Martyn McLaughlin: The Roast is well-done comedy in the great American tradition

I HEARD my first Roast at a young age, courtesy of a crude bootleg cassette passed under the school dinner table. Entitled Stars At Their Worst, I knew nothing of the personalities involved – US comedians Buddy Hackett and Milton Berle – and the jokes seemed weaker than a Labour majority. Nonetheless, I played it until the tape wore thin.

The appeal was not the material, but the notion that I was eavesdropping on a secret rite, surreptitiously recorded for the pleasure of strangers – a 1950s version of the Paris Hilton tape, if you will.

The Roast is a form of American comedy that sadly has never quite translated to these shores, despite its straightforward premise: take one celebrity, preferably in their heyday; add a generous quantity of caustic comedians; insult until boiling.

Since the days of Hackett and Berle, the Roast has encountered and demolished new boundaries of decency. Take the time Richard Pryor, the great stand-up comic who once set himself alight while freebasing crack cocaine, was the Roastee. A pre-Mrs Doubtfire Robin Williams dubbed him "the man who proved that not only is black beautiful, it's flammable". Or there is the more recent Roast of rapper Flava Flav who, according to comedian Jimmy Kimmel, is "responsible for more homeless black children than Hurricane Katrina".

There are countless other jibes, but all are unfit for publication on a pub toilet wall, let alone a national newspaper (I direct you instead towards YouTube). The Roast, nevertheless, is hugely popular, attracting record ratings for Comedy Central, which began broadcasting heavily edited versions of the events in the late 1990s.

The closest British equivalent is Jonathan Ross on BBC1, but occasional discomfiture at the host's remarks is nullified by the fact nearly every guest is a consenting cog in the promotional machine.

I am not advocating unchecked crudity for the sake of it, but the Roast has much to offer audiences and comedians alike. It encourages brutal candour from its participants, and demands an inventive, testing strain of comedy.

For too long, young British comedians have cited as their inspirations Pryor, Bill Hicks, Lenny Bruce and George Carlin – agents of truth and anger who scorned compromise to continue ranting while all around them fell into awkward silence.

If we introduce the Roast in Britain, where people are not plugging books or films but simply testing their own comic mettle and moral barometers, we might find their successors. And in the process, who would not like to see the great and the good have their egos bruised?

The pop-up festival tent … 'Christ, no!'

WHATEVER pain and profanity the purchase of a proper tent might guarantee, it will doubtless prove less bothersome than its 'pop-up' equivalent.

It was not always thus. Having arrived in Dumfriesshire for the Wickerman Festival on Saturday afternoon, my party had set up camp after a mere five minutes.

Sat back soon after with a bottle of Kopparberg, we sang the invention's praises, our conversation repeatedly employing words such as "handy", "simple" and "ingenious."

Less than 24 hours later, our vocabulary had turned blue. For a full half-hour, we struggled to fit the tent back in its supposedly handy, fold-up bloody bag, swearing profusely in only the way an inanimate object can provoke. In a fit of pique (or rather, a nasty pear cider hangover), my co-camper threw aside all notions of delicacy and proceeded to twist and wrestle its frame until finally there came a satisfying crack.

There is no such thing as ease where music festivals are concerned. Someone should tell the inventors of the pop-up tent.