Published: January 11, 2012
Jeffrey Ross is very nice guy who makes his living saying very mean things. A veteran of 20-plus years of slugging it out in the comedy clubs, Ross has dramatically raised his profile in recent years by reviving the musty old tradition of roasts, where celebrities are skewered right to their faces. Once the boozy purview of cigar-smoking oldsters and Rat Packers like Dean Martin, the "it's all in good fun" yet harsh roast format has become popular with today's edgiest comedy stars, in part because it lets them swing below the belt with full force. Nobody does it better than the smart-mouthed Ross, who holds the prestigious crown of "Roastmaster General" at the N.Y. Friar's Club, and has been the anchor of many Comedy Central Roasts of everyone from Flavor Flav to William Shatner to Donald Trump. He's bringing his act to the Magic Bag, and will roast the holy heck out of any audience member brave or foolish enough to volunteer for the hot seat.
Metro Times: Were you a comedy nerd? One of those kids that stayed up to watch The Tonight Show and take notes on the comics?
Jeff Ross: No. I didn't even know what that was. I remember sitting on the top of the stairs and hearing guys like Don Rickles and Buddy Hackett on with Johnny Carson. As far as knowing what that was; I would hear my parents laughing, and I think it sort of sunk into my brain a bit. I wasn't until later with the rockstar comedians like Eddie Murphy, Steve Martin, the Blues Brothers, and Cheech and Chong that I really knew what true stand-up was
MT: Because you're so often associated with the Friar's Club and roasts, people think of you with older comics, like you sniff Freddie Roman's jock or something.
Ross: I have smelled Freddie Roman's jock and it's wonderful.
MT: Did you get to know Milton Berle?
Ross: I got to spend quite a bit of time with Uncle Milty, and he was a very sweet man.
MT: Really? Because I've heard rumors that he could be a little testy.
Ross: He was a very nice guy; it was his penis that would get a little testy. If you recall, his penis was the size of a tree trunk.
MT: Well, there was no room in the pants so it got a little grouchy.
Ross: It probably got uncomfortable. I didn't see the testy side; I saw a very sweet endearing comedian who lived a long life and was very willing to share his knowledge and his material, and he turned me on to cigars right before Christmas one year. Which made me very happy. And he was always willing to share a chopped liver sandwich with a young, struggling comedian.
MT: People kind of goof on Milton, but you can't really ask for more longevity in a career; that's impressive for any comic,
Ross: It seems comedians last to forty-five or ninety-five; there's not much in-between. We lose them really young or really old.
MT: Hopefully you'll get to do more roasts than funerals soon; it's been a tough run lately.
Ross: It's been pretty crazy. I just got back from New York, our good buddy Patrice O'Neal passed away. It was a tough one.
MT: And Greg Giraldo and Mike Destefano; it's been rough. It seems you crash and burn early or you're Joan Rivers and you go forever.
Ross: You just sort of have to make every show count; you have to make your life worthwhile. That's the key.
MT: What keeps you fired up and interested, and coming to places like Detroit?
Ross: It's about enjoying the process. When I get to Detroit — which is a city I've been asked to play many times; I'm finally coming — I have a feeling it will remind me of my early New Jersey audiences, where everybody has a thick skin and a good sense of humor
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