In 10 Comedy Central Roasts (count Pamela Anderson, William Shatner, Charlie Sheen, and David Hasselhoff amongst the blessed) and his hit Comedy Central series, The Burn, which returns for a second season January 8 at 10:30 p.m. ET, the 47-year-old Ross turns comic annihilation into a fine art. At their best, Ross’s roasts and burns are like interventions with punchlines. “We love you, we’re here to help you, we’re going to demolish you, and then we’ll put you back together,” says Ross. “That’s the key to a good roast: you go for the jugular, but you do it with affection.”
Want to roast your buddies without alienating them completely? Follow the Roastmaster General’s tips.
Men’s Health: You’re the master of roasting. How did you cultivate this talent? Did you have a mouth on you when you were a kid?
Jeffrey Ross: Did I have a what?
Men’s Health: That may have come out wrong.
Jeffrey Ross: I think so. I didn’t have any mouths on me when I was a kid.
Men’s Health: Let’s try that again: were you a mouthy kid?
Jeffrey Ross: I was the kid who always hung back and then dropped the jokes when you least expected it. Timing was everything. My mouth sort of developed over time.
Men’s Health: Since you started doing these televised roasts a decade ago, the burn has really become a fine art and also wildly popular.
Jeffrey Ross: Nowadays, as the roasts become more and more popular, I feel I’m doing the audience’s work for them. I’m taking these shots at big celebrities and giving the audience the vicarious thrill. As soon as a roast is announced, I get everybody—family, friends, waitresses, cab drivers—giving me jokes about the person getting roasted. I’m the mouthpiece for the masses.
Men’s Health: What’s the secret to a good burn?
Jeffrey Ross: It’s best when handled by professionals, but more and more, I’m seeing roasting becoming our national pastime. People are roasting each other at parties, at work events, around the fire. It’s so fun. People are busting each other’s chops, and it’s a sign of affection, truly. It’s a true test of love and friendship: can you make a man laugh at himself? So what makes a good burn? Go after targets you love and respect. And hit ‘em hard.
Men’s Health: Are there common denominators we can look for in a roast?
Jeffrey Ross: You go for the biggest guy in the room. This is tried and true throughout history, whether in war or comedy. You always take down the big shot first. If I go do a show on a military base, before I go after the Privates, I’m going after the General. So go for your Dad. Start there. Show no mercy.
Men’s Health: A subtitle to your 2009 book, I Only Roast the Ones I Love, is “busting balls without burning bridges.” Have you ever gone too far?
Jeffrey Ross: I don’t think you cross the line—I think you move the line. People are always, like, “Oh, I can’t believe you did that joke about Courtney Love. And you got away with it!” That’s what roasting is: seeing how far you can take it. It’s death-defying work. People love to see the venom, the blood. I remember Charlie Sheen telling me, “Don’t hold back. If you do, I’m going to look like a pussy.” People who agree to be roasted have a little bit of the masochist in them.
Men’s Health: Which means you must have a little bit of the sadist in you.
Jeffrey Ross: Oh. I’d never thought about it like that before. (Laughs) Maybe that’s true.
Men’s Health: One of the great things about The Burn is the way you take on the bullies and big shots and assholes for the underdogs in the audience. You take the wind out of the world’s BS-ers.
Jeffrey Ross: It seems satisfying for the audience. Yesterday, we were out roasting hipsters, who are an interesting group of people, because we all kind of love them and hate them at the same time. So we’re not just doing celebrities on the show anymore. I just did a roast of smokers. We’re going to roast drunks, rich people, and food delivery guys. I’m going to order from 30 places at the same time and roast them for their tips.
Men’s Health: So have you ever given any consideration to roasting yourself?
Jeffrey Ross: Oh my goodness. Wow. Jeff Ross—the only thing he’s not burning is calories. Honestly, I don’t know if I could take being roasted by me. I’d probably burst into tears halfway through. I dish it out a lot better than I take it.
If you liked this story, you’ll love these:
- Why You Should Kick the Crap Out of Your Friends
- More Rules of the Roast
- Improve Your Public Speaking Skills