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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Jeffrey Ross rules the roast
By Jay Cridlin, tbt* staff writer
Published February 29, 2008
Jeffrey Ross on Courney Love: "She's obviously a whore, but she's an attention whore first."
He performs at the Improv at Centro Ybor at 8 p.m. Thursday, 8 and 10:30 p.m. Friday, 7:30 and 10 p.m. Saturday, and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $18-20. (813) 864-4000; www.tampaimprov.com . But Ross isn't the only big-name insult comic coming to town this weekend. Don Rickles himself performs with Joan Rivers at 8 p.m. Friday at Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 McMullen Booth Road, Clearwater. Tickets are $39.50-$75. (727) 791-7400.
It's a miracle Jeffrey Ross survived Comedy Central's 2005 roast of Pamela Anderson in one piece.
The insults he hurled that night are the stuff of comic lore. Take, for instance, this jaw-dropper: "How is it possible that Courtney Love Looks worse than Kurt Cobain?" - delivered mere feet in front of Love herself.
And then there was his wicked, anatomically impossible blast involving Bea Arthur and Andy Dick that could hardly be reprinted on the wall of a truck-stop john, let alone here. (Google it.)
But no, Ross walks the earth to this day, still wreaking havoc on any star foolish enough to invite him to a roast.
"I've been really lucky - if anyone's gotten mad, I haven't found out about it," Ross said in a recent phone interview. "Even Pam Anderson sent me a big bouquet of roses afterwards, thanking me."
Considering his rep, Ross's fans might have been shocked when his film Patriot Act, a surprisingly touching documentary about touring for troops in Iraq, debuted to strong critical praise. The movie stemmed from a post-9/11 funk during which Ross felt he needed to do something more significant with his life, a la Bob Hope. "I don't think I fully understood the job description of being a comedian until I went and performed for a military audience," Ross said.
Still, Ross remains most famous for his legendary insults. On Thursday night, Ross kicks off a four-night run at the Tampa Improv. Beforehand, he called tbt* from the road in California to discuss life as one of the sharpest tongues in comedy. Here are excerpts.
So at this point, are you just like Don Rickles, where people just walk up to you on the street and ask you to insult them?
(laughs) With me, it's not, "Insult me," it's "Insult my buddies." Which can be a lot more dangerous. It's like, "Hey, my buddy's gonna come out of that bathroom stall! Make fun of his head!"
The next big Comedy Central roast is going to be of Willie Nelson. If only there was some obvious hook ...
That's gonna be hard, huh? I wouldn't even know where to begin. I'm just kidding. This one could be a five-part miniseries. I can't wait. It's gonna be awesome.
For roasts, how do you come up with an insult and decide you're just gonna go for it?
It's an interesting process. It's like, when you're writing them, or you even try it out on people, you don't really know what's going to be the most memorable line, the instant classic. Because it's not the jokes that become classic - it's the moments. You don't know how Courtney Love is going to react. You don't know what Bea Arthur's look is going to be until you say it. It's like improv - you put something out there, but you don't really know what's going to come back. I never could have predicted that Courtney Love would come after me like an angry rhino.
Who's gotten the maddest at you? Courtney Love?
No, she didn't get mad at me. If you watch the uncensored version, or you look at the pictures on my MySpace page, you'll see that she's got her head in my lap like an hour after that appearance. I think she loved the attention, honestly. She's obviously a whore, but she's an attention whore first.
And I've also been careful to roast good sports. You don't want to go after somebody who's got a bad attitude. I saw that happen once with Chevy Chase on a Comedy Central roast that I didn't take part in. I said, "Wow, that's a lesson to be learned. Make sure the person is up for the attention." I just roasted Gene Simmons for his A&E show. He looked like he would be cranky about being roasted, so I warned him beforehand: "None of that eye-rolling, I-don't-get-it, you're-not-funny bulls---. I want you to enjoy this. If you're having fun, the audience will have fun. And when you go on for your 'last licks' at the end, people will be behind you." He listened to my advice, and he killed.
I do wish his sex tape had come out before then, though.
Have you seen it?
I did watch a little short clip online.
On a list of celebrities you would never want to see in a sex tape, where does Gene Simmons rank?
He's right behind Willie Nelson.
(laughs) Well, there's a joke for the Willie Nelson roast.
(laughs) Yeah. "Things you'll never see: A Willie Nelson sex tape. Because when Willie was still having sex, videotape hadn't been invented yet."
Final question: Someday, you know there's going to be a Jeff Ross roast.
(laughs) Oh, god. No, there probably won't be.
There has to be one. Who's gonna be on the dais?
Wow. I think that would be the ultimate time to roast myself. I would like to be one of the roasters. Most people go on at the end and they try to give a rebuttal and go after the people who roast them, but I'm literally going to talk about my goofy face and my small private parts.
Who would you not want to see on the dais, then?
Joe Cifack, the kid who used to punch me in the crotch in high school. Because I'm still afraid of him. I probably wouldn't want anybody too funny up there. I dish it out a lot better than I can take it. Not only do I have thin skin, but I have eczema.