When Jesse Joyce agreed to an interview this week, I was hoping the veteran stand-up comic and writer would take me, and eventually you, behind the scenes of the Comedy Central roasts.
Joyce, fresh off writing for Monday’s Roast of James Franco, didn’t do that. He did more.
With 10 Comedy Central roasts, “The Burn with Jeff Ross” and this year’s Oscars among his writing credits, Joyce is one of the most sought-after comedy writers working today.
He has written exclusively for Seth McFarlane and the late, great Greg Giraldo, resulting in some of the funniest moments in roast history. He will also be enhancing the Franco roast experience on Monday by tweeting jokes that didn’t make the final cut for the Huffington Post.
Even though he’s a brilliant, prolific writer for the roasts and other shows, Joyce is a stand-up at heart. The Pittsburgh native admitted during our Wednesday afternoon chat that he’d much rather be delivering his jokes on stage instead of watching other people tell them.
Whether the discussion was about writing or performing, I’m thrilled I had the chance to pick Joyce’s brain for a little while. He pulled no punches in this interview and if you can find a more revealing description of the roast process, keep that shit to yourself because I want to bask in the glory of this for at least a day or so, OK? Thanks.
TC: Is Franco involved in the joke writing process in any form or fashion or is he completely surprised at the taping?
JJ: Zero. It’s possible that (Seth) Rogen might have told him a few of the ones that he was working on, but for the most part, he has no idea. When they do rehearsal, they make sure that they even block out his intro so that nobody sees the joke intro about him. They try to make sure that the whole thing is genuine, surprised reaction to all of the awful shit that’s said about him.
TC: Have any of the people you’ve roasted said, “Hey, this is off limits. Don’t joke about that” or has it always been anything goes?
JJ: The dais can go fuck themselves if they have any “Don’t talk about this” or whatever.
But yes, the guest of honor ordinarily is granted a, “Hey, do me a favor. Don’t bring this up.” Typically, it’s reasonable and we abide by it unless it’s an outrageous demand and then it’s like, fuck you, we’re going to do it anyway.
Donald Trump said don’t make any hair jokes and it’s like, either we make hair jokes or we play out that eastern European whores fuck you for money. Which one would you rather us not hit?
He’s the worst person ever, but, like, Bob Saget said don’t make fun of the Olsen twins. That’s fair. There are some ground rules, like you shouldn’t hit people who aren’t there and you stay away from their family. If they have a retarded daughter, you don’t bring that up. There are ethics among roasters.
TC: I was under the impression that you go write jokes for a week and you’re done, but I noticed on your schedule that it takes almost a month to get the roasts to come together?
JJ: It’s a pain in the ass, yeah. The problem is, most of it’s done in the last week anyway and there’s always so many changes and things that happen.
For this one, they didn’t really have much of a dais until, like, the third week. All we knew for sure was Franco and Rogen. Everybody else on the dais, we had to write all those jokes in the last week.
Ordinarily, there’s almost nothing visible from the first week in the actual show. That’s just the way it kind of goes. It didn’t happen so much this time, but people drop out at the last minute and you just have to scrap a bunch of those jokes
TC: Does everybody just gather in a room and come up with ideas?
JJ: I have had a different path than most of the other guys because I have traditionally written for (one) dude. I was in the room for this one, but I wrote for Giraldo for most of the roasts and then after he passed away, I got hooked up with Seth McFarlane so I just ended up writing his stuff. That is way better in my experience because there’s no bullshit checks and balances system that you’ve got to go through. It has nothing to do with the other writers. The other writers are terrific. It’s just that…when I was working with Greg or Seth, it’s basically, you write a joke, you hand it to them, they do the joke. That’s where it ends.
When you do it through the staff, the head writer takes everything, with our guidance, and that goes to the producer and then that goes to the heads of Comedy Central and then that goes to whatever person’s manager and then that goes to their publicist and then it gets to (the roaster). So, there’s like six people who could fuck it up before it ever gets to the person. That’s why I prefer to just write for a guy because there’s no bureaucracy.
I lucked out. Greg and Seth would literally just do the joke the way I wrote it. Seth is a super-busy dude and he has a really good sense of humor. Basically, he would just look at a joke and go, “Yeah. Good one. Fine.” That’s more satisfying to me also. That came directly out of my brain the way it is (delivered on stage).
TC: Which means more to you: A joke that kills for you on stage or a joke that you wrote for somebody else?
JJ: Oh, I hate writing for other people. Writing is just a thing that I’m really good at and people ask me to do all the time, but it’s not what I want to be doing. Stand-up is totally where it’s at for me.
I go through a lot of waves where I’m tired of making other people funnier. (laughs) Because I’m a comic, people know like, “Oh, Jesse writes for the roasts” so at least I get that but, yes, I would so much rather be doing it myself.
TC: Are you able, or do you even try, to go up while you’re on a writing project?
JJ: I’m far more focused on my stand-up than anything else. It’s just so draining to try to do both. I don’t really know anybody who does both successfully. That’s why, every (writing) gig that I take, on purpose, is a short-term thing. That’s why I haven’t taken a staff job on any shows. I don’t want that kind of time commitment.
Writing for these roasts…they’re like 12-hour days. Even if you hypothetically did have time to get out and do a spot, you’ve just been pouring all your creativity into something else so why would I go up and do the same 15 minutes that I know already works? I’ve been doing stand-up for 16 years and the jokes that I know work, work. I’m not getting anything out of just going up and phoning in those when I’m busy creating for somebody else.
Here it is, The Best Tweet I Can Find In Five Minutes:
You’re thinking of the floor Macklemore. The floor is supposed to hold us.
— Ken Jennings (@KenJennings) August 30, 2013