A talk with Jeffrey Ross, the 'Roastmaster General'

Jeffrey Ross is the king of the Comedy Central roasts, in town for a gig at Warren's Andiamo Italia. We caught him by phone to talk about the art of the roast, his upcoming roast of Justin Bieber ("you can expect total bloody mayhem"), and why people from New Jersey are funnier.

Metro Times: I want to mostly talk about roasting, if that’s cool with you. 

Jeffrey Ross: That’s usually what people want to talk to me about.

MT: When did you first realize that you could roast people?

Ross: I was probably playing poker in high school, just making fun of my friends. You know, when you're, like, just sitting around a lot is when you start to make fun of people. When you have nothing else to talk about, it just becomes … like, it internalizes somehow. You just make fun of the moment.

And, you know, when you’re just sort of working — I worked in a catering hall in Union, New Jersey, and everybody makes fun of everybody. It’s equal-opportunity offending as just a way to pass time. I didn’t know it was a commodity until I moved away.

MT: Yeah, I have family from Jersey, and it seems like, just that kind of humor is really just maybe part of the culture, you know? Just like some playful ribbing. 

Ross: It seems like it. It seems like a survival technique. One day a sociologist or a psychiatrist or something should figure exactly what it is about New Jersey where they really like love to dish it out, you know? And take it!

I have my own theories. I guess Michigan is not that dissimilar, in that it’s hard living for a lot of people. It’s cold, and it’s sometimes bleak, and when that atmosphere is in the air, people get funny — it just happens. I always feel like people in Michigan have a good sense of humor about themselves. And that’s what I try to test.

MT: Do you know anything about the history of roasts?

Ross: As far as I know, they were started at the Friar’s Club about 120 years ago, 115 years ago, I think. Usually done for charity or to honor somebody, you know, mark an Important moment of their life.

MT: Will you roast anyone at Andiamo?

Ross: It's Valentine’s Day, so bring your date onstage at my show at Andiamo and I’ll speed-roast you. I’ll speed-roast lovers.

MT: Is it a fine line when you're roasting, making fun of someone but also simultaneously honoring them?

Ross: I believe so. And, you know, if you bring your date up onstage to get roasted, if you can make a man — and especially a woman — laugh at themselves, you can make them do anything you want. So, I will definitely help people seal the deal.

MT: Yeah. It does seem like there’s a gendered difference — like, you know, you go to weddings and it seems like it’s more typical for the best man to resort to humor in his toast, whereas like, the bridesmaid is serious and emotional —

Ross: I don’t know, I think you’re hanging out with the wrong chicks, man. You gotta hang out with some comedy chicks, they’ll always take over.

MT: That very well may be. So you're gearing up to roast Justin Bieber, right?

Ross: Yeah, it’s gonna be the best roast ever. I’ve already decided in my head, that this is gonna be — just, I don’t even know how to compare it to the other roasts. I just think it’s gonna be total fucking hilarity.

MT: I don’t want to say an easier target— but probably a different target than you’re typical roast subject, right? He's probably not as old as your typical roast subjects, right?

Ross: Well, it’s not even the age, because some of them are super ageless. You know, like, James Franco, women love him from 18 to 80. But we did him last time. I think Bieber is just a curiosity. So, there’s that. His fans will watch, which is new to the roast, plus people who don’t even like him will watch, because they love roasts. So it’s gonna be a spectacle, in my opinion. And who doesn't love a good spectacle?

MT: When you’re doing a figure like that, what’s your process like? Do you do a lot of research? 

Ross: Yeah. I’m embarrassed to admit that I will be doing a lot of Bieber research. Because I do want to get it right. If I’m gonna make fun of something, I’m gonna make fun of it as an expert, from the inside-out. So, I really want this to be felt by him. So, I’m really— I’m gonna do my research, and talk to many, many, many teenage girls about Justin Bieber.

MT: Are there are any particularly memorable roasts that you've done?

Ross: I honestly feel like I remember every one. You know, anything that you prepare for and really take seriously — you know, you gotta think of, a boxer remembers every match. And I love it. You know? And whoever’s next is always my favorite — because this part, right now, hyping it up and writing the jokes, figuring it all out — that’s the fun part, you know? I mean, the prep.

MT: Would you say you are the most serious about roasting, in "the roasting game?"

Ross: No. I would say that there’s so many people who are super serious about it. It’s almost like a movement. There’s Roast Battle happening in L.A. on Tuesday nights, and comics roast each other, and there’s roasting in people’s offices parties, and in backyards, and bachelor parties. Roasting is our new national pastime. 

MT: Are there any historical figures — in terms of roasting, anyway — like any, any big names from its history that maybe aren’t really household names but people who kind of into that might know?

Ross: Well, you know, everybody from Ronald Reagan to President Obama has done roasts. Reagan used to do the Friars Club Roast when he was governor, and even before that. This is like huge Hollywood stuff. They roasted Terry Bradshaw, the football player, recently, right before the Super Bowl. And it was a Wounded Warrior charity. So, yeah, they have all sorts of different purposes and reasons, and that’s what I like about it. Every roast is different.

MT: Have you ever had one go wrong?

Ross: One time, Richard Branson dumped some water on my head. That kind of stunk. I thought he’d be a better sport. But I will admit, I caught him a little off-guard. He wasn’t expecting it. I don’t really like to ambush people after that.

MT: What else can people expect from your Andiamo set?

Ross: I’m gonna come out and talk about the world, because I’m shooting a standup special next week for Comedy Central, and I want to try some of it out at Andiamo. And I’m gonna play some guitar. The food’s so good there, I have a song about pizza that I think will be good. And I’ll speed-roast some love birds.

MT: When's Bieber?

Ross: I think it airs the third week of March. And you can expect total bloody mayhem. He’s ready, I talked to him.

MT: You talked to him, ahead of time?

Ross: Yeah, he seems very ready. I think he’s gonna take it really well.

MT: Who's your dream roast?

Ross: I think this is it. My dream roast would be when I meet my wife, we fall in love — like somebody comes up to get roasted, or something. It is Valentine’s Day, I can dream.

Starts at 8 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 13 at Comedy at Andiamo Italia, 7096 E. 14 Mile Rd., Warren; tickets are $25 - $69, available here. Learn more about Ross at roastmastergeneral.com.

About The Author

Lee DeVito

Leyland “Lee” DeVito is the editor in chief of Detroit Metro Times since 2016. His writing has also been published in Hour Detroit, VICE, In These Times, and New City. He once asked porn star Stormy Daniels to spank him with an issue of Metro Times. She obliged...
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