Comedian Jeff Ross pulls audience in to roast


Getting roasted by Jeff Ross on Comedy Central? Such a dream -- for a masochist. Or maybe even a narcissist.

But today, some reasonably well-adjusted person will get an express elevator to the giddy ozone level of fame occupied by the rarefied likes of Pamela Anderson and Charlie Sheen.

Ross, the comic who has become synonymous with celebrity roasting -- perhaps you remember the Gadhafi uniform at the Charlie Sheen roast? -- is taping his show at the House of Blues for Comedy Central.

"At a certain point in my show, I invite anyone in the audience up to my stage to be speed-roasted," he says.

"Some people consider it a badge of courage or a badge of honor. I've only been hit six times this tour," he quips.

Ross says he thought a Las Vegas setting would add "some old-school comedy swagger" to the Comedy Central special "Jeff Ross Roasts America," which has been taping at several tour stops for an airdate not yet announced. "I've been to Vegas enough now that I feel really at home and I can swing pretty hard. I don't feel like you can really hurt anybody's feelings in Las Vegas at a roast show."

Roasts have been the 46-year-old Ross' ticket from journeyman club comic -- he once toiled anonymously in The Improv and other Las Vegas comedy rooms -- to the title of "Roastmaster" and now his own show, "The Burn," coming to Comedy Central this summer.

"I'm going to take it out into the world at large. The world is my dais this time," he says. "I'll be roasting everything from meter maids to the day's headlines. All the stuff that people love to hate."

It's clear the definition of a roast has expanded beyond the celebrity pile-ons that blew up with Comedy Central's roast of Pamela Anderson in 2005, the first that brought Ross into the wider public eye.

But Ross had a long time to prepare for that day. He started roasting when it was still an arcane corner of show business. It could be argued that he is to the roast what Danny Gans was to celebrity impressions, reinventing a dusty medium for a new generation.

The Roastmaster was still Milton Berle when Ross joined in a Steven Seagal roast by the New York Friars' Club in 1995.

"Back then they couldn't get young comics to participate and I jumped at the chance," he says. "I thought that was really the ultimate in alternative comedy, to be able to riff on some Hollywood star with Henny Youngman and Buddy Hackett and Milton Berle up there with me.

"To me, it was also I guess a way to honor my parents who loved those comedians," he adds. (Ross lost both of his parents before he was out of his teens.)

Now, "I wish Buddy Hackett and Milton Berle were around so I could go over to the Friars' Club and give them the good news. It's a little bittersweet sometimes."

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

 

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