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November-December 2021 - MAKE 'EM LAUGH: Caleb Mulkey

The Roast, as a tradition, has been an integral part of stand-up comedy’s roots. The first hosted New York Friars Club roast took place in 1949, and performers have been bad-mouthing each other ever since.

Recently, roast battles--where two comedians are paired together and square off with rounds of insults and full judged scorekeeping--have become popular. While you can regularly see these battles on Comedy Central, Albuquerque also has their roast battle shows around town! If you’re lucky enough to catch one of these blisteringly funny events, you've no doubt seen comedian Caleb Mulkey slinging disses at his peers and friends. He’s been on a winning streak lately, and we got to pick his brain about what makes a solid roast.

First and foremost, if you attend a roast, you need to know how it differs from a regular comedy show. “In a roast battle, instead of reacting to the audience, you are reacting to your opponent while using the audience reaction to your advantage,” says Mulkey.

Zeroing in on your roast battle target and landing a blow takes plenty of prep. Mulkey mentioned that writing a solid roast joke meant “gathering as much info as possible on my opponent and trying to use the more specific and personal facts to my advantage.” Diving deeper into his strategy, he says, “I try not to use broad topics like race or religion unless I can tie it into a unique trait of my opponent. I usually look at music taste, fashion, or personal life events and then twist that into a diss.”

Professional roast shows are certainly different from the gentle ribbing done at your boss’s birthday party or your uncle’s retirement shindig. And while these comics do not pull punches, Mulkey doesn’t see people cross the line very often. “You probably can go too far, but I haven’t seen it personally.” He says. “I have seen people just use what I would call ‘childish’ material, where they just make an outright false accusation or lean on common stereotypes. That’s not too cool.”

Though they are an acquired taste, there is something about roasts that brings audiences back again and again. Mulkey believes that it’s because “we all crave drama, and this is a morally conscious way to consume it.” Knowing that the comics signed up for the experience and walk away as friends is enough of a guard to keep the audience feeling comfy. He says, “We aren’t ruining each other's lives, and—if it’s a good battle—we are respecting each other by being as creative and specific as possible.”

While he can dish it out, Mulkey can take a joke, too. When asked about the best roast joke ever written about him, he credited comedian Tyler Lovely, who said that Mulkey looked like “a spicy chicken nugget that works at a vape shop.” Boom. Roasted.

Comedian roast battles go by multiple names and take place in various venues around town. For more information, you can visit the calendar at Caleb Mulkey performs throughout Albuquerque.

-Sarah Kennedy


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