Roastmaster General, comedian Jeff Ross has roasted tens of thousands of people — maybe more, he says.
His first official Roast was of “actor” and ponytail god Steven Seagal, and he opened with this joke: “A lot of you don’t know me, but I feel uniquely qualified to be here today because I’m also a shitty actor.” Today, Jeff Ross is practically a household name. He has been the Roastmaster at the venerable Friars Club, and is part of every Comedy Central Roast, usually scoring the biggest “OH NO HE DIIIIIN’T”s of the night.
“Everything is a roast! Even in an airport with strangers, or at Thanksgiving,” says Ross. “I can’t help myself!”
Ross has roasted the likes of Pamela Anderson, Gene Simmons, Flavor Flav, William Shatner, Shaquille O’Neal, Larry the Cable Guy, and Bob Saget, to name a few. “I like roasting people I grew up with,” he says. “Gene Simmons was fun. I said, ‘Gene Simmons is such an asshole, his own asshole changed its name to Murray.’ “
Ross is sitting down in a booth after midnight on Monday night at New York City’s Comedy Cellar. We split a slice of apple pie a la mode while he tells me about the upcoming Roast Battle at Gramercy Theatre on November 8, which he has been orchestrating for the past month.
Ross regularly judges the Roast Battle at the Comedy Store in Los Angeles. This will be the first time the event has taken place in New York City. Sarah Silverman, Brett Ratner, Dave Chappelle, and Russell Simmons have been known to frequent the Comedy Store to witness the battles in the past couple of months. Roast Battle is comedy at its most immediate — a fight-night for comics where the only real rule is to be ruthless. Other than that, anything goes. Alongside a dozen comedians, Ross says there will be a “House Racist,” who is flying in from L.A. just for the occasion, along with the legendary Gilbert Gottfried, who will serve as co-judge.
“You win Roast Battle by preparing. The comedians have worked as much as two weeks on it, getting to know your opponent, researching them, sizing them up. Roasting is writing. Usually, the best writers win Roast Battle. It’s kind of like boxing — if you train hard, you win. Roast Battle is like Fight Club for comedians, it’s like Bloodsport,” Ross says, grinning. Comedians have a responsibility to shine a light on the darkest subjects, and Ross’s event is the perfect room to do so. It’s a place for comedians to prove themselves, on a very raw level.
While Ross never dares to hold back or filter his jokes during a roast, offstage, the New York-born and now L.A.-based comic is a lot more tender. “I only roast the ones I love,” he says, also the title of his hilarious book, I Only Roast the Ones I Love: How to Bust Balls Without Burning Bridges.
The Roastmaster himself does not like to be ridiculed, but says if he had to battle one person it would be the late Milton Berle, who he remembers burned him at his very first roast.
For one night only, Roast Battle will take place in New York’s Gramercy Theatre, during New York Comedy Festival. Battles will include: Jesse Joyce vs. Kurt Metzger, Mark Normand vs. Jermaine Fowler & Monroe Martin, Bonnie McFarlane vs. Mike Lawrence, and Big Jay Oakerson vs. Ari Shaffir. Each battle is timed to a minute, with three rounds. The prize? “Bragging rights,” Ross says.
If you like your comedy raw and uncensored, Roast Battle is for you, says Ross. “No guts or no glory!”
The Roast Battle takes place Saturday, November 8, at 10 p.m., at Gramercy Theatre.