Taking the classic structure of an old school Comedy Central-style roast, Netflix’s new show Historical Roasts with Jeff Ross places its crosshairs on long-dead historical figures played by some of your favorite comedians and actors, making for one of the most original programs the streaming service has ever aired. And while it tackles plenty of historical moments, there’s one history you don’t get while binging: the history of the show itself. For an idea that’s brought out the likes of comedians like Gilbert Gottfried and Bob Saget, its beginnings are much more humble — this one came to life in the back of a local comic book store.
Creators Ryan Pigg and Eddie Furth met several years ago, when they were both interns at NerdMelt theater — a comedy cellar of sorts in the back of Los Angeles’ Meltdown Comics. The Theater was created in association with the popular podcast The Nerdist, and “it was this place comedians could put something up — not only go up and try new material out but also try new shows,” Pigg tells L.A. Weekly. “The formats were very different.”
Indeed, the NerdMelt stage can be credited for the creation of several shows. The two most popular included: The Meltdown with Jonah Ray and Kumail Nanjiani on Wednesday nights, and a popular Comedy Central series lasting three or four seasons, and Dan Harmon’s HarmonTown.
Finding themselves in a place brimming with alternative content, Furth and Pigg’s own creative minds got to work. Says Furth, “I looked at Ryan and I asked, ‘What’s missing from this schedule?’ ”
Pigg’s answer? A roast. Unfortunately, this simple idea had its roadblocks. “There was no one to roast that we could book, that would draw an audience,” Pigg admits. Luckily, this challenge sparked genius. If they couldn’t bring in living people to roast that would draw a crowd, why not turn their focus on the dead? And thus, Historical Roasts was born.
“It’s a Dean Martin, celebrity-style, Friars Club, Comedy Central roast — but instead of Bruce Willis, it’s Abe Lincoln,” Furth explains. The two interns quickly got to work, and NerdMelt gave them an opportunity to try it out at the Nerdist Improv School next door.
A year later, the duo began pitching the show to networks. About a year after that, OBB Pictures and Michael Ratner took the show on, and shortly thereafter, Jeff Ross joined the party. “When you’re doing a roast show, you want Jeff Ross,” Pigg says.
The show was quickly picked up by Netflix, and so, Furth and Pigg found themselves completing a process that could only be described as the Hollywood Dream: starting from small beginnings in a comedy cellar, and working their way up to streaming worldwide on one of the biggest platforms of all time.
So, what’s next for the roasters? Fictional Roasts, for one, taking on characters from Star Wars, Back to the Future and Harry Potter. The duo are also focused on expanding the live show that started it all. It’s been moved from Meltdown to the much larger Comedy Store.
“This is sort of a whole rebirth for us,” says Furth. “We’re hoping the Netflix show draws a whole new audience to the live show. We’re four and a half years and 70 roasts in, and we still have historical figures we want to roast. We would also love to take the show on the road and tour the country, take it to Canada, take it to the U.K., to Australia, anywhere that would have us. Obviously season 2 is the big thing on our minds, so we will see.”
Historical Roasts with Jeff Ross is on Netflix now. The Historial Roasts live show is at The Comedy Store, 8433 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; Wednesdays, July 17 and August 14 at 10:30 p.m. Also at Dynasty Typewriter, Tue., August 6 at 8 p.m. Fictional Roasts will be at Dynasty Typewriter, 2511 Wilsire Blvd., on July 9 at 8 p.m. More info at thecomedystore.com and dynastytypewriter.com.