‘You’re trying to hurt me but it’s for entertainment’ – speaking to Sebastian Fazio, the brains behind Marvel vs DC and other themed comedy roast shows
We’ve all got our favourite franchises, whether that’s Marvel, Game of Thrones, or Star Wars, but one Toronto comic is making a splash by turning them into comedy roast shows – where comedians dress as characters that brutally pick holes in one another, typically at Comedy Bar on Bloor Street West.
From his schoolyears, Sebastian Fazio was obsessed with the historic Second City, which features training programmes and live theatres in Toronto, as well as Chicago and Los Angeles.
Between 17 and 22 he wanted to follow in the footsteps of famed improviser Tina Fey by becoming a regular performer for Second City, so he took a series of training courses, including improv and writing.
However standup turned out to be his calling.
When working as an usher at the Absolute Comedy club, Ryan Muglunob, a booker and comic, told Fazio he was going to perform on a pro-am night in the New Year.
“I rehearsed all the jokes I’d been writing since I was 18,” Fazio says. “It went well! The audience knew it was my first time so they were super supportive.
“I’ve wanted to do comedy ever since.”
Fazio then honed his craft, taking on the style of various other comics until he found his own voice.
First there was the deadpan Demetri Martin, whom Fazio calls his favourite comedian to this day. Then Hannibal Buress and dark US comic Anthony Jeselnik became big influences.
Becoming the Roastmaster
As a producer ‘The Roast of Sebastian Fazio’ was his first show, but Fazio knew he wasn’t a well-known enough figure to sell out venues.
Then the idea hit him.
“I started getting into Marvel comics that year and the year before, so I thought ‘what if I do a roast battle show of Marvel vs DC?’,” he remembers.
“There’s such a storied rivalry and I have a passion for both sides.”
The show would initially pitch one costumed Toronto comic versus another, though the format has now changed so the comics perform jokes about a number of other characters, who all remain on stage.
After the growing success of Marvel vs DC others themed roast shows followed at Comedy Bar, some of which have sold out the mainstage.
To date we’ve seen characters from Harry Potter, Friends, Seinfeld, The Office, Game of Thrones, Gilmore Girls, Star Wars and Nintendo verbally kick lumps out of each other for audiences’ entertainment.
Keeping it mean
Jokes at these shows can often be dark in nature, similar to a regular roast show.
“You might be able to go slightly further with fictional characters – the person is not real.” Fazio says. “But it’s undoubtedly meaner in a real roast because the stakes are higher.”
Fazio has upset others with harsh jokes at roast shows, though he says he has a thick skin when others are roasting him.
“I’ve never been upset by what someone’s said, even if it’s the worst thing,” he explains.
“My dog died and I told people they could joke about it.
“I’ve only been upset by things off stage.
“When performing the intentions are different – you’re trying to hurt me but it’s for entertainment.”
Following their success these themed roast battles have entertained bigger crowds outside of Comedy Bar.
For example Marvel vs DC appeared at Fan Expo, while the roasters have also entertained Ottawa Comicon.
“Audiences laugh even harder at expos,” Fazio says. “At Comicon everyone is there for superheroes, so the passion is a lot more evident.”
At Comicon Fazio was advised to keep the content to a PG13, but the crowd were having none of it.
“They kept encouraging us to go darker,” he remembers. “I had a bunch of jokes I wasn’t sure would fly and everyone was shouting ‘do it’ – and when I did the whole room applauded.”
At the time of writing the next roast show is Star Trek themed on February 5th, followed by Thunderbolt vs Suicide Squad on February 19th, and then a Roast of the 2000s on March 1st.
In 2023 we’re also likely to see a Pixar-themed roast, while Fazio is considering themed shows for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and James Bond.
Aside from these shows, Fazio wants to record a comedy special where he takes on some of the best roast comedians in Canada – in particular he’d love to battle K. Trevor Wilson.
The aim is to record the show by the fall of 2023.
“I want to challenge people at the top of the mountain to prove to myself and the comedy community as a whole that I’ve got what it takes to stand with the best of them,” he says.