Roastmaster General Jeff Ross has made a name for himself lambasting the likes of Hugh Hefner, Pamela Anderson and Richard Branson in their presence; most of them enjoy it. He gets away with rattling off edgy, even controversial things to famous people that the rest of us only dream about saying. Now he has a weekly show on Comedy Central called The Burn where he and a panel of comedy peeps skewer the issues of the day and the people making the headlines. But what is this smart-aleck comic like away from the spotlight? A.D.D. presented Ross with a few questions to get a better sense of the man behind the mirth.
If you weren’t doing roasts and stand-up comedy, what do you think you would be doing with your life?
Wow, that’s a great question. I think I would be the funniest caterer in New Jersey.
What do you think your company would be called?
It would probably be called Bust My Chops Caterers.
When you’re not roasting the world, what’s your favorite way to unwind?
I’ve been playing a lot of guitar lately, that’s been really fun. I’ve been playing on stage, maybe I’ll work it into The Burn. But I’ve really been getting into music lately. I like to watch the news because to me that’s the funniest show on TV. Just straight up CNN, and then I can just sit there and make fun of it. I want to bring that to light. I also like to hike in the mountains here in LA, just clear my head. I tend to think in punchlines, so anytime I can just clear my head and go to a quiet place. I’ve been thinking of flying to Hawaii this weekend just to rejuvenate my brain for The Burn.
“Between the recession, the wars and the presidential elections and recall elections, I think subtlety and manners are essentially out the window.”
People in our generation don’t tend to sleep well because of all the technology around us.
It’s hard with the 24-hour news cycle. It’s tough to just stop and see how absurd this all is. I think The Burn will be a little bit of a moment of clarity for everybody every week. We can see how ridiculous this is — we worship these reality stars, these politicians and these athletes — and it will be The Burn‘s responsibility to take everybody down a little bit.
What’s your favorite drink?
Scotch on the rocks. It’s like gravy for the soul. It helps me relax. I have to stay away from tequila because it makes me too frisky. I don’t want to get slapped.
Who are your big influences? What is your favorite comedy sketch of all time?
I grew up loving the rock star comics. Guys who I didn’t realize they were comics until I was older. Steve Martin played the banjo, the Blues Brothers did a musical act, Cheech and Chong were playing big arenas when I was a kid. I saw Eddie Murphy playing a big theater in a leather suit. I didn’t think he was a comedian, I just thought he was another rock star like Bruce Springsteen or KISS. To me, the larger-than-life comedians were my favorites. As far as sketches go, the first one that comes to mind is the “This Is Your Life” sketch from Sid Caesar that you can only see at the Museum of Broadcasting these days. The old-timers like Buddy Hackett and Don Rickles on [The Tonight Show with] Johnny Carson. I used to love that stuff.
What did you like about the Sid Caesar bit?
Oh my God, it was just so funny because it was like a roast. A [well-known] person would be sitting in an audience just watching a TV show, and they would call their name and say “This is your life,” and against his will dragged him out of their seat and brought him on stage. He had to confront every teacher and ex-boss he ever had. It was pretty funny.
“I like to watch the news because to me that’s the funniest show on TV.”
It’s interesting, because stuff like that today is more mean spirited, especially with all of the reality TV shows out there. Doesn’t it seem like we’re becoming less filtered these days?
There’s no subtlety anymore. Between the recession, the wars and the presidential elections and recall elections, I think subtlety and manners are essentially out the window. We have to put our own filters and our own governors on the things that we say in life. With Twitter, everybody is instantly communicating with each other. There aren’t even publicists for the celebrities to go through. We have direct access to our fans, and our fans have direct access to us, so manners are out the window. That’s why I try to keep the roasts as sincere and loving as possible.
What’s your favorite place to vacation?
I love New York City with about a week off. I love to just go to shows and be a part of New York. Even though I have an apartment there, I feel like a tourist. I love Nashville. There’s a real sense of fun, and every other person is carrying a guitar or a fiddle, so I like to take a few days there and get some of the local vibe. Obviously Vegas can be a blast. I’m pretty easy. I can have fun anywhere, as long as there are a few people that will laugh at my jokes.
What is the weirdest gig you’ve ever done?
They’re all weird. My fans are weird. You could write a book about every show in a weird way. On this last tour, I had a Marine with a double amputee came on stage to get speed roasted. At another show, I had my sister’s mother-in-law come on stage to be made fun of. At another show, I just had two hillbillies from the backwoods of Wisconsin come on stage. I feel like every day is a new adventure. Today is really fun, but I can’t wait till tomorrow. My fans surprise me.