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He Kids Because He Loves

Roastmaster Jeffrey Ross relates the art of the skewer in new book and New York appearance.

Jeffrey Ross demonstrated the art of roasting firsthand at the 92nd St. Y September 15 in an appearance promoting his just-published book, “I Only Roast the Ones I Love: Busting Balls Without Burning Bridges,” taking on both his interviewer, Eddy Friedfeld, and audience members, as well as memories of roasts past, but all in his genial, devilish little boy fashion.

Ross shows that roasts are as much of an art form within comedy as stand-up, improv, sketch or performance art, or any other sub-genre, and has single-handedly bridged the gap between roasters of yore such as Milton Berle and Buddy Hackett, joining the Friars’ Club roasts of those old legends’ latter years, and shepherding the format into the Comedy Central pop culture juggernaut it has become, with everyone from William Shatner to Hugh Hefner to Joan Rivers to Bob Saget eagerly lining up in recent years to be taken on by Ross and leading younger comics -- such as Sarah Silverman, Jimmy Kimmel, Greg Giraldo and Gilbert Gottfried.

The process of preparing for a roast goes right up to and into the moment, Ross told Friedfeld, whether he has two months or one day to research the subject and start writing jokes. And sometimes, what jokes Ross will use depend on the vibe after he’s already started, as when during the 2005 roast of Pamela Anderson on Comedy Central, an out-of-control Courtney Love started pelting him with ice and grabbing for his notes. So Ross whipped out the one stinger host Jimmy Kimmel told him beforehand was over the line, saying, “Boy who would have thought Courtney Love would be looking worse than Kurt Cobain,” to which everyone’s jaws dropped. That makes a sound, Ross recalls. And Ms. Love was off to a California drug rehab the very next day, so it must have made another impact as well.

Aside from the Friars’ Club, where Ross first took the dais under Hackett’s mentoring, and Comedy Central, Ross now performs all sorts of roasts, doing a PG-rated version on finalists on “Dancing With The Stars,” as well as charity functions featuring athletes and executives as the honorees or targets. “The roast goes places,” says Ross. Unlike Rodney Dangerfield, it may actually even be getting some respect.




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