Character Assassination — the loose collection of Louisville comedians that regularly gathers to offer ribald mockery of celebrities and fictional characters — always puts on a good show. But one of the best is the annual New Year’s Roast, when comics get on stage to kick the previous year in the can and send it out the door.
It’s slated to take over The Bard’s Town stage this weekend.
As is customary at the Roasts, most performers appear as a celebrity or character, a gimmick that provides for excellent comedic fodder since celebrities tend to mock each other in interesting ways.
Insider reached out to a few of this year’s Roast performers, Mandee McKelvey and Sean Keller, to tell us why 2017 was the absolute worst. The hilarious answers were no surprise, but the comedians also had serious thoughts to offer on the upheavals the comedy world experienced this year.
Of course, in true comedic fashion, even many of the painful or serious observations about the year came out with sharp witticism and a rueful laugh.
The first topic of conversation, as it frequently is with comics, was politics, although in Keller’s case, it also includes a touch of self-abasement.
“I think it’s my fault, because back in November of 2016, the Cubs were getting ready for Game 7 in the World Series,” Keller explains. “I made a prayer: ‘I don’t care what happens in the rest of the world as long as the Cubs win the World Series.’ And then a reality TV star got elected president, Nazis are back and all of our favorite celebrities are horrible sex monsters.”
He contrasts this year’s scandals with the famously high celebrity death toll of 2016, saying it’s far worse to discover your idol is a sex monster, opining that celebrities who died got off easy.
“Hugh Hefner got out just in time. Like, all of his sexual misconduct? All the horribleness? If that had happened a little sooner, then I don’t think he’d have fared so well,” says Keller, before invoking another celebrity, the once beloved Louis C.K.
“If he’d have died, going out in his prime, can you imagine,” continues Keller. “It would’ve been like the first time Michael Jordan retired. But now with the horrible stuff that came out, this is like when Michael Jordan played baseball — I wish he’d stayed retired. Or died.”
The Roasters are never easy on their subjects, though one might suggest the lambasting of C.K. and others brought about by #MeToo is well-deserved.
While Louis C.K. was one of several topics Keller addressed, including the release of the new “Star Wars” movie, McKelvey mostly focused on the effects of the #MeToo movement and the next generation of comedians, though she still took time to speak on the subject of Trump.
“Every comedian has a checklist of things you kind of have to deal with to become a good comic: The first time you bomb so hard that you leave or cry. The first time you get heckled,” she says. “The first time a booker books you on a gig and then after the gig they don’t pay you. The first time someone throws something at you.”
Her list went on and on, and after she finished, she compared this list with a second list, specific to women in comedy.
“The first time somebody books you to come work with them and then you find out they only got one hotel room for the both of you. Or first time a comedian in another city offers you a place to crash and then they try to crawl into bed with you,” she adds.
According to McKelvey, this list of circumstances, which included many more awful behaviors, is so commonplace, many women just accept it as part of the price of doing business.
“I have seen so many unwanted penises, they genuinely do not faze me — to the point that I forgot it was harassment,” she says.
These facts, in the hands of an experienced comic like McKelvey, were hilarious. She riffed on how low her standards for men had fallen, saying her one hope was that someday she would date a man who doesn’t watch porn.
“Like, being with a guy who doesn’t have to watch some drug-addled teenager get jackhammered to death just to rub one out? What a prince,” says McKelvey. “And even then, that’s a long shot. That’s why I’m alone. My standards are too high.”
McKelvey says she feels nothing but awe and respect for the new generation of comics and women who are standing up and saying no. Because of these upheavals, she confides that 2017 was not, in fact, the worst.
“Here’s my secret, and I’m gonna put a lot of this in my set — the secret is, 2017 wasn’t the worst year ever. It put a magnifying glass on the fact that it’s always been a dumpster fire,” she says. “And I’m so freakin’ excited about it … so 2017 was actually the best.”
Expect to hear hilarious riffs on all these topics Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 30-31, at The Bard’s Town when McKelvey, Keller and a half-dozen of our city’s finest comedians sound on other topics tame and terrible as they help Louisvillians reflect on the year that was.
Shows start at 8 p.m. each night, and tickets are $10 advance, $15 at the door. The smart bet is to buy tickets online, as these shows have grown in popularity and sell out frequently. The Bard’s Town is located at 1801 Bardstown Road.