The Roastmaster Jeff Ross has made his name at the Friar's Club celebrity roasts, skewering the likes of Charlie Sheen, Pam Anderson, Flavor Flav and laying waste to dozens more of his colleagues.
He's embarking on his biggest tour yet across the U.S. and Canada, kicking it all off at the Aladdin Theater in Portland January 18. Ticket info It's his first visit to P-town and I was lucky enough to talk to him by phone last week.
Mr. Jeffrey Ross, thank you for talking with us. Happy New Year. Where are you?
I'm in New York City, fighting off a cold
What made you decide to do this tour? How long has it been?
I've never done such a long tour. It was a combination of LiveNation, Comedy Central and me, saying "let’s get together." I haven't played Portland and I hear they're nice and can take a joke, so let's do it.
Have any resolutions or advice for 2012?
My resolution is to, ah, bring the roasting to the audience. Normally they're about celebrities - this is my New Year's roast resolution -- to roast the common man.
I saw you did this recently in Chicago.
I did it as an experiment in Chicago. I figure it'd be a good way to do the tour, to connect and collide with the audience. I'm going to try something completely new - speed roast the volunteers who come onstage.
So, your first trip to Portland. Any rich targets?
You know, I'm just doing my research, they're telling me a lot of people have the free Tibet stickers. I'm doing my research. I go right to Seattle after there. Is it much like Seattle?
Some describe Portland as Seattle's ugly little sister. Not me, of course
(laughter) I like that, that'll be good.
You can't go wrong with the obvious hipster poking though, skinny jean white sunglasses wearing bicyclists. Here on trust fund trips from Brooklyn.
There’s nothing funnier than inside jokes. I love it. Maybe they'll come to my show. I'm actually taking notes while you're taking notes. I think that's helpful.
Have you watched any Portlandia?
No, I've heard it's good, I have not.
Don't let anyone tell you it’s satire. It's not. There are a lot of sacred cows in this town.
JR: It'll be really fun to see how they bend to my humor.
This is a big tour - how do you think your stuff would translate in Europe or Asia?
We have six shows in Canada (this tour) what else is there to do? It’s cold out. I've performed in Ireland and it went great. At a comedy festival in Kilkenny they had me do 15 minutes the first night - by the third night I was headlining. Just something about American humor in Europe that does well. They seem to understand us very well over there. They watch a lot of comedy. I could never stand the Irish comedians.
You mean understand what they're saying?
Yes yes, understand. I can stand them, (laughter) they’re all very nice.
Who do you fear in show biz?
Oh boy - fear? That's a good question. The only person I fear is the person without a sense of humor. You can't have fear and you can't apologize in my line of work.
With reality TV and the digital life - fame isn't what it used to be back in the day.
Fame barely exists at this point. MySpace ruined it years ago. Everybody's a superstar, everybody's got a website. It used to be fun to be famous, now I just feel like I'm being stalked all the time. With my Twitter feed, every ex-girlfriend knows where I'm eating. It’s very odd.
Who's the trashiest celebrity you've met?
Courtney Love. I didn't even have to think about it. I saw her two summers ago at Bumbershoot. She was great and the crowd loved her. It’s a love-hate thing. I always liked her music, I always felt bad she gets a bum rap.
I can't afford cable TV anymore - anything or anyone coming up at the Friars Club in the foreseeable future?
I don't think we'll do one for a little. While I think the roasts are so special, we're never in a rush to throw one out there. The celebrity roasts have to be for a very special person, during a very special time in their life. I'm willing to wait until we get the right target. So in lieu of that I go out and roast regular Shmucks in Portland.
Tell me about this movie they're shooting soon that you've co-written - The Comedian (with Robert Deniro and Kristen Wiig)
Yeah, it's about an aging insult comic who is looking for his next gig, his comeback. I can't say much, but I'll say that Robert DeNiro is going to be f*****g hilarious.
Did you consider having Andrew Dice Clay on to consult?
There’s a little bit of Clay, there's a little bit of a lot of guys in this character.
Ever considered acting more?
When (acting jobs) do come along, it's fun, but I always prefer to write my own material and perform it. A great writer comes along and says "here Jeff, here's your script." I'm more than happy telling my own jokes, writing, directing producing my own show.
You were also a communications major –
That's right, Boston University. It's interesting, the two things I picked in life journalism, a dead art, and roasting. It was so unknown, it was like saying "I'm jousting" when I started. You never know what’s going to make a comeback, you never going to know what's going to be a revolution. I always say to young people, do what excites you, enjoy the ups and downs, enjoy the process. There's usually never a pot of gold at the end of that tunnel.
How did you transition?
My college pal from communications school had taken a standup comedy class post college and as a fluke I took it as well, not understanding what a comedian was. I thought it was a writing class, I really just took it to meet girls.