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Sunday, April 21, 2024
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Q&A: Jeff Ross

Comedian Jeff Ross is best known as Comedy Central’s “Roastmaster General.” Besides being a professional roaster, Ross has made a documentary (“Patriot Act: A Jeffrey Ross Home Movie”), written a book (“I Only Roast the Ones I Love: Busting Balls Without Burning Bridges”) and currently has his own Comedy Central show (“The Burn with Jeff Ross”). He recently wrapped up the Oddball Comedy & Curiosities Tour with Dave Chappelle and Flight of the Conchords.

The Eagle’s Tam Sackman had a chance to catch up with Jeff Ross and talk about his comic gift of gab.

Tam Sackman: When did you first discover that you had the extraordinary gift of insulting people?
Jeff Ross: (Laughs) As soon as I left New Jersey, where everybody’s a comedian, and I went up to Boston University. I felt like, ‘Oh, wait a second, everybody I grew up with is funny,’ and it took getting away from them to realize that I was funny too. That New England conservative attitude suddenly made me the outsider busting everybody’s chops. I loved it. So I think sometime around then.

TS: How do you feel about the title of “Roastmaster General?”
JR: I’m proud of it. I mean, who else can call themselves “the General” and get away with it? I’m very happy with it. It gives me a license to kill—a license to make fun of people. So, I’m very into it.

TS: Who has been your favorite roast so far and why?
JR: That’s tough. I guess I would say whoever’s next. The preparation is so much fun. Getting ready for the roast and working on the jokes and trying them out on my friends. Buying a new suit, getting my cornrows done—I mean, the process is so much fun. The night of the roast is great, but getting ready—that’s the most fun. I don’t know if I have a favorite. Whoever’s next.

TS: In 2005 you made a movie about your experience entertaining the troops in Iraq. How do you think that movie, as well as the subject matter, changed your career?
JR: Oh my goodness, it’s changed more than my career. It’s made me a better person. Before that, I didn’t even understand that the military was a different thing than the government. I just sort of combined it all in my head. Once I went to Iraq and met the men and women of the armed forces face-to-face, I realized how diverse and sophisticated they were, and what a great sense of humor they have. I don’t think I even truly knew what a soldier was until I went on that first USO tour to the city triangle. And now I pay my taxes, and I’m a proud, patriotic American.

TS: In 2012 you got your own Comedy Central Show called “The Burn with Jeff Ross,” where you, surprisingly enough, roast people. What’s your favorite segment to do on that show?
JR: Oh my god. I love doing the show because I love being around funny people and being around other comedians. To really answer your question, there was one segment where I went out to Topeka, Kan. to roast the members of the Westboro Baptist Church. You can look it up on the Comedy Central Website. My mantra is “I only roast the ones I love,” but every now and then I roast somebody I don’t love for somebody I love. I felt like they’re so cruel to everyone—I mean these are people who protest at fallen soldiers’ funerals, so I wanted to take them down a notch. In the end, I feel like I got a little taste of what they’re about, made them laugh and maybe humanized them just a fraction.

TS: Who would you consider to be the biggest influence on your career, comedic or otherwise?
JR: My pop, Jack—my grandfather. He was so funny, super sarcastic. He always had a line for everything. He had a good, deep sense of humor. Nothing was off-limits for him. I’m wearing his ring right now. It’s a steel bolt from a Nazi submarine. He was in the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II and he took it apart. I always bang it against metal for good luck.

TS: What about other comedians that have influenced you?
JR: I love the classics. Buddy Hackett is one of my favorites. It’s worth looking up on YouTube if you don’t know him. He’s super, super funny. Always had a really good act. More importantly, he talked about sex a lot. And I always thought ‘Wow, if you’re gonna buy a ticket to a comedy show with your girlfriend or boyfriend, you want them to get, you know, in the mood.’ You know, you don’t want to be a buzzkill comedian. And I remember that Buddy’s act turned everybody on, so they all went home and made love afterwards. And I want to be like that.

TS: How does live stand-up compare to appearing on TV?
JR: With live stand-up, there’s no editing out the bad jokes. So if I get a groan, you get to see it live, it’s right there. Kind of like seeing music live. The music just sort of washes over you. The same thing happens at a comedy show. The laughs penetrate your stomach and your heart and your brain in a very raw way. And when you’re not just laughing, but laughing surrounded by a thousand other people, it’s euphoric. It makes you high. It makes you feel good for days. So if you’re looking for a new type of drug… come to my show at the synagogue.

TS: What inspired you to write your book, “I Only Roast the Ones I Love: Busting Balls Without Burning Bridges?”
JR: Well that’s a good question. I wrote it because I realized if the roasts were gonna keep going and stay relevant, then a new generation of “Roastmasters” had to be born. And I felt like if I passed on some of my tricks of the trade and some things that I’ve learned along the way, then college students and aspiring comedians could learn a little bit about roasting, and the tradition could continue. The last thing I would want to be is the only funny guy at a roast. I want there to be lots of funny people.

TS: So you just toured with Dave Chappelle and Flight of the Conchords. What was that like?
JR: It was so much fun. We played for anywhere between 15—and the biggest show was 22—thousand people at outdoor venues. We didn’t get down to D.C., unfortunately. But the crowds were amazing. I mean, I’ve just never done comedy on that large of a scale before. It was a traveling festival, so it really felt like we were part of something new. And Dave and I have been friends since the beginning of our careers, so we had a really great time on the road together, reconnecting. He travels with DJ equipment, so wherever we would bring a party—in a hotel room, on his tour bus. It was pretty amazing. I love that guy. He might be the funniest human being on Earth right now.

TS: So, do you prefer those giant crowds now, or do you still like the value of intimate, small crowd shows?
JR: That’s a great question. You know, my show coming up in D.C. will be one of my first post-Oddball Tour shows. So, I get to bring in intimate again. I get to do my own hour-long show, which I’m looking forward to, just slowing it down and opening it up and standing there will be more revealing and more intimate. I think I like them both. At first I thought I would miss the rock-concert vibe of the jumbotrons and the giant crowds, but I gotta tell you, there’s something really special about when it’s just me, by myself, not on a big tour, with people coming there just to see me. It’s so flattering. It makes me feel so good that I just can’t get enough of it.

Catch Jeff Ross as he headlines his own show at Sixth and I Synagogue on Oct. 27 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $29.75.

thescene@theeagleonline.com


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