TV Review: Roast Battle UK, Comedy Central UK

Most comedians of the same generation are pretty supportive of their colleagues but there was a thread on Facebook a while ago in which a few comics expressed concern about the success of Comedy Central UK’s high-rating show Roast Battle UK. There was a feeling that insults hurled in the name of entertainment could be recycled in the playground in a much more hurtful way.

When I read the thread I didn’t give it a lot of thought. But having seen the first episode in the new series, which is being stripped nightly this week, I’ve got issues myself. While I don’t actually think kids would be jotting down the one-liners lobbed by the likes of Chris Ramsey and Tom Rosenthal at each other for later use themselves I do think the programmes risks normalising dubious attitudes.

Both back-to-back face-offs in programme one seemed to fall back on jokes abut gay sex. Old Etonian Ivo Graham was mocked by streetwise Scot Fern Brady about what might have gone on after lights-out at boarding school while Chris Ramsey and Tom Rosenthal’s juvenile duelling verbals seemed to suggest that two men having sex was the most hilarious thing in the world.

Of course, this can all be defended by saying it is merely banter. That everything is up for grabs in the name of a laugh. And there is a warning at the start about the content, The programme makes no bones about being thirty minutes of no-holds-barred comedy. But while there were a few witty lines, the un-PC schtick soon started to wear thin in these pairings. 

It didn’t help that judge Jonathan Ross played along with it, coming across as the oldest teenager in town. He was mocked for trying to be down with the kids during Sachsgate and that was a decade ago this week. He really is too old to be laughing at Tom Rosenthal being described as a Lego Lesbian. Fellow judge Katherine Ryan looked on in open-mouthed shock at some of the puerile lines. I think she is great, but this is maybe not the best vehicle for her skills.

I can only speak for the first episode, of course. Later instalments include partners Sarah Keyworth and Catherine Bohart and I think they feel that they are sending out a positive image of gay relationships by appearing on the show. Some of my favourite newish comedians are on too, from Alfie Brown verbally jousting with his ex-partner Jessie Cave to Darren Harriott and Rose Matafeo (not against each other, though that would be fun to watch). Maybe the tone of different roast battles will vary, but I thought the first programme was a pretty grim way to start the run. 

Nightly from Monday, October 1 at 10pm, Comedy Central UK.

See the full line-up here.

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