Jeff Ross doesn’t want you to call it a comeback. Roasting has been here for years. “Maybe it’s new to some people, but I’ve bee doing this for two decades,” the Roastmaster General tells Laughspin of the seemingly timeless tradition. The roast — and its younger cousin, the roast battle — has seen a mainstream resurgence over the last decade. Comedy Central’s infamous celebrity roasts of Pamela Anderson, Hugh Hefner, Charlie Sheen, and others continue to air repeats on the network. Ross hosted a televised insult competition Roast Battle just a few weeks ago. And now it seems like comedy clubs in every major city host battle nights.
“Growing up, it was part of the culture,” Ross, a New Jersey native shares. “It wasn’t until I went to college in New England that I realized not everyone enjoys busting balls like back home.” Making a living out of breaking a guy’s chops — instead of his nose — is a Jersey boy’s dream come true. Of his earliest taunting days he continues, “My mom made me go to karate. I got a black belt, so nobody wanted to fight me. Then I could say what I wanted, because I knew no one would hit me!”
Comedians communicate through insults. It’s a shorthand between funny friends. In the comedy world, a pal is more likely to deliver a body slam to your ego before your greatest nemesis. Ross once held that ideal close to heart when he wrote his book, I Only Roast The Ones I Love. “On Roast Battle, every match ends with a hug.”
However, Ross, who helped start the original roast battles at the Comedy Store with Brian Moses, is ready to roast just about anybody these days. Next up is Comedy Central’s Roast of Rob Lowe, but Ross says, “I’d really like to roast a politician next. I don’t care which party they belong to, I just think that’d be a lot of fun.” Amongst his wish list are President Barack Obama and former president Bill Clinton, who he thinks would be “the best roast of all time.”
The dais on a classic Dean Martin roast featured friends of the guest of honor and chummy comedians. Today’s TV roasts now book based on who’s funny and who will get the best ratings, a combination yielding the most brutal of put-downs where no one holds back. Comedy club roast battles don’t even focus on pairing up close friends. New York City’s underground Comedy Fight Club runs NCAA bracket-style tournaments. A comic often knows nothing about his or her opponent before researching them for dirt. An autistic sibling or deceased wife remain on-limits to the most vicious of roasters. In these situations, battles require superb comedy writing skills, but not the familiarity of the Rat Pack’s era.
Ross insists it’s all in good fun and a cathartic release of comedic contempt. That’s why he’s exchanging barbs with his fans on Twitter tonight as part of Slim Jim’s #SettleTheBeef movement from 8-9pm EST. Fans can offer up subjects or themselves to be roasted by the Sultan of Slights. But compliments could be on Ross’s horizon. When informed of Reddit’s /r/ToastMe subreddit, which focuses less on mockery and more on acclamation, he said, “That’s awesome. I have to check that out!” Imagine adulation from the Admiral of Verbal Abuse.
Follow @realjeffreyross on Twitter for tonight’s #SettleTheBeef!