Roasting a person, whether it's a celebratory dinner, a best-man's speech at a wedding or a loving comedy routine meant to poke fun at the guest of honor, is a delicate balance between funny and insulting. Originally created over 100 years ago at the famed Friars Club in New York City, the members delighted in shooting zingers at the roastee, often reducing the guests in the audience to tears of laughter.
The roast speech is comprised of funny memories, strange occurrences, embarrassing moments and raucous adventures that the guest of honor has experienced, but it is all done with love. As the Friars Club motto goes: "We only roast the ones we love."
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Understand the Roastee’s Personality
You don't want to singe-roast someone who can't take a joke, who is sensitive, who has had a hardscrabble life and doesn't want to revisit it or whose parents are in the audience and are unaware of the honoree's "other side" or arrest record. You want to leave the roastee and everyone else in tears of laughter, not tears of embarrassment.
Don't use vulgarity if the roastee doesn't use vulgar language. Don't be brutal. A roast speech should make everyone laugh with love.
Researching the Roast Speech
Before putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, talk to the honoree's friends and family. Get material that indicates the personality and oddities of the person being roasted.
Go back in your memory to experiences you've shared, both funny and touching. Remember that you're writing with love, with a little embarrassment thrown in. The guests may include family members, so you don't want to be mean or shocking.
Writing the Speech
A roast speech must be organized so that the audience grasps the content. Being vague leaves them questioning what you mean. You're going for humor, laughter and sentiment, all mixed with tasteful vulgarity.
The punch line, which is your "gotcha" moment, is the heart of the joke and should be either at the beginning or end of the sentence. Hugh Grant's best-man speech in "Four Weddings and a Funeral" is a prime example of mixing all the elements into a successful speech.
Delivering the Speech
Make notes, whether bullet points or written in sentences, but rehearse and rehearse until you are no longer dependent on those notes. Be sure to leave a pause for the laughter if the punch line is at the end of the sentence. You don't want to waste the next joke if it's buried in the laughter of the previous joke. Pace yourself and your audience.
Always Be Gracious
Judge your honoree's demeanor as you give your speech. Also note the audience's response to your jokes. Recognize if either look uncomfortable and realize if you've gone too far. Cut back if that's the case. A nice touch would be to have the speech printed and bound in a folder and present it to the roastee at the end of the roast speech.