Talking Beef with RoastMaster General Jeff Ross
For as long as guys have been hanging out, they’ve been beefing over who’s stronger, faster and better looking. In honor of this age-old tradition, Slim Jim has teamed up with Comedy Central’s RoastMaster General, Jeff Ross, for their new Settle the Beef campaign. I called up Ross to get the low down on his own history with ‘beef’, his favorite roasts, his prison special, upcoming projects, and some tips on how to roast your own family and friends.
I know you grew up on the mean streets of New Jersey. So, given Jersey’s reputation, I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit more about your own history with ‘beef.’ What kind of beef did you get into when you were coming up there? Any particularly memorable beefs? How did you settle them? I imagine you did a little proto-roasting?
I think if you’ve ever been to New Jersey, everybody there thinks they’re a comedian. Everybody there has an opinion. It’s the place that brought you everything from Frank Sinatra to the Sopranos. So beefs are a very Jersey tribal thing. You always have to be prepared to defend yourself verbally and always be in the middle of an argument. I’m in Jersey right now, as a matter of fact, and I always have my guard up.
So you never got into any physical beefs? Was it always a war of words?
No, actually, I started out as a kid in Newark where my mom dragged me against my will to karate school because I was just a skinny little runt. There was always a kid bigger than me with a bigger mouth. So, learning Karate gave me the confidence to talk smack for a living later in life. No one was going to mess with me.
Growing up did you ever have any idea this is what you’d be doing comedy and roasting for a living?
It was a self-defense mechanism. Being able to take a joke and dish it out. It happened organically. It wasn’t even until I left New Jersey and went to college in Massachusetts that I realized I was funny. Because everybody in my family was funny and my friends were funny. Jersey was funny.
We’re always the butt of a joke. We’re always sort of like New York’s goofy cousin. It took a while to realize this was my path. I never wanted to be a comedian. It was just a happy accident.
You’ve roasted everyone from Flavor Flav to Bob Sagat to Justin Bieber. Do you have a favorite roast in particular?
I always say [my favorite roast is] whoever is next because of the prep. Going to battle is so much fun. I just started on the next one—we’re roasting Rob Lowe on Labor Day weekend on Comedy Central—so now I’m starting to hang up pictures of Rob Lowe all over the place. I bought his autobiography and I’m watching his movies. I’ve been trying out jokes on friends and in the comedy clubs. So the favorite roast is always the one in front of me, rarely behind me. Because I always tell myself to enjoy the process. It’s not just the night of the roast, it’s all the build-up and all the hype and the writing that I love so much. That having been said, roasting Justin Bieber was pretty fucking great.
I like how you mentioned you do a lot of research on your subjects. This ties into when you’re on stage and actually doing the roasting: are all the jokes and insults pre-written and you’ve got a plan in mind or does some of it just come out off the cuff? Because it does seem like sometimes the funniest jokes are those that appear to be spur-of-the-moment.
Thank you. You know, it’s almost like planned chaos. I write and write and write and really plan what I want to say, but inevitably stuff happens. But also inevitably, I go on late. I go on last. So I get to roast the roast. I get to comment on the people who went on before me. It all becomes part of my routine. And by the way, talk about settling beefs, if someone takes a real shot at me that I didn’t expect, I have all that time waiting to come back and retort. So yeah, a lot of beefs get settled right here on the dais at the roast. It’s like a live sporting event.
So you have the advantage. You’re like the meta-roaster. You get to roast the whole process.
And then I get to go on right before the guest of honor gets their response. So I get the last punch before he or she comes back. Their last licks. I like having the sweet spot right there.
You’ve also roasted Donald trump in the past. I have to ask about that because of the current situation.
Somebody told me he was running for president.
I heard that too! The way I see it, roasts are almost a tacit approval of the roastee. You’re sort of poking fun at them, but at the same time accepting them as a member of the celebrity culture and society that we live in. I’m wondering if, at this point in time looking back, do you regret doing that or are you proud of the fact that you roasted a guy who would eventually go on to become a candidate for the presidency of the United States?
It’s such an interesting question and my opinions on it are still evolving all the time. I’ve roasted Trump twice. Plus I roasted him at a private party at Mara Lago, his resort. His own home turf. I roasted him initially as a New York icon and a reality show star.
So, I feel like if he gets into office, I’ll have a chance to roast him as president. Hopefully he’ll have me at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. And if he gets into office, me as the RoastMaster General, I have a good shot of getting bumped up to a cabinet level spot. So I have to bite my tongue and not say anything bad because you know he’s going to be like, “Jeff, I need five insults about North Korea by three o’clock.”
“And if you do it, I’ll make you secretary of defense.”
Of offense, secretary of OFFENSE. But, talk about settling the beef! I’m really looking forward to the Hillary/Trump debates. I feel like those two are going to make roast history.
Stepping back from the Political arena, what if I wanted to roast my family, or coworkers or friends? What sort of tips do you have to get started and to really dig into them?
Really do your research. Like I’m doing with Rob Lowe. Reading his books, watching his movies. That’s key. I feel like the times I’ve been disappointed in myself have been when I tried to just go after an easy joke that you could say about anybody. But when a joke is specific, that can only be told by you to that person—but everybody still gets it–I think that’s when you have gold.
As far as roasting your family: make sure they’re into it. Don’t just walk up to somebody and start roasting them. Their liable to write you out of the will or kick you out of the family. Roasting is all about volunteers. I never roast anyone who doesn’t volunteer for it, otherwise you can really have some hurt feelings and make enemies and get killed.
So, there’s no beef when permission to be roasted has been given?
Well, one time I started making fun of Suge Knight on Jimmy Kimmel live and he didn’t volunteer for that. I just felt like doing it. I definitely was worried he was going to kill me. And he even drove up to me once at a club and pretended like he was going to shoot me. Definitely scared the heck out of me.
Especially since he’s in jail on murder charges!
Yeah. So, definitely volunteers only!
So that leads me to your Prison Special. You roasted some pretty scary looking criminals in there. While there, did you encounter any real life beef or the settling of beef?
There was a lot of weird stuff going on in that jail. Talk about beef. I roasted guys with swastika tattoos. Full on skinheads and Nazis. So that beef goes back to WWII. Some beefs never get settled [Ross is of Jewish heritage and was born Jeffrey Ross Lifschultz]. But, it’s “revenge through ridicule,” as Mel Brooks used to say. You may not be able to get the Nazis back, but you can definitely belittle and ridicule them. That’s kind of what I was going for at that moment.
But, I feel like, in the case of the prison, the beef was with the solitary confinement and the death penalty and minimum drug sentence laws—the stuff I got to bring up in that show. The stuff we beef about all the time. I don’t try to take a side, I try to balance it and expose things for what they actually are and let people make their own conclusions. So part of it is shining a light on what people beef about.
In this case, it’s beef against the system in general. We’re seeing that more and more with Black Lives matter and the growing awareness of police brutality against African-Americans.
Wait till you see the next one coming up on September 10th. My next special is roasting the cops. Jeff Ross Roasts the Police on Comedy Central. That’s going to be the sequel to the jail.
In case you’re not familiar with our site, The Manual is a men’s lifestyle guide and we do fashion, food, cars, and more. I figure you’re not really one of the guys into fashion, so I’d like to ask you some questions about food and drink.
All my fashion styles are related to food! In other words, I always wear pants that you can easily unbutton during a big meal and I always wear shirts the color of condiments in case I spill anything on myself. It’s one of the reasons I eat beef jerky. You can’t get it on yourself. It just goes right inside you. Where everything else I eat winds up all over me.
Straight from the hand to mouth with the Slim Jim, for sure.
Do you cook at all?
No, I’m on the road so much that I rarely get to cook. I grew up in a family of caterers and I do love food and I do love cooking and feeding people, but I hate cleaning up. Now I reach for quicker foods. Another reason I eat Slim Jim. Someone told me eating them is like peeling a meat banana.
So, do you have a favorite beer?
I’m more of a tequila or scotch guy, but when I drink beer, to be honest, I’m an all American dude. I’ll go for Miller, Miller Light, Budweiser. I keep it simple. I like it in a can and like it ice cold. And with a hot dog. But the one thing I always do with beer is, if I’m in a different part of the country or a different part of the world, inevitably I’ll ask for a beer made locally. I always love to try beers from different places. The bartenders are usually very proud of what they have from their local brewers. I always recommend you try the local beers wherever you are when you’re traveling.
Do you have a favorite piece of tech that you own? TV, phone?
I’ve been getting into the Instagram on my iPhone. The Instagram snap stories. It’s kind of addictive. I always feel so much pressure to be funny on Twitter, but on Instagram you can literally point the camera at anything and people think it’s cool. It’s just so stupid and fun. 4,000 views for some dumb shit for no reason.
Also, I’m not that technologically oriented. For me a big deal is having a phone charger in every room. That’s like the new pick up line for the modern man. It used to be like, “Come check out my beach house,” but now it’s like, “Hey, I have a phone charger.” And girls are always like “Ooh.”
Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons