Jeff Ross Interview

Comedian Jeff Ross, perhaps best known as “The RoastMaster General” for putting together and participating in the cultural phenomena that are Comedy Central Roasts, is coming to Northfield, Ohio on Friday, April 21 for a show at MGM Northfield Park!

{Complete show and ticket information}

Ross has “roasted” many infamous stars including Bruce Willis, Justin Bieber, Roseanne Barr, Joan Rivers, Charlie Sheen, and former US President, Donald Trump. Perhaps, now it’s your turn?

Admittedly, this interviewer has never attended a Jeff Ross event in person. My assumption was that, along the lines of Blue Man Group, Ross would pick unassuming audience members, and from there, would roast them to the point of embarrassment. As it turns out, nobody gets roasted without (literally) asking for it.

“I consider them volunteers; not victims. I know that’s up to them to decide if they’re a victim. I don’t know if you’ve seen me do this before, but towards the end of my show, I’ll ask for the lights to come on in the room. And if you want to volunteer, you have to stand up and be seen and opt-in, because I only roast people who volunteer because otherwise, it can backfire,” Ross tells in a recent phone interview. “And that’s bullying, which I won’t do. If somebody points to somebody, I won’t roast them. But if they themselves stand up, they’re fair game. So that narrows it down pretty good. I’m always looking for an old guy, a fat lady, an ugly grandma, somebody disabled, somebody pregnant… I want variety.”

When asked if this would be a straight stand-up hour with some roasting to conclude the show:

“Nothing I do is straightforward! It’s definitely going to be wild,” Ross said with a laugh. “I like to bring a party. It’s a Friday night. I’m going to be roasting the audience myself. And, I’m also doing a very personal show. I’m sort of more introspective than I’ve ever been; just came out of a pandemic and lost a few friends this year and last year. So that all kind of comes up. It’ll be a cathartic, comedic experience.”

Any Ohio that has never made the trek to the great state of New Jersey, birthplace and nurturer of Jeff Ross, is missing out. Not only is it illegal to pump one’s own gasoline into a vehicle or go to a shopping mall on a Sunday, but folks in The Garden State also aren’t afraid to tell it like it is. This interviewer spent a good deal of time in my formative years visiting a plethora of family in Bergen Count. Early on, I maintained my Ohio manners and was afraid to “dish it out” or give anyone the business. On the flip side, I was baby-like and sensitive; easily offended by the slightest razzing comment.

One day, my Uncle Bill sat me down and taught me three important rules

  1. I had to learn to dish it out
  2. I had to learn to take it in
  3. If I can’t take it in, I better not dish it out

I shared these rules with Ross and asked if he had a similar experience with his upbringing in New Jersey.

“My uncle Murray in New Jersey put me through a similar thing where he would make fun of me, and I learned to take a joke early on and develop that thick skin,” he said. “So I dunno if it’s an East Coast thing or a Jersey thing, but there is something to it. And it’s not just good advice for a comedy show. It’s great advice just for life, right? I mean, life is hard. If you can’t laugh, what are you doing? You’re crying! You’re miserable! I’m a big believer in being able to dish it out, but most importantly, or perhaps as importantly, being able to take it.”

Karens, snowflakes, millennials, and social media warriors make it a tough life for comics trying to come up with material. The great Jon Lovitz said an offended patron once approached him after the show and asked, “Do you think that just because you are a comedian in a comedy club that everything you say onstage is a joke?”

In a stand-up set, Lovitz treated the question as rhetorical; answering solely with facial expressions and hand gestures.

Ross, on the other hand, disagrees with this writer and sees things in a different light. (Of course, as a performing comic, he would know better than me!)

“Well, I think it’s a good question, but to think about what I love about standup is that it happens in these temples of free speech. A comedy show in a casino or in a comedy club is meant to be a safe space for all who enter, including me. So I’m not holding back. I’m not filtering anything,” Ross explained. “I’ve always kind of gone on the line and I never really want to offend. I want to scratch the skin, not break the skin. I want everyone to leave my show going, ‘That was so much fun. I want to see that again someday,!’ Or, ‘I can’t believe what Jeff Ross said about me. I can’t wait to tell my friends at work on Monday.’ So to me, it’s got to be inclusive. And I don’t think about whether it’s woke or not woke or offensive or not offensive. I just do what I think people will find funny. And after 30-something years of doing this, I am a pretty good judge. I’m doing a private party the next night in New York. People are wanting this kind of edgy comedy right now because the mainstream media and so much pop culture and TV shows are kind of filtered down. And so I think standup is the one place where, ‘Fuck it, man. Anything goes.’

Friday’s upcoming show will mark Ross’ first time performing in Northfield, Ohio, but the comic is no stranger to the Buckeye State! For those that missed it, the legendary Dave Chappelle had the ONLY ticket in town during COVID with his makeshift comedy club that he set up in a cornfield in Yellow Springs. {Read our recap}. Each night, Chappelle would have unannounced surprise guests. Ross was on the roster several times throughout the run of shows. It was a way for comics and entertainment-starved fans alike to feel any sense of normalcy in a dark and difficult time.

Ross was asked to share his experience at ‘Camp David.’

Dave always tells me that the attempt is the win, and if you try something different, then you’re really living. And nobody lives his life quite as full as that guy. I learned from that guy and it was cool; it was incredible. And part of it, I was also doing shows in parking lots around Los Angeles, basically wherever I could get a stage in a microphone, those were sort of quasi-legal at the time,” Ross said. “It was just a way for me to make people laugh, who really needed it during a sad, depressing time. But most importantly, I needed it. It was good for my sanity to be up there, to be expressing myself, to be artistic. So thanks to Dave for setting me up. I just took a walk with my dog with a comedian named Ronnie Chang, and he told me he was also inspired by Dave, and he did similar outdoor shows in Hawaii during the Pandemic. So I think Dave, he set the stage if you will, for a lot of us to stay sane.”

For the uninitiated, Ross’ Roasts, which became well known through their Comedy Central specials, features a subject who graciously absorbs insult after insult from fellow public figures. Part of the fun is not only are jokes made at the expense of the roastee but also each other. The group of participants always seems to have such great chemistry on camera.

Ross was asked how he goes about picking his participants and the secret recipe to making them gel together.

“Well, that’s a great question. It’s like planning a dinner party. You know, want a little bit of this and a little bit of that,” he explains. “And you want the guests of honor, if there is one, to feel comfortable and loved and not feel like they’re under some sort of threat, and that they’re going to come out of it feeling pretty good.”

As for the origin of Ross’ roasts?

“I had done a couple of roasts that weren’t on TV for the Friars Club in New York, and I realized pretty quickly that I was good at this, but yet nobody was seeing it. I wanted it to have some exposure when I did it. And I was moving my way up the ranks in the Friars Club, this private New York show business club,” Ross said.

The first on-camera roastee was none other than Cleveland’s favorite son, Drew Carey! Northeast Ohio and beyond know that there really isn’t a better sport for self-deprecating humor or jokes made at his expense. Ross was asked why Carey made the best test subject for the roasting model.

“I had known Drew just through comedy, like punching up on his sitcom and just sort of knew him socially a little bit. And I was like, Drew gets it. He loves tradition, he loves to laugh. He’s not just a funny guy. He’s got a great sense of humor. You know, talk about dishing it out and taking it,” Ross explained. “Drew is a great audience. And at that point, in 1997 or eight, he had the number-one sitcom on television. And I thought, wow, this is a real opportunity to bring the roast to the main stage, to a bigger audience, to an audience. In fact, because it was sort of antiquated and old-fashioned for a few years between the Dean Martin Roast and the Comedy Central Roast, it was sort of done and drew to his credit, got it right away. And I was able to talk Comedy Central into it and the Fires Club, and suddenly I found myself on TV with my friend Drew Carey, and it was exciting. There was no looking back. Once those cameras were inside those rows, it just became a cultural moment that people look forward to every time it happens.

One of his later Roast subjects would {insert opinionated intro here) go on to become a US president. Yes, Mr. Donald Trump once appeared in a Comedy Central Roast taping.

“It was exciting. He was this famous, rich guy that I’d grown up listening to on Howard Stern and seeing himon the David Letterman shows. I felt like I knew him. And I had worked for him on occasion at his country club in Florida. He was in the hospitality business, and he owned hotels, so it was natural to work for him. We all did all the New York comics. The headliners eventually got a call from Trump to do something. He had a great sense of humor back then. I’m not sure what changed,” Ross said with a laugh. “And yeah, I remember telling him during the commercial break to start smiling and laughing. Otherwise, they were going to cut to other people smiling and laughing. So I might as well be him. And he loosened up a little bit.”

Jeff Ross will appear at MGM Northfield Park on Friday, April 21! {Complete show and ticket information} Come out; volunteer; be like Donald Trump! (On second thought…please don’t!)

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