If you think comedian Jeff Ross will shy away from roasting the president of the United States, take another guess. In Netflix’s original comedy series “Historical Roasts,” that is exactly what he does.
Known as the “Roastmaster General,” Ross hosts and moderates this stand-up comedy show, where he and his panel of guests dress up as prominent historical figures and unapologetically roast each other in character. As long as you don’t mind some dark humor, Ross’ show might be a pleasant surprise.
Deemed as “a history lesson for millennials,” “Historical Roasts” isn’t like your traditional roast battle or average history class. Described as “‘Drunk History’ meets ‘Comedy Central Roast,’” the concept of this project was born from a segment performed at a popular Los Angeles comedy club in 2014.
Spotlighting famous historical icons, the show teaches the audience about their legacies and reveal neglected fun facts, all through harmless mockeries and laughter.
Each episode in the series centers around a different historical personality. The first episode kicks off with roasting one of the most beloved presidents of the United States: Abraham Lincoln (played by Bob Saget).
Placed on the throne — also known as the “hot seat” — the panel of roasters awaits their turn at taking a jab at the president. In this particular episode, the panel consists of Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln (Natasha Leggero), Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilks Booth (John Stamos), and Harriet Tubman (Yamaneika Saunders).
Ross, a veteran in this career field, is the perfect choice for hosting this series according to OBB Picture CEO, Michael D. Ratner, who bought the rights to the show from the LA comedy club. “For anything in the roast space to feel authentic, you’ve got to bring it to Jeff,” Ratner told the Hollywood Reporter.
For more than two decades, Ross has been bringing satire and comedic relief on pop culture and hard-hitting subjects for our entertainment indulgence. He is the creator of Comedy Central’s “Roast Battle,” which is on its third season, and the writer for numerous segments at the New York Friars Club.
Ross describes his approach to making “Historical Roasts” novel to the Hollywood Reporter. “Nothing is off-limits because no one’s going to complain,” he says. “I didn’t want this to be an old white guy’s history show. I wanted it to represent what’s going on in the world now, so you need a very diverse writing staff.”
And that is what the production team behind the show strives for. Professional historians accompany the show writers in order to prescribe the most accurate and justified interpretation of the noted icons and translate the facts into a slew of witty comments.
Led by writer Frank Sebastiano from “Saturday Night Live,” the team successfully incorporates historical facts with clever remarks in a seamless manner. In addition, “Historical Roasts” enlightens its audience on opposing perspectives that are often overlooked.
Once you catch the rhythm of the show, it quickly reveals its charm. The writers and producers script all the jokes with an educational intent at heart.
Through the laughter and benign ridicule, the viewers learn snippets and fun facts about historical figures, which otherwise go unmentioned in our textbooks. This humor technique is not only attractive but also effective amongst its targeted audience.
For example, in the Lincoln episode, Mary Todd Lincoln’s (Natasha Leggero) monologue broaches upon a conspiracy theory regarding Lincoln’s friendship with his close companion, Joshua Speed. According to the first lady’s perspective on the historical account, Lincoln favors time spent with Speed rather than her.
For Harriet Tubman, her roast was more angry than thankful. Although Lincoln’s legacy is intertwined with the abolition of slavery, in her roast, Tubman (Yamaneika Saunders) points out that Lincoln only freed the slaves on paper. She freed them in person, saying that he was “taking the credit for my hard work,” the perspective making her rage sound justifiable.
The guest panel, or supporting cast for the roastee, offers a diverse, alternative perception of the episode’s subject. These individual perspectives create a refreshing view on history compared to how it’s taught in classrooms.
However, the real appeal of this show, in my opinion, is how the producers engage its live studio audience. Alongside the comedians, audience members are invited to dress up in costumes in accordance to the specific era of which the main subject resided.
By immersing the audience with the performers, it creates a holistic atmosphere, a sense that this community of people are actually in that time period, making the experience more realistic and true to its story.
When the show first premiered on Netflix, it wasn’t well received. To those in doubt, know that this show has much more to offer than meaningless commentaries. The goal of “Historical Roasts” is not only to bring the past to the present but also to essentially reflect on the past that reminds us of current social issues.
With its lighthearted humor and biting wit, “Historical Roasts” is a creative and innovative way to interest the younger generation in the importance of world history. It is essential, now more than ever before, to captivate them with lessons from the past, and this show achieves that.