JEFFERY ROSS is a standup comic who is living the dream of
many a standup comic: He hangs with the greats on a regular basis
and is a frequent contributor/writer to/for the infamous Friars
Roasts. In many ways, Jeffery (not "Jeff," that would
be Jeff Ross, producer of Late Night with Conan
O'Brien ) is the embodiment of the SHECKYmagazine.com spirit: He bridges
the gap between old comic and young turk. He's Comedy Central meets
the Catskills. He's written for The Man Show, and he's
written for The Academy Awards. His one-man show,
Take a Banana for the Ride, is based on his relationship
with his grandfather (who raised him after Ross' parents died when
he was a teenager). He's comfortable doing six minutes on Letterman,
lunching with Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara or taking a schvitz
at the Friars Club in Santa Monica. Ladies and Gentlemen, a round of
applause for JEFFERY ROSS!
How did you get hooked up with the Friars Club?
Well, Iíve always had a "thing" for 90-year-old
balls--and I heard they were running rampant in the steam room
of the Friars Club. So there I went.
At the time, I was also a regular performer at the downtown alternative comedy shows like Eating It at Rebar and later at Luna Lounge. I remember taking some shit from Marc Maron one night for being a Friar. In the post-Rat Pack era-- the Friars suffered a lame reputation. Thatís all over. The annual Friars roast on Comedy Central reaches more viewers than anything else they have. And come to think about it-- I recently asked Marc to perform at a Friars event I helped produce and he was a smash. The Friars Club is like a church for comics. When Iím old, thereíll be people there who remember me.
By the way, of all the free stand-up comedy magazines on the internet named after legendary entertainers, SHECKY! is, by far, my favorite. However, be advised that this isnít an exclusive, as I have also done interviews with Nipsy! and Soupy!
The Friars have asked you to recruit new, younger members. How did this happen? Is it difficult to convince younger members to join?
Actually the Friars never really asked me to do that. It just sorta happened. I simply brought people there and they would get into the vibe and the tradition and the elegance of the joint. Elon Gold and I organized a couple of parties. People who have a good experiences there generally ask me about joining. I very rarely ask anybody to join. You have to want it.
Do you think it's important for younger comics to know who came before them?
Not really. A big part of becoming a good comedian is finding your own voice. It was only after I had pretty good confidence in myself that I really start checking out my elders. I didnít grow up a big comedy fan. I was into Cheech and Chong and Steve Martin, but it was only recently in life that I started digging the more old school guys like Uncle Miltie and the great Sid Caesar. And I really only know how funny they are right now. I donít watch all those old tapes. I donít have the patience. Actually I did watch some Texaco Star Theater episodes before I interviewed Milton on Later once. He had a lot of energy and was just a hilarious presence. People went out and bought TVís for the first time just so they could watch him. Imagine being that good.
When I eat with Milton at the Friars -- I can still see why he was so popular in his heyday. Heís really funny. His timing. His takes. His chewing.
Heís got me smoking cigars. I had never had one in my life but I always liked the smell because my Grandfather smoked them when I was a kid. Then one day six months ago Miltie says "Come on--fucking try it already!" He sticks it in my mouth, lights it, and we had a smoke.
I drove across Cuba over the Millenium and am now such a snob I can only smoke Cuban cigars. I bought a humidor from Barclay Rex (my manager Vincentís dadís smoke shop)
Thanks to the Friars, Iíve pretty much met everybody at this point. Iíd like to know Don Rickles better but he doesnít really wanna be bothered. I really like Shecky Greene a lot. His wife is nice too. I played Shecky in the film Isnít She Great with Bette Midler and Nathan Lane -- but I heard I got cut to one line or something. I havenít seen it. It left the theaters so fast they shouldíve just held the premiere at a Blockbuster. Anyway, I feel a special connection to Shecky Greene because of that. Does he know about this by the way?
Do you think it's important for the older comics to be aware of the newer generation of comedians?
I will tell you this: The older guys watch everything. Soupy Sales doesnít miss a thing on Comedy Central. These guys all have great entertainment systems.
You've described the Friars Roast as the "World Series of Comedy." Are you still excited each time you perform? Is it still as thrilling as your first appearance?
(sighs) Yeah, sure.
What must a comic know before mounting the dais?
Never to go on right after me.
Do you think broadcasting the roast on Comedy Central will change it in some way? Has it changed it already?
Who cares? People are finally seeing it. I did a lot of roasts that nobody saw. Plus, Iíve been a producer on the show so Iím bias towards airing them. The cable deal is great for the financial stability of the Friars Club and the charities they support.
I knew Comedy Central needed a big annual event a la VH1 Fashion Awards or MTV Movie awards. They had tried putting a roast together before and couldnít get a demographically suitable guest of honor. I had always told my roast jokes to Drew Carey when I saw him and I had a hunch heíd be into it. Itís an honor to be roasted by the Friars and I knew heíd appreciate that. I called him and just sort of made a marriage between him, the Friars and Comedy Central. Worked out pretty good for everybody.
The Jerry Stiller Roast earned Comedy Central their highest ratings ever. Why do you think the networks don't feature the older comics on television?
It really is pathetic. TV people donít understand. The parents on Seinfeld were break-out characters. Bob Dole is hilarious for The Daily Show. Old people are funny. Somebody should have the guts to give Abe Vigoda one more shot! He could star in the next sequel of I Still Know What You Did Last Summer. They could call it, I Forgot What I Did Five Minutes Ago.
I did that joke at the Jerry Stiller roast but we cut it out of the broadcast.
You were featured in the Friars' documentary Let Me In, I Hear Laughter. We here at SHECKY! were lucky enough to see the film at the Los Angeles Friars Club with Milton Berle in the audience. Where did you see the movie and did you like it?
I was lucky enough to be at the screening at HBO in New York. A lot of the people in the film (that are still alive) were there. Dean Ward, who produced and directed it was there. We had fun. They passed around horsídeuveres. I spilled red wine on Jackie "The Joke Man" Martling. The film was great. I smoked a joint with Cindy Adams. It was fun.
I thought Dean made a first-rate film. It was a real honor to be included. He is now in Boston with his wife making a very serious movie about something I couldnít really comprehend.
Do you have more fun hanging out with the legends or your contemporaries?
I donít think about it like that. Everybody is everywhere. Iím always bringing my younger comic friends to meet Uncle Miltie. Heís always gracious. And by the same token, I once brought Buddy Hackett to a rap party for The Man Show. We had a ball.
In your bio material, it says that you were raised by your grandfather after your parents passed away when you were just a teenager. Does being raised by your grandfather have anything to do with your ability to relate to the Friars? Did your grandfather ever get to see you perform?
Well I donít think it actually says that on my "bio" per se. You probably read it somewhere else. Hmm, but, come to think of it, on my resume I do list "eulogies" under "special skills."
Actually my grandfather and I started living together soon after I finished college. He moved into my house in New Jersey. Is this really interesting to anybody? Whoís your target audience--my cousins? (No offense to any supportive cousins who may read this.)
My grandfather and I were best friends and he was supportive in my starting to do comedy. He wasnít necessarily all for it, but he was supportive and never tried to hold me back. He died when I was still doing open mics, but I did show him a tape once. I think thatís what killed him.
I have since written and performed a one man show about him called, Take A Banana For The Ride. I got to do it at a couple of the comedy festivals over the years. Hopefully it will rise again.
You started out your career by taking a comedy class. Do you think comedy can be taught? Have you ever taught one yourself? Do you recommend a class for people who want to become standup comics?
I tutored some young kids who were gonna try stand-up once. They were all sort of performers and child actors and they were all showcasing their "stand-up" acts at Carolineís. Their manager--Elon Goldís dad--hired me to coach them through it. I had a great time because it was kids. I could never teach adults. Too many creeps. If I was old I could probably teach. I used to teach karate to kids also.
In 1989, I took a class taught by the comic, writer and producer Lee Frank. Originally I thought it was a writing class for TV comedy. I had no idea what I was getting into. Seriously. I didnít want to be a comic. But the class was great and I was funny. Thanks Lee!
You've written for The Man Show and The Academy Awards, among other things. Do you like writing for yourself or for others?
Well writing for The Man Show isnít really a job, itís a way of life. Youíre not supposed to "like" or "dis-like" it. Itís like a cult. Big ups to Ferrucci! Sal masturbates in the shower! Anyway, The Man Show is some of the most original stuff out there. Jimmy Kimmel and Daniel Kellison support me in great ways.
I like writing on quality projects. Whatever it is. Iíd always choose to write for a funny show than act in an unfunny show. What was the question again? Oh yeah...
I really enjoyed working with Billy Crystal on the Oscars this year. I learned a lot--especially about reaching a wide audience. The jokes have to work EVERYWHERE.
It took me weeks not to act nervous and annoying around him. Heís pretty amazing. He really can do anything. He has perfect instincts and so much poise on and off stage. I hope he calls on me again.
Have you ever written a joke for a legend? Have you ever had anything "borrowed?"
Buddy Hackett samples my stuff all the time. And now when Jay Mohr does an impression of him--he uses my jokes. But itís okay. Itís all in the family. And of course Buddy is always giving me gems. When he knew I was going to Vegas last week he left this on my machine, "If you wanna come out ahead--when you get off the plane--walk directly into the propeller." Heís the funniest ever. He says heís retired, but you know, itís hard for him to sit still. He has a lot of creative energy. He writes beautiful poems and songs and makes one hell of an omlette. Heís also a great comedy teacher.
Are you one of these disciplined writers who sits down at a typewriter every day or do the jokes just magically appear in your head?
You've been a comic, a writer and a host. What is your ideal job?
Are you most comfortable when you are with other comedians?
Iím most comfortable around creative type people in general. And all redheads. I donít hang around comedians as much as youíd think. I spent last weekend in Vegas with my pals from high school and the weekend before with my baby nephews at my sisterís house in Seattle. Not many comedians there. However, there was a pretty funny retarded guy on the ferry.
Who do you think is poised to be the Bob Hope of the next Millennium? Is it you?
Well, it seems as though Bob Hope is planning on being around for the next millennium. He may never die. What is he--96? He performed for the calvary.
In retrospect, do you think you always wanted to be a standup comic?
In retrospect, I never wanted to be a standup comic. It was 100% by accident. I was supposed to be a musician or a guy on the radio or maybe even a caterer like my dad was. I didnít know I was funny until I actually tried. And I only tried cause my friend Mark Chapin basically tricked me into it.
Of course you must answer the SHECKY! staple, what made you laugh hardest when you were ten years old?
"NA-NOO NA-NOO!" "DYN-O-MITE!" and "AYYYYYY!"
In Milton Berle's autobiography he says, "If I stop working, I die. If there's another way of life, I don't know it." Is life all about the work for you?
I love it. I love being busy. Yesterday I left LA to come back to New York. Iím hosting an awards show in downtown Manhattan, performing for college kids at U Mass in Amhurst, Massachusetts and opening for Alan King at a Jewish thing in San Francisco. Then right back to LA to work at the clubs there and probably help write the MTV Movie Awards. In the meantime, Iím wearing dirty socks and my license is expired.
What do you hope to be doing when you're 80 years old?
Same thing Iím doing now basically. Maybe a little slower pace.
I really like being a comic.
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