One-on-one with the Roastmaster General.
Comedian and Roastmaster General Jeff Ross bring his new tour, “Jeff Ross Roasts America,” to the Neptune Theatre in Seattle on Thursday, Jan. 19. I chatted with Jeff on the phone about his tour and roasts, as well as “The Comedian” – a movie he recently wrote with producer Art Linson. The film, which begins shooting soon, will be directed by Sean Penn and star Robert De Niro and Kristin Wiig.
Seattleite: When does the tour start?
Jeff Ross: It starts in Portland and Seattle (Jan. 18-19). This is gonna be the launch of “Jeff Ross Roasts America.” I’m sitting here right now trying to think of jokes about Seattle, it’s like going in to battle. I read the papers, it sounds like you guys could use a laugh right now, a lot of grim crap going on.
S: Yeah there really is. But, our governor just came out in favor of gay marriage so it’s not all bad.
JR: Oh, well mazel tov, Seattle. We’ll celebrate. We’ll break the glass next week when I get there.
S: What is your approach to joke writing?
JR: It depends on what I’m writing. If I’m writing for a roast, I really have to sit down and attack it. It’s a discipline, like practicing guitar or anything else, it’s important to focus. You really want to zero in on what it is we all hate about someone.
S: How far is “too far” for you? Is there a line you won’t cross?
JR: I don’t think there’s a “too far,” but I think there is a “too much.” There’s no sense in piling it on, once you’ve made your point get out. Microscopic surgery, that’s my approach.
S: Do you prefer stand-up or roasts?
JR: That’s a great question. I think I’ve found this year, with this upcoming tour, that they have melded together for me. So the answer is that I love them both. My stand-up has become a roast, they live together in perfect harmony. As a matter of fact, I’m even bringing my guitar from high school, my Fender Strat, onstage. I feel like there’s a clash of influences happening with me on this tour. I’ve always had guitars that sat in my rooms and did nothing, so now I said, “well, I’m going on a 20-city tour, this guitar should have a life.” I don’t really know how to play it, but I figured I’d bring it along as a friend.
S: Is there anyone in particular that you would like to roast?
JR: Whoever’s next, you know? Whenever something new comes on the schedule, or if a good idea happens, my mind just goes right to it. So when I found out that I’m going to roast someone, I get just as excited about that one as I was about Charlie Sheen or anyone else I’ve roasted.
S: Who decides what gets cut from the roast? Do the comedians have any say in that?
JR: Usually the director will make that decision. He’s very careful to put in the jokes that get the biggest laughs. He doesn’t care about anything but the size of the laugh. Put the funniest s— in there.
S: Is this tour going to culminate in a new special?
JR: It’s looking that way. I’m gonna be taping my shows, so if you want to be in my next special I recommend coming to the show. And if you want to know what it’s like to be made fun of, here’s your chance. People always ask me how they can come to a roast, so I figured this was the next best thing. Sort of a traveling roast.
S: Talk a little bit about the movie that you wrote, “The Comedian,” that you’re going to start shooting soon.
JR: It’s one of those things, with Sean Penn directing, it’s very, very cool, and also very top secret. I will tell you that Robert De Niro will be hilarious in it.
S: Are you in the movie?
JR: I think so, probably. Yes, I think I am.
S: Do you have plans to pursue acting any more?
JR: Well if the role is a lot like me I get excited. But it’s always more fun to do your own material, so I think I get more excited about being on stage with real live people, saying whatever the hell I want. Nothing really tops that for me.
But every now and then, like if I’m a fan of the show I’ll get into it. I did an episode of “Children’s Hospital” on Adult Swim last season, and to me that’s one of the funniest shows on TV. I did an episode of “Batman” recently where I roasted the Joker and Batman, so when fun stuff and new adventures come along I’m always into it.
S: What do you think about Seattle the city and Seattle crowds?
JR: I find that Seattle people laugh harder than most crowds because I feel like it’s a passive-aggressive society (laughs). They don’t always get told the truth and it’s not really OK to laugh at politically incorrect ideas. And, you know, comedy comes from pain, and times are tough right now. So we all really need to loosen up.
S: We are kind of an uptight society up here.
JR: The Starbucks in my hotel closed down so now I have to walk across the street the other Starbucks.
S: That’s rough.
JR: I know, it’s sad.
Jeff Ross at Neptune Theatre | 911 Pine St., Seattle | Thursday, Jan. 19 | 7:30 p.m.