They were billed as "professional comedians." That was the death knell.
Or maybe their usual modus operandi (flying by the seat of their pants) had at last been exhausted with their last gig, which had, once again, gone surprisingly well. Some one must have called the Karma Police.
Or maybe it was that the majority of the other participants were already drunk when they got there, and had known the recipient of the roast for years. They got up, one by one, and rattled off a series of increasingly hilarious and embarrassing true stories, all perfectly gilded with sincere fraternal affection. It was not an act you'd want to follow.
It was during the prepared remarks of the life-long friend that the comedy writers exchanged the questioning glance with undertones of panic. "How the hell do you roast somebody?" They realized that even if there was a way to live up to their billing, they were not about to discover it in the next ten minutes. Mostly because the next roaster was the Jewish/African-American Uncle, who got the joint roaring with material that only the black uncle of an irishly white bachelor could sell. Ten seconds into his remarks, they were laughing too hard to worry.
Then came the fateful words: "And now, two professional comedians . . ."
The primary problem was that the format of a roast is eerily identical to stand-up comedy, which is something the comedy writers had never done, of which they had in fact lived in abject fear. They were, ergo, a little flustered. The subsequent problem was that they somehow decided not to go up together. Stupid for two "professionals" who had rarely worked a room separately. They exchanged another glance, in which comedy writer number 2 must have communicated a more immediate disability of fear, since the brave comedy writer number 1 ascended into the roasted one's lap without apparent hesitation. He got off to a great start, as he literally sat on the subject's lap. He was the first and only roaster to offer the lap dance. An ingenious way to exploit the blessed absence of the usually obligatory stripper.
Comedy writer number 2 did not hear the remainder of his partner's roast. He did manage to laugh really loud at intervals he assumed were concurrent with punchlines. But in truth, he was madly concocting a formula in his head. It went something like this:
Rules of the Roast:
A) Go Blue. Even if you are dedicated to the proposition that Keepin' it Clean is Keepin' it Real, forget about all that and go straight for the genitalia. A bawdy reference to the subject's sex life is crucial. Bodily functions, while not mandatory, are also prime material.
B) Be affectionately cruel. You have to be mean, or it isn't a roast. But you have to do it in a way that is generic, and could be transplanted to almost anyone in the room. Any real indictment of behavior or character will get uncomfortable. It is a really fine line. Talk about the past, because everyone has one. And remember that only members of the family need tell the truth. They are the only ones with stories that go far back enough to have that halcyon days of yore feeling, thereby making them cruel because they are embarrassing, and hilarious because they are sepia toned and untouchable. You only need a few touchstones and then you can embellish. Ideally, your remarks will be almost complete fiction.
C) Recycle. The roast master sets the tone, then everyone essentially retells the same set of jokes with a slightly different flavor. In the case at hand, the mandatory references were: 1)The subject's veganism; 2) his colon (or "butt problem"); 3) his apparent gayness; 4) his prospective bride outclassing him; and 5) his second life as a minor local celebrity. (The other main reference, his childhood, is not on this list because it was not accessible to the person desperately formulating this recipe.)
D) Close with Love. Words to the effect of "Seriously, I really do love this guy. He's great" seem to make everything OK, and therefore constitute the button on the cap of every roaster's remarks.
With this list in his head, the comedy writer felt calm. He marched up there and did what he had to do. And even as every moment convinced him that "professional comedian" was not a title he would ever put next to his name, he proved that, armed with the correct formula and a little aplomb, even a cloistered hack can get juiced men at a bachelor's roast laughing.
It was, all in all, a great time.