Tuesday, February 20, 2018
TV and Media

'Roastermaster General' Jeff Ross is cracking wise at Straz Center — and thinks many of us are the rude ones

Here's the thing about Jeff Ross.

Sure, 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, on purpose, right after LeBron James jilted the city's Cavaliers basketball team just to crack explicit jokes about the star's mom.

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, 46, who remembered pulling a fan onstage in coat and heels to ask if she was a contestant on Bulgaria's Next Top Model, only to get a knee in the groin.

"With everybody having a Facebook and a Twitter, I feel like regular people consider themselves stars," he added. "It's a live, real-time upload of every time we buy a pair of socks, the most telling sign that we're losing our politeness. When you know everything about somebody, you can talk to them any way you please."

And if anyone would know, it's Ross, an ace standup comic and king of the exploding celebrity roast genre.

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. Comedy Central turned them into high-profile specials, skewering everyone from Pamela Anderson to the Sheenius himself.

Ross, who earned his roastmaster title from the New York Friars Club, joined Sheen during the famously hard-partying star's Torpedo of Truth tour to roast the man who had become every comedian's favorite punching bag.

"He billed his show as a comedy show, and that made comedians crazy because, as I said, 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, offered some key tips on getting away with rudeness.

Find a willing participant. "When you roast people, you want them to be volunteers. 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 backhanded compliments. "How else do you get people like Donald Trump and Hugh Hefner to sit still for two hours? They think you're being nice."

Use humor to defuse tension. "People love to see other people get the piss taken out of them. 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."

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."

Don't learn by filming his shows. "It's so rude because it's taking my jokes out of context and it's not your material to record. And I really don't want you at home, um, pleasuring yourself to a picture of me that I haven't approved."

The hearty souls who want the full-on roastmaster experience can volunteer for Ross' "speed roast," where he takes on a group from the crowd.

Just leave the flip camera in your back pocket and prepare for a comic who blames most of today's rudeness on our 24/7 online media culture.

"Most people, when they think of an insult, they keep it to themselves," he said. "But you wouldn't believe the things people say on my Twitter feed, and I'm a nice guy. Imagine if I was a jerk."

Here's the thing about Jeff Ross. • Sure, 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, on purpose, right after LeBron James jilted the city's Cavaliers basketball team just to crack explicit jokes about the star's mom.

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