Roastmaster General Jeff Ross explains how to be rude for Tampa Bay Times Rude Issue
When we decided to devote a chunk of the Tampa Bay Times' Weekend section this week to all the things in pop culture and entertainment which seem rude, it was only natural we'd turn to one guy to figure it all out.
Roastmaster General Jeffrey Ross
He’s the guy who cracked that “Charlie Sheen is to standup (comedy) what Larry Flynt is to standing up.” And he told troubled rock star Courtney Love “you’re like the girl next door…if you happen to live next door to a methadone clinic.”
And he flew to Cleveland soon after LeBron James jilted the city’s Cavaliers basketball team, just to lob explicit jokes about how many men slept with the star’s mom while he was playing for the team.
But when you meet Ross on the telephone, unsure how a guy dubbed the “Roastmaster General” might actually behave in polite conversation, you discover something surprising.
He’s actually quite, well, nice.
And he has a message for you, America.
You’re getting too rude. Even for him.
“The truth is, there’s no more decorum, you know?” said Ross, just before telling a hilarious story about pulling an audience member onstage in coat and heels to ask if she was a contestant on Bulgaria’s Next Top Model, and getting a knee to the groin in response.
“With everybody having a Facebook and a Twitter, I feel like regular people – civilians, as they would call them in show business – consider themselves stars,” he added. “It’s a live, real-time upload of every time we buy a pair of socks; I feel like that’s the most telling sign that we’re losing our politeness. When you know everything about somebody, you can talk to them anyway you please.”
And if anyone would know the definition of rude, it’s standup comic extraordinaire Ross -- king of the celebrity roast genre that’s exploded over the last decade.
Inspired by the roasts Dean Martin hosted for old school celebrities decades ago, the new roasts are raunchy, sidesplitting free for alls, packed with B- and C-list celebrities and turned into high-profile specials aired on Comedy Central skewering everyone from Pamela Anderson to the Sheenius himself.
Ross, who earned his roastmaster title one insult at a time from the New York Friars Club, is often at the center of the action, joining Sheen during the famously hard-partying star’s Torpedo of Truth tour to roast the star who had become every comedian’s favorite punching bag.
“He billed his show as a comedy show, and you know, that made the comedians crazy because, as I said at the time, if Bernie Madoff bought a ticket for that tour, he would have asked for his money back,” said Ross, laughing. “He’d been asking me for a while and I just kept reading (reviews) of how his show was getting worse, and I figured the longer I wait, the more money I can ask for.”
Now that’s rude.
But Ross, who wrote the book on roasting with 2009’s I Only Roast the Ones I Love, will extend his legend tonight with an appearance at the Straz Center in Tampa. He promises a new feature, "speed roasting" any souls brave (or dumb) enough to stop onstage for some improvised rudeness directed their way by a professional.
To help with our Rude Issue, Ross offered some key tips on getting away with rudeness, along with a few warning signs.
Find a willing participant. “When you roast people, you want them to be volunteers,” Ross said. “It’s almost a cry for help when they agree to it…(Charlie Sheen) he was a great sport, perhaps the best sport I’ve ever roasted…He was already in a custody battle and he was sober and …I knew he would be receptive.”
Turn insults into back-handed compliments. “People need to hear the truth,” the comic added. “Sometimes it’s a backhanded compliment and sometimes its from, you know, a corrections officer. How else do you get people like Donald Trump and Hugh Hefner to sit still for two hours? They think you’re being nice.”
A good roast turns personal pain into a good time. "Comedians, by our nature, feel pain more than most people and we turn that pain into humor. We're masters at teasing (about) things, while society at large has become very blunt."
Use humor to defuse tension of life. “People love to see other people get the p--- taken out of them,” Ross said. “When I first started doing these roasts in the mid-90s, they were a lost art, like jousting or calligraphy. But I feel like roasts help tame the room and let off steam…it’s like it's all being handled by professionals.”
Don’t learn by filming his shows. “It’s so rude because it’s taking my jokes out of context, it’s distracting and it’s not your material to record,” he said. “I want people to enjoy my shows within the Temple of Free Speech, and I really don’t want you at home, um, pleasuring yourself to picture of me that I haven’t approved.”
See Ross roast Sheen below; WARNING its NSFW with explicit language: