'In Character' Conversation

Meet the Intern: Lindsay Totty

I'm Lindsay Totty, and I'm an NPR intern this season. With Trey Graham and Elizabeth Blair I've been getting the first look at most of the essays you've been sending in, and fetching some of the links that add that extra bit of style to the substance you've been so eagerly giving us (when I'm not getting distracted with YouTube clips of the TV shows your submissions bring up).

There have been so many great nominations coming from NPR listeners, and I've been having a lot of fun reading them. I even took the time to make a character nomination of my own, and, being privy to all the characters that are popular with you, I'm able to introduce you to one that you may not have heard of, but I'm sure you'll grow to love. So without further ado:

Roast Beef Kazenzakis
From the critically acclaimed webcomic Achewood
Written and drawn by Chris Onstad

Roast Beef'

Hard habit to break: Achewood's Roast Beef Courtesy Chris Onstad hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy Chris Onstad

Roast Beef is a cat who stands on his hind legs, speaks an idiosyncratic form of Ebonics, and designs web pages. He is one of the most beloved characters of a serialized web cartoon called Achewood. In a recent strip, he explained that hypothetically, it should be easy to hack into and sabotage a Stephen Hawking lecture because the renowned physicist "is basically a laptop."

What makes Roast Beef so appealing is the dark comedy produced by his intensely self-deprecating demeanor combined with the rare instances of pride and hard-won self-love that he exhibits over the course of the comic strip.

Roast Beef once threatened violence against someone who talked disparagingly of his closest friend — an AIBO robotic dog. At the urging of his girlfriend, Molly, he moved out of his callous grandmother's house. Earlier this year, he successfully (and accidentally) proposed marriage to Molly. We love Beef because he tries and often fails to love himself.



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yes, i love achewood and i love roast beef. and i love npr!

Sent by TN | 9:52 PM | 1-14-2008

roast beef, like hamlet or the pathetic main character of a romantic comedy, is the kind of depressive,we love to root for. but more than that, he reminds us that its a thin line between self loathing and a healthy lack of pride that lets us enjoy the simplicity of life.

Sent by Aaron Rabinowitz | 10:27 PM | 1-14-2008

Uh basically the greatest character to exist after Eeyore.

Sent by Frank Booth | 10:59 PM | 1-14-2008

Every time an instant message window dings, C. "Roast Beef" Kazenzakis sheds a tear. I do not love NPR. Nor do i miss the future or have polio or own a fax machine.

Sent by cpnglxynchos | 12:24 AM | 1-15-2008

roast beef is my favorite character ever!

good call. NPR's always spot on. :)

Sent by Danii Curry | 12:28 AM | 1-15-2008

Why that picture? Roast Beef disparages the weed! Just a few beers for him, or a case of wide-mouth Blue Nun when the situation demands. He only ever puffed when he was cajoled!

Sent by Marc | 12:28 AM | 1-15-2008

Picture misleading much?

Sent by Bogwan | 12:46 AM | 1-15-2008

You make it sound so boring! Ache Wood is heck of excellent!

Sent by Darth Brooks | 1:10 AM | 1-15-2008

I am confused about what alternate-universe Achewood you read where Beef speaks Ebonics, idiosyncratic or otherwise.

Sent by Paul E. | 2:26 AM | 1-15-2008

Achewood is too good to be classified as a comic of things that get smoked into the face.

Sent by Jen Boston | 2:54 AM | 1-15-2008

ebonics? always took it to be a northern californian bay area patois

Sent by AC | 3:38 AM | 1-15-2008

NPR ought to do an entire feature on Achewood. There is enough depth to the characters, storylines, and the Achewood world to merit thorough discussion

Sent by Nat | 5:32 AM | 1-15-2008

its r. beef kazenzakis. the r. is short for rebecca (i think). roast beef is simply his nickname

Sent by todd | 5:42 AM | 1-15-2008

We all know that Roast Beef comes from Circumstances and it is not his fault.

Sent by kittydragon | 5:57 AM | 1-15-2008

Who is the AIBO dog?! I'm an Achewood fanatic and I have NO idea who you are talking about.

And you do the world a disservice for not mentioning The Great Outdoor Fight. A cat can show no greater love for his fellow cat than driving the escape jeep while the gasoline is being poured.

Sent by hella | 6:31 AM | 1-15-2008

Good job Lindsay:

Achewood is a great choice to mine for character studies in current media.

R.B.K. being the most complex, complete and arguably beloved of the cast.

With this character Ondstad has been able to reveal real depth and create a connection with his audience with a degree of success that hasn't been seen in a "daily" strip since the realization of Charlie Brown.

Sent by Jimmy B. | 7:12 AM | 1-15-2008

A momentary diversion on the road to the grave.

Sent by colin | 7:41 AM | 1-15-2008

Excellent article, I couldn't agree more!

Sent by Iain | 7:50 AM | 1-15-2008

Achewood jumped the shark when Onstad started updating his readers about his daughter. The strip is old news, especially now that it's mainstream. Time to move elsewhere.

Sent by Owen | 8:01 AM | 1-15-2008

Excellent, excellent pick. Achewood is the best thing going in any medium.

Todd--Roast Beef's real name is Cassandra:


Sent by B | 8:27 AM | 1-15-2008

Mainstream = bad


Owen, continue filling us in on the ways of the world!

Sent by Drew | 8:48 AM | 1-15-2008

todd - it's c. roast beef kazenzakis, the "c" stands for beef's real first name, cassandra.

hella - there was a brief storyline involving many aibo dogs. the strip referenced here is from november 12, 2004.

nice article for increasing awareness, but i have to agree that the picture and the claim that beef speaks some form of ebonics seem misleading. i would have to say that aaron rabonwitz up there summed beef up the best i've ever heard.

Sent by katelyn | 8:51 AM | 1-15-2008

Achewood is like the one thing in my life that has hardly changed in the past five years. I think your type of opinion with regards to pop culture is old news, especially now that it's mainstream.

Sent by Hannah | 8:57 AM | 1-15-2008

Beef's first name is Cassandra.

And Achewood has never jumped any shark.

Sent by Alex | 9:10 AM | 1-15-2008

Okay, first, Beef does NOT speak Ebonics. Nobody speaks Ebonics, and even if somebody did, RB is Greek, for heaven's sake.

Second, Beef's name is C. Roast Beef Kazenzakis, his first name is Cassandra.

Third, the strip did not "jump the shark" when Onstad added a small text box to the bottom of the page that also hosted his comic. That's just silly. Besides which, he baby updates have been discontinued.

Sent by jayelldee | 9:22 AM | 1-15-2008

It's Cassandra "Roast Beef" Kazenzakis ;)

Sent by Peter R. | 9:28 AM | 1-15-2008

"Achewood jumped the shark..."

Ah, wouldn't be a proper comments section without this one. Took a while but now we can all rest.

Achewood is one of my favorite things about the internet.

Sent by M. Formby | 9:42 AM | 1-15-2008

man why you even got to do a thing? that's a poor choice for a image of the beef. beef does not smoke at all. good to promote achewood, bad to misrepresent the beef.

Sent by bp | 9:51 AM | 1-15-2008

I don't recognize that particular panel from a strip - my bet is that NPR asked Onstad for a representative pic of Roast Beef and he decided to yank their chain by sending that one. Still, those of you saying Beef abstains from weed need to re-read the whole run of strips.

Anyway, thanks for any "ink" about Achewood and an attempt to explain what makes RB so lovable. My favorite recent line, from his argument with Ray about McDonalds trying to move into Starbucks territory: "Man that is baloney the Venn diagram of their customer bases looks like an eight"

Sent by Vance | 10:50 AM | 1-15-2008

Vance, you're half right: I asked Onstad for a representative strip, and he invited us to pick anything we liked. So I picked that image -- from this strip: http://achewood.com/index.php?date=06242003

I guess to be fair, RB does say, in that strip, "Oh wow crud man no wonder I never smoke this stuff."

But I picked that image because (a) RB is nicely framed, and that's a hell of a face he's making; (b) the strip itself made me howl.

Didn't really stop to think that it might imply that RB is constantly stoned.

I did send Onstad a link to the post, tho, and FWIW I haven't heard from him about the image choice.

Sent by Trey Graham | 11:10 AM | 1-15-2008

Ebonics? You know that "ebonics" isn't just some catch-all for any kind of slang dialect, right?

Sent by A. Johnson | 11:42 AM | 1-15-2008

As a reader of Achewood for a couple of years now, i find it lovely that some accolades are coming Mr. Onstad's way. He has worked hard to make and promote his small world in which Roast Beef is mine and others favorite character.

Of course I'll have to move on now that the plebeians have "discovered" Achewood, making it old news. I need to find something else to define me as an individual.

Sent by eric | 12:03 PM | 1-15-2008

I think Onstad leaves it up to his readers to be the continuity nitpickers. The man himself appears contented enough to experience the amusement of those who enjoy his outpourings.

Sent by Cory | 1:52 PM | 1-15-2008

Awesome! Thanks Intern!

Sent by Fred | 1:55 PM | 1-15-2008

My favorite reference to RB smoking is in http://achewood.com/index.php?date=06232003

"How will I know if I'm high."
"Don't worry I'll give you a sign. The sign will be that life is awesome."

Sent by Tim | 3:58 PM | 1-15-2008

Calling Achewood 'mainstream' is probably an expression of frustration that the cognizant group has grown enormously in the last year or two, leaving earlier fans feeling cheated out of some of their hipness factor. Onstead's mindset is too oddball to ever be truly mainstream.

Sent by pyromancer | 4:08 PM | 1-15-2008

So I guess what we learned today is that Trey is the resident NPR pothead, instead of Lindsay which was the original assumption.

Sent by bad wolf | 4:39 PM | 1-15-2008

"Man, what it is Ray why you so down at the corners of your slice" can only be described as "an idiosyncratic form of Ebonics."

Sent by DM | 4:50 PM | 1-15-2008

Beef may no longer smoke at all, but his legacy as one of the smoking 'Dirtiest Dudes in Town' lives on:

Also, check out the cigarette on the Middle Cat T-Shirt:

As for Ebonics, I don't hear that at all. Nah, Beef speaks in the distinctive monotone of depression.

Onstad is a genius.

Sent by FW | 5:09 PM | 1-15-2008

this is amazing. thank you.

Sent by graham jorge | 7:47 PM | 1-15-2008

i thought his real name was CASSANDRA

Sent by hellabosque | 8:01 PM | 1-15-2008

Oh CRAP! Achewood is mainstream?! I guess I'll have to go back to listening to Metallica in my mom's basement. :(

Sent by Brian | 8:21 PM | 1-15-2008

Onstad is standing on it.

Sent by Sean K. | 10:30 PM | 1-15-2008

S.O. S.A.D. NPR trying its best to be hep with a bland three-short-paragraph descriptor. Hard to hate on the attempt, but why even bother?

Sent by Phil Marles | 11:30 PM | 1-15-2008

also roast beef did coke

Sent by the dirtiest dude in this blog | 11:46 PM | 1-15-2008

Man I know "Ebonics" does not describe the Beef's manner of speech, but it is a fair stab. I mean really it is a difficult dialect to pin down, and the only one truly proficient in its use is the Man itself. I can definitely see this becoming a Tolkienesque thing, where thirty or forty years down the road people are writing scholarly dissertations on the structure of RB's dialogue and speaking it at conventions. That is probably the future.

It is good to see good feelings directed at the Achewood. Truly the more people who read it, the more leisurely and enjoyable place the world will become.

Sent by Bryce | 1:16 AM | 1-16-2008

Your writing is the most stilted I've come across in a generation. I've never wanted to vomit and scream simultaneously, but I would be a thing out of the Exorcist were it not for bitter Jack Frost ensuring I stay in bed today.

What a poor tribute to Roast Beef's eccentricities, an intern's feeble scratchings obliterating Onstad's subtle creation.

Sent by sub | 7:33 AM | 1-16-2008

Yeah that is not "ebonics"; I've never heard a single person, black, white, or Greek, speak like Roast Beef does.

I'm most surprised, though, that you describe the AIBO as Roast Beef's closest friend, when that honor so clearly belongs to Ray Smuckles:


At any rate, I think the best summary of Roast Beef and the way his mind works is right here:


Sent by Greg | 7:49 AM | 1-16-2008

r. beef in response to ray's request that he join "our all-stoned slow pitch softball team": "Oh uh no thanks dogg I ain't like weed or or softball or teams on the balance ... I will only join your team if I can play inside a plexiglass chamber that has little baby incubator arms so I can grill". http://achewood.com/index.php?date=04242007

Sent by kd | 8:32 AM | 1-16-2008

At any rate, I think the best summary of Roast Beef and the way his mind works is right here:


I think Molly described Roast Beef better than anyone else ever will:


Sent by evvy | 11:37 AM | 1-16-2008

It all fits. Beef is an Aspie.

Sent by Sam Gates | 1:31 PM | 1-16-2008

Onstead never ceases to amaze me with the characters he's created. There's a depth there that, while crude in Achewood, is completely missing in the vast majority of web comics.

Sent by Nils | 1:34 PM | 1-16-2008

Wow, I just saw Roast Beef smoking a joint on NPR's website. Wow.

Sent by Jorsh | 1:48 PM | 1-16-2008

Rest assured, if Achewood were going to jump the shark, we would know about it. Ray and Teodor would get into an argument about leaving the fridge door open, which would then lead to Ray taking a job at a local aquarium to prove a point. At this point, Lyle would turn up for reasons I won't describe but I'm sure will involve blowholes. A plan will then formulate involving Ray becoming a "Shark Cowboy" for purposes of masculine validity and capitol gain. At which point, we cut then to a Pat and Rod Huggins B-story which inadvertantly leads them to the aquarium, BUT instead of confronting Ray about his exploitation of an animal, Pat gets into a heated shouting match in the gift shop and is asked to leave.
In the end, Ray gets a completely different idea to go make something like a calzone, only stuffed into a steak instead of pizza dough.

Achewood can never jump the shark because Achewood IS the shark.

Sent by Greg | 3:39 PM | 1-16-2008

Beef would not feel particular about a joint most days, whereas Ray might just come up large on a brick of skunk to make everyone jealous.

Sent by S Kennedy 2 | 5:58 PM | 1-16-2008

There's a pretty healthy mix of black slang in Ray and Beef's dialogue, along with a few other things (a back-formation from the W Coast slang term "hella"being the most eggheadedly cute). It's not quite Ebonics though--in terms of the way it combines frank-sounding, down-to-earth phrases it's much more stereotypically white. ONSTAD IS DA MAN!!!!!!!!

Sent by Adjarian | 3:24 AM | 1-17-2008

Achewood is absolutely wonderful. Always makes me happy to see it get recognition.

Sent by w | 11:57 AM | 1-17-2008

Roast Beef's speach deserves it's own name, but I don't think idiosyncratic ebonics was a terrible way to describe it.
Acheood is always for the win, by the way.

Sent by norrinrad | 12:32 PM | 1-17-2008

It also must be mentioned that Roast Beef's crunchy slang is hella stuck in the 90s.

Sent by Petro | 1:10 PM | 1-17-2008

Clearly, Achewood's fan base is appearing at the 'In Character' blog in force. When I wrote the essay, I didn't even seriously expect it to be posted, though I would hope that that made it all the more personal and honest. But when I found out I was to put it on the blog, not just as a standard "Your Turn" essay, but as one of the featured essays that would receive a photo and caption, I should have known that even if my employers would deem it worthy, the discerning fans of the strip would be much more difficult to impress.

I know that many of you are regular readers and commentators of Achewood. As a regular reader and commentator, I know that there are, in fact, many of you who would have loved to be the one in the position of spreading Achewood to NPR listeners, and that some of you even have the literary prowess to far exceed my meager offerings. In fact, choosing Roast Beef as the character from Achewood to spotlight seems unfair to the rest of the strip's characters. As much as Roast Beef deserves it, it may be that this is a decision that I have not earned the right to make. Truly, I feel that Achewood is populated by an ensemble cast that deserves to get much more recognition than even NPR can provide. But that's no excuse not to try.

I will admit that describing the AIBO as Beef's "closest" friend was an error on my part -- all of us here know that Ray and Roast Beef have been "tight since small times." I must have tried too hard to emphasize the light that Weldon brought to Beef during that brief but brutal period that he and Molly were separated. For that, I apologize.

As for the "idiosyncratic Ebonics" phrase, I can understand why so many of you rejected that characterization. Whenever I read Achewood, it often seems as though the entire American literary tradition that influences the writing of Achewood shows in the characters, and that "idiosyncratic Ebonics" -- even if one grants that there is some truth to it -- embodies too small an imagination of the speech and inner life of the Achewood cast. That richness of speech is one of the reasons why Cassandra "Roast Beef" Kazenzakis makes for such a compelling character.

And yet, if I were to recant that description, I would be singing a song "in the key of lie," as Leon Sumbitches (pronounced "soom-'beh-cheh") would put it. I cannot deny that when I read a conversation between Ray Smuckles and Roast Beef as they stroll down the streets of Achewood, California, I can close my eyes and hear echoes of conversations in the hallways from the Washington, DC public schools I attended as a teenager. The use of the words "cold" and "all" as adverbs; the phrases like "Man why you even got to do a thing" and "Dang man this runs like ten scrolls deep this article is a player" put me there instantly, despite the many other intricacies of Beef's diction. But I think that is a testament to the versatility and universality of Onstad's writing. It is through these specific, unique words and iconic images that we hear and see the breadth of the American experience.

So do not dismay that I hear "idiosyncratic Ebonics" and describe it so in a public forum and do not take my description as an attempt to be the definitive one I mean basically these are just the minimal words of a fan boy rappin' mush about a thing that is Achewood which he fell in love with and followed home from school one day it don't need to be taken all serious. I know to you it may seem like a hobo cold spittin' on the face of a man of means but it ain't all solid state like that dogg we are just chillin' and havin' good times amongst enlightened friends all throwin' frisbees in the backyard stayin' up late in our bedrooms on the phone talkin' about the ladies we would get mad rutty on all chillin' out maxin' relaxin' all cool and all shootin' some B-ball outside of the school...

I agree with evvy, who posted a link to Molly's blog entry above. Molly's truly is the most loving and accurate description of the Beef in this limited language we call English available anywhere. I hope that you Achewood fans will not be too dissatisfied with the slew of new fans that will hopefully join your community because of this article. If I have misled them, it is safe to say that Ray, Beef, Teodor, Lyle, Molly, Vlad, Lie Bot, Cornelius, Pat, Nice Pete, and Philippe will surpass their false expectations.

Sent by Lindsay Totty | 4:15 PM | 1-17-2008

Thanks for the write-up and the follow-up, Lindsay. Unlike the "jump the shark" fellow earlier, I am pleased and encouraged to know there are so many Achewood fans out there -- and that, thanks to your efforts, there will probably be more.

Sent by alejo699 | 7:42 PM | 1-17-2008

I always felt there was an element of Ebonics in the idiosyncratic dialect shared between Beef and Ray. When two feline friends refer to one another as "dogg", is that really so different than white friends calling one another "n*gga," as many do?

Onstad's creation is wonderful. I hope new readers will enjoy it as much as I have over the years.

Sent by Travis | 1:03 PM | 1-18-2008

Hah, you haters got beat by an NPR INTERN.

But to be fair, Randy Newman put it best in "It's Money That Matters":

"All of these people are much brighter than I/In any fair system they would flourish and thrive/But they barely survive/They eke out a living and they barely survive"

Aaron (who imagines that Ms. Totty is "adjust[ing] to the great big world" just fine, however)

Sent by Aaron G. Stock | 2:25 PM | 1-18-2008

Oh, and one last point of clarification:

It's Mr. Totty, not Ms.

Counterintuitive, I know, but we can't all be born with names like Max Fightmaster.

Yet another way I relate to Beef.

Sent by Lindsay Totty | 2:34 PM | 1-18-2008


True, and our parents can't all have known how Fleetwood Mac's Buckingham spells his first name.

Sent by Aaron G. Stock | 2:54 PM | 1-18-2008

Oh my dear goodness, I did not even get all the way through your apology or the comments that followed. Let me just say this: If ANYONE in the achewood intelligentsia deign to evaluate your comments or the very fact of your comment, then they become the EXACT thing that this brilliant spot of comic light mocks.

Keep it up, Smack Daddy. I am a habituate of Morning Edition, Fresh Air, and All Things Considered, but God knows how many stifled smarties were introduced to something stirring because of the fact that you bothered. Nice work, Skipper.

Sent by Brett Smith | 5:10 AM | 1-19-2008

Aw, Lindsay, I forgive you, and know you to be a true Onstad fan.

'Course, I didn't say you sinned in the first place.

Sent by Pamela M. | 4:38 PM | 1-19-2008