Reporting Sara Pelissero
Minneapolis, prepare to be roasted.
The Roast Master General himself will be embarking upon our fair city, as part of his “Jeff Ross Roasts America Tour” — and he’s already set his sights on prospective targets.
If you’ve ever watched Mr. Ross in action — perhaps roasting Charlie Sheen or Donald Trump on Comedy Central — and thought, “Man, wouldn’t that be fun?” Well, here’s your chance.
Besides delivering his usual gut-busting ball busters, Ross said he’ll be taking aim at audience members — firing a fresh dose of insults at anyone toting thick enough skin.
But not to worry, dear passive-aggressive Minnesotans, as Ross states in his new book, “I Only Roast the Ones I Love.”
Between the new book, co-writing a new movie called, “The Comedian” and embarking on a national tour, the New Jersey funnyman somehow found time to chat with us before his big show Saturday, Feb. 4 at the Varsity Theater in Minneapolis.
Q: You said in your bio that you never planned on making fun of people for a living, but clearly, you’ve found your niche doing just that. What did you envision yourself doing for a living when you were younger?
A: I grew up in a catering home. So I really thought I’d become a funny, Kosher caterer, like my dad and my grandpa and my great-grandmother. But no such luck. I’m out on the road by myself.
Q: You’ve already roasted some truly incredible people, but who would you say you enjoyed roasting the most?
A: Well, I always say I’m most excited about who’s next because the writing and the preparation for the roasts are so much fun. But I guess I would say, in this case, the good people of Minneapolis … that’s my next victim. I lost my virginity in St. Louis Park so I feel a special connection to the area and I’m going to come fully loaded with jokes.
Q: Excellent, well, we are very excited about that. Obviously you have some pretty easy targets with our politicians — Michele Bachmann, Jesse Ventura … Anyone specific in your sights?
A: Those are two good ones. I’m taking notes. That’s a really good idea. Michele Bachmann, wow. There’s a lot there. That’s really good. I’m going to have to put that on my list.
Q: Is there anyone that you want to roast that hasn’t been yet?
A: Um, that’s a good question. I’d love to do a big rock star next, like Kanye West or something. Yeah, you have to be careful to pick people who are really good sports, somebody who can take it. Because you want everyone to leave a roast thinking, that was really fun, I hope they roast me someday.
Q: You’ve said that before that in this line of work, there’s always someone that wants to kill you. Do you find that most people are good sports or are there some that take offense?
A: Yeah, most people are really, really good sports. People love being the center of attention, you know. Hold on, I’m writing down Michele Bachmann and Jesse Ventura. … Good. And Bob Dylan, that’s a good one too.
Q: Yeah, Bob Dylan. He’s actually one of our pride and joys, I guess.
A: He’s up there though. He makes up about 100 Michele Bachmann’s. Not that there’s 100 Michele Bachmann’s. That would be terrible.
Q: Haha, yes. Moving away from that thought. You’ve also spent a lot of time performing for our men and women overseas. What is that experience like for you?
A: Oh my lord. It’s invigorating. You see the sacrifices, the commitments they make. If I go visit Afghanistan, I have a return trip ticket. I know I’m coming home when I’m coming home. And they don’t. So I feel like going there and telling jokes and helping them escape a little bit is the least I can do for the people who have sacrificed so much.
Q: Now, you also have a new movie that’s in production, which you co-wrote the script for, “The Comedian.” What can you tell us about that?
A: Yeah, that’s what I’m hearing. Sean Penn is going to direct it. Robert DeNiro is going to play a comedian and Kristen Wiig has signed on to play a major part of the movie. I can’t tell you much because it’s very top secret but it’s the most exciting thing ever to happen to me, I’ll tell you that.
Q: Very cool. So, I also have to ask you about the good ol Bea Arthur joke from way back (where Ross may or may not have referenced Arthur’s um, well, you know). I read somewhere that you caught up with her after the joke and found she was a great sport about it. What was that moment like for you, when you were waiting in line to finally meet her?
A: Oh my God, I felt like I was waiting for the gallows. I was so nervous waiting to meet Bea Arthur, a second time. You know, because the first time I just sort of, um, you know, took a … shot at her. I wasn’t expecting it but much to my happiness, she was a total “gentleman.” She couldn’t have been sweeter and she hugged me and wanted to take a picture after. She was a really, really good sport. I’ll always remember her as having a great sense of humor.
Q: Is that something you worry about at all when you go out — like, oh man, hopefully I don’t run into so-and-so who I just completely ripped last week?
A: Well luckily, I have a black belt in karate so I live with no fear. If anyone decides to take a swing at me, which Penny Marshall and Courtney Love both have, I know I can take care of myself. It’s kind of a double-edged sword being a roast guy.
Q: But tons of fun, too, right?
A: It’s a party. Anyone who wants to see a live roast this is their big chance, me coming to town, because I’m going to be speed roasting volunteers from the audience and taping it for my next Comedy Central special. So if you’re listening to this and you’ve always wanted to get roasted by the Roast Master, put on your best suit and comb your hair and come on out.
Q: But really, a black belt in karate? When did that start?
A: Growing up in Newark, New Jersey you had to be a tough kid. I remember my mom dragging me to a Tae Kwon Do class, I think that kind of toughened me up a lot and perhaps, as I got older, it gave me the confidence to talk smack to people the way I do. Especially comes in handy with that confidence when I do a speed roasting on stage, because I’m up there with a bunch of drunk maniacs and anything can happen.
Q: So besides being roasted, what can people expect from your show?
A: All the jokes that are too soon for newspapers, radio or television. I’ll be going after all the hot topics that people are afraid to make fun of: Penn State sex scandal, Steve Jobs, Gaddafi, Kim Jong-Il, they’re all on the hit list.
Q: Is there anything you won’t joke about or anything you think is off limits?
A: Me. (Laughs) No, that’s not true actually. Most comedians are self-deprecating, I’m all deprecating — I make fun of me and everyone around me.
Q: Looking into the future, what do you hope is next for you?
A: I’d like to be doing the same thing when I’m 100, like Bob Hope or Milton Berle. I love it. I don’t want it to stop. So I don’t really put an end line on it or a goal, I’m kind of already living my dream. I expected to be a caterer so to bust chops for a living, it’s really a fantasy, a dream come true.
Q: So where does your sense of humor come from? Is there a lot of jokesters in the catering industry?
A: Yeah, because I was the boss’ son so, everybody made fun of me so I had to learn how to defend myself. That’s where it comes from. You have to have thick skin to be able to take a joke. When you work in the restaurant business, it’s very high pressure. When you burn your skin, it becomes thick forever.
Q: Do you know who the next Comedy Central Roast will be of or how far in advance do they let you know?
A: They usually gimme a couple of months in advance but I don’t know who it’s going to be. We’re still figuring that out. … I’d love to take a crack at Kanye West.
Q: Do you think he’d be a good sport, though?
A: Uh, I dunno. It’d be fun just to find out. He’d be a really good one. Or a politician since we’re going into an election year. It’d be fun to roast Sarah Palin.
Q: Did you know going into the Roast of Charlie Sheen that that would end up being the most successful roast in Comedy Central history?
A: Yes, I did. I helped talked Charlie and Comedy Central into it. I thought it be good for both of them and be good for the comedians, too. He was such a ripe target. It was a chance Charlie to put the belt down behind him and move on with his life. That’s what he’s doing.
Q: Anything else you want to add before I let you go?
A: People always ask me how they can see a live roast and well, this is their chance.
Q: To see a live roast and maybe be roasted.
A: Yes, exactly. Exactly. Be a part of the action. If anyone wants to try and get one back at me, I’ll let them have their moment.
Jeff Ross will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 4 at the Varsity Theater, 1308 Fourth St. SE in Minneapolis. Tickets are $32.50 and are still available at www.varsitytheater.org. For more about Jeff Ross, visit his website.