Jeff Ross, aptly nicknamed the “Roastmaster General,” always wants people to leave a roast saying, “That was so much fun.”
But that is not always the case. Ross is known to toe the border of comedy and abuse, live on stage.
“It’s been a lot of trial and error for me,” says Ross, performing two shows Friday at 24 Oxford at Virgin Hotels at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. “I want people to have so much fun, they want to to it again. I want them to repeat my jokes to their families the next day. When somebody’s a bad sport, the whole show falls apart.”
On Comedy Central, Ross has roasted such celebs as Flavor Flav, Mike Tyson, Justin Bieber, William Shatner, Roseanne Barr and the late Bob Saget. From 2016-2018, he co-hosted the “Jeff Ross Presents Roast Battle” show on Comedy Central. The series featured comics in one-on one-roast battles.
Ross roasts audience members in his live act. Total strangers, hand-picked to take a public flogging.
“I get their names, I talk to them, get to know them,” Ross says. “It’s like being king and queen for a day.”
He even roasted Jerry Lewis, in effigy, during Lewis’ memorial at South Point Showroom after Lewis’s death in August 2017.
Lewis had specifically requested Ross appear at the event and give him one last Friars Club-fashioned roast. He got that final wish.
“I said, ‘Jerry and I are both from Newark, and he never forgot his roots, his early days in Newark,” Ross recalled. “In fact, when he got successful, he vowed — and he kept this vow —never to wear the same pair of socks two days in a row.’ And then I said, ‘Until today.’
“It’s one of my favorite jokes.”
The famed actress Penny Marshall tore into Ross many years ago, after a private roast during a high-roller event for the Maloof brothers at the Palms. The Maloofs owned the hotel in those days. Marshall, an invited VIP, had gained fame as Laverne DeFazio on the hit ’70s sitcom, “Laverne & Shirley.”
“Penny just couldn’t take a joke,” Ross says. “I said, ‘Which one were you again, Lenny, or Squiggy?’ She was basically mocking me all the way out to the back door of the Palms. They thought she was going to attack me.”
Ross says he had “a beautiful experience” at a recent show. Ross, who shaves his head, has been joking about the Will Smith–Chris Rock slapping incident at the Oscars, saying, “The jokes on you! I have alopecia, and I am starring in the new ‘G.I. Jane’ movie!’”
He then asked if there were any other “alopecians” in the crowd. I woman shouted that she had the condition, but was wearing sunglasses and a wig.
“So she pulls away her wig, and this is an outdoor show, over 90 degrees,” Ross says. “The crowd loves it, she’s laughing. Sometimes I think people are waiting to be roasted. In some cases, it can be very healing.”
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.