A roast is a form of American humor in which a specific individual, a guest of honor, is subjected to jokes at their expense, intended to amuse the event's wider audience. Such events are intended to honor a specific individual in a unique way. In addition to jokes and insult comedy, such events may also involve genuine praise and tributes. The implication is that the roastee is able to take the jokes in good humor and not as serious criticism or insult. The individual is surrounded by friends, fans, and well-wishers, who can receive some of the same treatment as well during the course of the evening. The party and presentation itself are both referred to as a "roast". The host of the event is called the "roastmaster". Anyone who is mocked in such a way is said to have been "roasted".
"FRIARS KID MR. HARRIS: Veteran Theatrical Manager Butt of Jokes at Dinner" read the headline of the December 10, 1910 issue of the New York Tribune.
The final few seasons of the television show Kraft Music Hall, from 1968 to 1971, included broadcasts of the Friars Club Roast; the celebrities roasted included Johnny Carson, Milton Berle, Jack Benny, Don Rickles, and Jerry Lewis.
Dean Martin hosted a series of roasts on television in 1974 as part of the final season of his self-titled variety show. After the show was cancelled, NBC decided to schedule a series of The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast specials from the former MGM Grand Hotel and Casino (now Bally's Las Vegas) in the Ziegfeld Room; these were recorded and aired approximately once every two months from late 1974 to early 1979, and another three were produced in 1984. The celebrities roasted included actors Kirk Douglas, Bette Davis, and Jimmy Stewart; athletes Muhammad Ali, Joe Namath, and Wilt Chamberlain; comedians Lucille Ball, Jackie Gleason, and Redd Foxx; politicians Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater; and singers Frank Sinatra and Martin himself. The humor at these broadcast tributes was far tamer than the sometimes extremely vulgar and explicit language of the private, non-televised ones.
From 1998 to 2002, the cable channel Comedy Central produced and broadcast the annual roast of the New York Friars Club, with roasts of the celebrities Drew Carey, Jerry Stiller, Rob Reiner, Hugh Hefner, and Chevy Chase.
Based on the success of these roasts, Comedy Central began hosting their own roasts on an approximately annual basis, under the name Comedy Central Roast. The first roastee was Denis Leary in 2003, followed by Jeff Foxworthy, Pamela Anderson, William Shatner, Flavor Flav, Bob Saget, Larry the Cable Guy, Joan Rivers, David Hasselhoff, Donald Trump, Charlie Sheen, Roseanne Barr, James Franco, Justin Bieber, Rob Lowe and Bruce Willis.
Comedian Jeff Ross notably gained fame through his participation in the televised Comedy Central roasts, and is frequently referred to as the "Roastmaster General" (a position he in fact holds with the New York Friars' Club).
In 2010, Comedy Central's international affiliates began to produce and air their own local roasts as well. Comedy Central New Zealand has aired two roasts (of Mike King and Murray Mexted), Comedy Central Africa has aired two (of Steve Hofmeyr and Kenny Kunene), Comedy Central Latin America has aired one, of Héctor Suárez, and Comedy Central Netherlands has aired two, of Gordon (which was the highest-watched broadcast in the history of the channel) and Giel Beelen.
The theme of one of the episodes (Season 5 episode 15) of the NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation was the main character Leslie Knope roasting the media of the fictional town of Pawnee in a local correspondents lunch.
Some unsuccessful attempts have been made to adapt the American roast format to a British audience. Channel 4 launched the latest British version on April 7, 2010 with A Comedy Roast, with initial victims being Bruce Forsyth, Sharon Osbourne, and Chris Tarrant.Davina McCall and Barbara Windsor were other victims.
The Indian comedy group All India Bakchod organized the live show AIB Knockout in January 2015 featuring Arjun Kapoor and Ranveer Singh with Karan Johar as the roastmaster. The programme caused a controversy for allegedly featuring distasteful, sexist, offending and humiliating content. Videos of the event were removed from YouTube, and the state is contemplating a clamp down on future AIB Knockouts, following legal action by some viewers.Comedy Nights Bachao by Optimystix production is also based on this format; however, they avoid going too racy to keep the show family friendly.
The White House Correspondents' Association and Radio and Television Correspondents' Association have annual dinners that, in some years, feature a comedy roasting of the U.S. President. Don Imus at the RTCA in 1996, Stephen Colbert in 2006 and Michelle Wolf in 2018 have received particular attention for their biting remarks during their speeches.
During presidential election years in the U.S., it is customary for both major party candidates to attend the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, typically engaging in a roast of each other, and occasionally themselves.