The concept of a roast is one that still mostly harkens back to the days of A-list comedians sitting around a dais and throwing insults at one another alongside some food and drink. If Dean Martin somehow made them family-friendly for network TV, we all know that the Friars Club roasts are from anything being safe to view at work. Even if Comedy Central sometimes shows those Friars Club roasts in heavily edited form, does it seem impossible for a roast to take place in the workplace?
It’s not anything out of the ordinary to see roasts take place in companies, especially when for a retiring employee or for someone’s birthday. While this usually takes place in companies that have smaller staff who know one another well, what guidelines should you follow to make it a successful roast? Should you still follow the rules that comedians use, or should you take a different path to avoid misunderstandings?
Conducting Research on the Honoree
A successful roast is ribbing things about the honoree that perhaps not everyone knows. If you’re already a fairly tight-knit group of employees, chances are there’s something that you don’t know about the honored employee. Hiring a research team to find information without the honoree knowing will make for a more entertaining roast. This might involve some Internet research, or calling family and friends to find stories that can be turned into comedic monologues.
Then comes the time to write the monologues, decide who’s going to say what, and for how long.
How Long Should Each Monologue Go?
When writing the content spoken at the roast, be sure to have someone with a good ear for comedy. It’s also a good idea to have the chosen speakers recite the script out loud in a rehearsal so you can make sure the jokes sound right for their personality. Some employees may not have good comedic timing, and it may have to mean some tweaking at the last minute. In some case, it’s better to have each employee write their own speech so they can write with their own voice in mind.
It’s length that you want to pay attention to. If you’ve ever watched the Friars Club roasts or other roasts of old, you’ll notice that each speech runs about 10 minutes. For a professional comedian, that might be good. For those who aren’t comedians by trade, five minutes at best is much safer. Especially if you have a large staff, you don’t want someone going on too long to lose the momentum. Then again, if someone is good at improvising and gets into a zone of being hilarious, there’s no need to give them the hook.
Should the Jokes Be Insults?
Toastmasters International gives some good guidelines on how to approach the insult jokes at roasts. The basic rule of thumb is to not make jokes that are overly sensitive or personal. While the Friars Club may be straddling that line in recent years, most roast jokes are about things that everyone knows aren’t true. The best jokes are also things that the honoree jokes about on their own. You’ll know it’s ok if they’ve mentioned it before, even if digging up stories nobody’s heard.
That’s one thing to keep in mind: Those stories you found have to be things that don’t really matter in the bigger picture. You don’t want to rib things like illnesses, legal problems, or personal deaths in their family. Perhaps things like divorces can be easily mocked if the honoree talks openly and humorously about them in the workplace.
Most of all, if you’re in charge of putting together a roast for a retiring employee or for their birthday, you have to be a good judge of what’s appropriate and what isn’t. It’s why communication is important in any staff, and why doing a roast may not be the best activity if you only confer with one another occasionally.