and vicious these Canadians can get.

SJ: I’m shocked at what they were able to leave in the dish that you’ll be eating. It’s pretty dark — not something I would watch with my son. When he turns seven, maybe! (Laughs) You can bleep language, but the places that some of these comics go with their roasts shocked me, and I think it’ll shock the nation.

DM: What do you think is the current state of standup comedy in Canada, particularly with “cancel culture” being a perceived threat in today’s climate?

KTW: I’ve never been afraid of being cancelled. Throughout my career. I’ve heard people ring the death knell of comedy more than a dozen times, over a plethora of stupid issues. If you’re a good comedian, a solid writer, you know how to perform, and you know what you’re doing, you’re never in fear of losing your job. You’re never in fear of losing your place, because you can adapt. If someone’s telling you that you can’t pick on certain groups with your comedy, and that ruins your career, you were probably a pretty garbage comic to begin with. I have no concern about cancel culture coming for me, ever in my life — and that’s because I’m not a moron.

SJ: I’m sick of comics complaining about cancel culture. Literally everybody is on blast, whether you work in an office or you’re a comic. If you’re a comic, you’re accruing more quotes out there in the world. It is inconvenient when people take things out of context. I certainly have tweeted things and had people react poorly. But ultimately, my right to say what I want to say on the internet is the same as someone else’s right to react to it — whether or not they’re right, or if I feel that they’ve taken it out of context.

DM: How do you think the future of comedy could still thrive despite such a climate?

KTW: Comedy has existed since before the written word. If people think cancel culture is going to destroy comedy, they only have to look back at history and see that society doesn’t exist without comedy in it. Comedy’s not going anywhere. As long as we’ve been talking, there’s been comedy. It will exist and has continued to exist since the beginning of recorded history.

SJ: I think it’s totally thriving. This idea of cancel culture being this huge threat to comedy is actually it being a threat to certain people with views that are masked as jokes, but are actually just offensive, and don’t really back up those views with huge punchlines, feeling scared that they’re going to be phased out. The truth is, they might be phased out. A lot of the time, it’s people who are trying to perform shock comedy. Maybe, just maybe, that type of humour is what’s being phased out, not you. If that person goes deeper and starts talking about things that they actually feel, or going deeper with their material, maybe that’s the natural progression — not that it’s been a threat to comedy, but that it’s actually an invitation to do something a little more interesting.

DM: What can you tell us about the comedians taking part? Are they people who’ve been established in our country’s standup scene, or mostly people who are still quite new to it?

KTW: It really depends on how closely you follow Canadian comedy. I was thrilled to see the lineup of comics. Some of them are guys I’ve worked with tons over the years — some I would consider the very best at what they do in this country. Is it going to be a lot of household names? No, other than the judges and the hosts. I think the average Canadian might not know all the comics coming across the counter. But are they established, touring, working comedians in the industry? Hell yeah. Each and every one of them has cut their teeth and earned their spot, and deserves to be there. Hopefully this show provides them a showcase to shine and make them a little bit more of a household name in this country.

SJ: There are some people I know from back in the day, there are some new people. A lot of white dudes with chips on their shoulders. (laughs) Some of these guys just get up and immediately make the same sort of joke, like “Sabrina is here for diversity!” I’m like, “Motherfucker, everybody on the stage is brown, honey! You’re the diversity. The fact that you’re a white comic on this show is diverse.” There’s some really interesting, funny new faces. I actually left shooting the show and told my agent in the U.S., “You guys should watch this and poach these comics, because the women especially really brought it.” ■

Roast Battle Canada, featuring Russell Peters, K. Trevor Wilson and Sabrina Jalees

Roast Battle Canada airs on CTV Comedy on Mondays at 10:30 p.m. as of Oct. 11. This article originally appeared in the October issue of Cult MTL.

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