Fresh off his latest standup special, Jeff Ross Roasts Criminals: Live at Brazos County Jail, the Roastmaster General is back on the road and bringing his funny act to Long Island this week. The Newark-native is best known for his brutal Comedy Central roasts of celebrities including Justin Bieber, Charlie Sheen, Donald Trump and many more. But he’s also got a lot more to say besides making fun of people. The Press spoke with “the meanest man in comedy,” who’s performing at NYCB Theater at Westbury at 8 p.m. June 25.
Long Island Press: How exactly did you get started and end up as the Roastmaster General at Comedy Central?
Jeff Ross: Man, I was doing stand-up for years and didn’t really have an interesting voice. Then one day, they asked me to be part of my first Friar’s Club roast … and I feel like I found my niche, my lane if you will.
LIP: What is your impression of Long Island so far?
JR: Oh man, well, I’m from New Jersey, but every hot Jewish girl I ever wanted to date was from Long Island, so maybe there’ll be some single women at the show. I definitely would love to speed-roast some Long Islanders at a certain point in my show on Thursday. I’ll invite anybody who wants to come up on stage and get speed-roasted.
LIP: What can we expect to see in this upcoming show?
JR: I’m talking a lot about the world at large now. People are curious about my jail experience, and I’m kind of fascinated by the darker subjects right now, so a lot of that will come out. Plus, my usual obsessions, food and sex, are a big part of the show. I wrote a couple of roast folk songs; I’m bringing my guitar, and then I’ll speed-roast some people on stage. It’s going to be a party!
LIP: Are there any common misperceptions regarding your act?
JR: You know what? People think I’m mean sometimes because they see me roast Justin Bieber and almost make him cry. But the truth is, it all comes from love. I say the things out loud that the people are afraid to say. I don’t like pranks, I like saying. If you’re going to do something, do it to their face.
LIP: Is there ever a joke you couldn’t say? A line that shouldn’t be crossed?
JR: In the right context, I think everything’s okay. People are so sensitive these days, but I think comedy is more important than ever. If comedians don’t cross the lines, then we’ll never know where the lines are.
LIP: In your recent work, Jeff Ross Roasts Criminals: Live at Brazos County Jail, you often talk about the first step to rehabilitation is laughing about yourself. Could you elaborate?
JR: I think that’s true not just for inmates but in our real lives. I love people who take their jobs seriously, but I don’t really respect people who take themselves too seriously. It’s humanizing to see somebody laugh at their own mistakes and their own faults.
LIP: I’ve recently seen you on Bill Maher and you’ve also performed at the Occupy Wall Street movement. Is politics something you’re looking to add to your performance?
JR: For me, it’s never about the politics; it’s about the people. I respected their complaints and was curious about why they were down there, so I went down there. For me as a comedian, it’s always a mission to try and bring laughs where there aren’t any. Where it’s depressing or sad. So more than any other reason I just sympathize with the fact that we were hot and sweaty and outside. I like to think of comedy as purposeful. Comedy is really important and potent and healing. I didn’t see that when I first started. I saw it was good for me, but I didn’t realize it could be good for other people.
LIP: You’ve directed your own film, Patriot Act: A Jeffrey Ross Home Movie in 2005. How was this experience?
JR: Oh man, it was an intense, lonely experience. I mean back then nobody really wanted to talk about Iraq in a funny, nonpolitical way and that was my goal. To try and show the human side of the soldiers and the comedians. It was a hot button political issue at the time, and I was making an unpolitical documentary so that wasn’t easy. And the same goes for the show I just did about criminals in a county jail. I wanted to show the human side. It’s not a political show, it’s about the people.
LIP: How was your experience on Dancing With The Stars?
JR: I really enjoyed that experience. Before me, comedians used to sing and dance. They were true entertainers. I tried to emulate that, but sadly I got voted off after the first commercial break. I got a scratched cornea on my last rehearsal and that basically knocked me out of the competition. Hey man, I’m one for one. I won a dance contest in summer camp when I was about 11. Fifty-50, baby!
LIP: You’ve done dramatic roles in television shows, such as CSI and Six Feet Under. Is this something you look to do more of?
JR: Every now and then, comedians get asked to do fun stuff. I really consider it a fun departure, kind of a hobby, but my true love is on stage, live in front of real people. And that’s why I’m working so hard on my act and getting people to come to my shows. I feel like it’s a great night out. I’m definitely going to try and top myself after the jail show. It’ll be provocative, dangerous and it’ll be funny. If you’re thinking of having a date on Thursday night, definitely do so. I talk about sex a lot, so you’re guaranteed to get some action afterward.