Eminem. Tim Burton. Aquaman. Kanye. Disney Princesses. Mario. Theyve all been the targets of Character Assassination, a reoccurring live comedy show at The Bards Town during which local comedians roast historical and fictional figures. An ad hoc troupe with members in Louisville and Chicago, including Kent Carney, Mandee McKelvey and Sean Keller, Character Assassination was started in December 2011 by Will Hardesty and Raanan Hershberg as a way for comedians to gain an audience and push their boundaries. This weekend, on Feb. 8-9, the theme is Netflix and Chill the comics will make fun of each other while dressed as characters from Daredevil, Stranger Things, Bird Box, The Crown, Making A Murderer and more.
LEO: Tell us about how Character Assassination started. Mandee McKelvey: The Bards Town hadnt been open for very long. They wanted to do some comedy shows. They were interested in other formats, so Will and Raanan approached the Bards Town about doing comedy there.
Sean Keller: Didnt Raanan say we should roast Jesus?
McKelvey: They asked me to be the Virgin Mary. The first roast was Tyler Jackson dressed up as Jesus, and I was dressed up as the Virgin Mary. Thats pre-us understanding these characters. It was probably pretty awful, because we didnt understand time lengths or things like that. By the fourth show, everyone was in costume roasting from the perspective of the character. Within six months, you had to have a special skillset to do the roast. Now, its been seven years. Its become a fun squad of 15 comedians that we pull from around the city that can do these kind of writing and acting jobs and to improv when it turns to shit, which it does, they have to be able to adapt in the moment. It gets weird. Its not even real roasting anymore. And were making our costumes. Were thrifting and sewing.
What inspires a roast? Keller: We each have our individual bucket list, but we meet up and figure out whats going to be evergreen. We basically just talk about it until one or two ideas become really exciting to us.
McKelvey: In October, we shoot for something kind of spooky, and at Derby we try to find things that are Kentucky-centric. Weve tried to think of one for [U.S. Sen. Mitch] McConnell.
Whats the Louisville comedy scene about? Is there a style unique to the city? McKelvey: The alt-scene has kicked up in the last four years. They got so tired of not having a place to play. Kaiju, that is basically roast training ground.
What things are on your hell no list to bust on? Is there anything off limits? Keller: Every single show, they tell me what I cant do.
McKelvey: I think were evolving. Years ago, I played Michael Jackson. We have a white man that played Kim Jong Un. He didnt do a voice or anything, he just looked like him. But were growing and evolving. Were trying to be more considerate of what we put out there. Were a little more sensitive about what were casting. If someone is going to do cross-racial casting, it has to be for a good reason. The thing about doing, say, Pablo Escobar, is that you cant do it without doing his voice. Were changing when we learn. Were still growing as things are moving and trying to make the best decisions. I like the fact that we genuinely try to discuss the implications of our characters. The roasts are punching down. Were punching the shit out of each other, and thats not cool, but were doing it ironically.
How do you feel about so-called PC culture as it relates to comedy? Kent Carney: Without being all Donald Trumpy, two-sides about it. I am kind of of two minds about it. I think there are people that will willfully not get the point and have a knee-jerk reaction to things. And I think stand-up comedians are the most full-of-shit people on this. But, I think there needs to be some give and take. Comedians need to take responsibility for their words. I think that a lot of comedians have this attitude like, this is just a joke, like, Im right, and any negative reaction you have to it is wrong. Its selling yourself short. I remember reading a thing that Carlin said. He said that anything is on the table. He said that any topic is up. You can make anything funny, but the more fucked up the thing that you say is, the harder you have to work.
McKelvey: We have to write offensive jokes all the time, because its a roast. Is it something I would say, or something that my character would say. But I also dont want to work in some slurs and stuff. In stand up, I dont get the need to punch down. If you cant write a set that doesnt punch down on a marginalized group, then just go away. Its so easy to not shit on a marginalized group. Its shockingly easy.