Although I love Jeffrey Ross’s stinging barbs on the Comedy Central Roasts, I was not a fan of his first CD/DVD release, No Offense. Matter of fact, I gave it a kick in the nuts at the time, and I stand by that review; he’s capable of much, much better.
But I need to give credit where credit is due, and over the past few weeks I wound up viewing his film Patriot Act and finally reading his book I Only Roast The Ones I Love. Big thumbs up to both.
The book is a combination of three things – light biography, showbiz back room stories and a how-to-be-a-Roastmaster primer. Credit the author or credit the editors, but it juggled the three topics adeptly and for the most part is a breezy and enjoyable read. The how-to part is obviously written tongue-in-cheek, since being funny is a gift, not a trade. But he offers some valuable tips for the weekend/wedding roaster which should elevate a clumsy act with potential into at least a clumsy act that’s organized.
The bio and backstage bits are well-balanced; lots of caustic one-liners from the roasts, some inside and backstage bits about famous comics and several heartfelt exchanges with or about legends (i.e. Milton Berle) who Ross obviously reveres. While obviously charting his own success he deftly describes this rise with a minimal amount of ego-stroking.
Fans of his generation will no doubt appreciate the anecdotes involving contemporaries like Jimmy Kimmel, but anyone who appreciates the art of comedy will see the respect that he has for the history of the art form. By extension, they’ll learn to respect Ross a little more in the process. I know I do.
But that Bea Arthur story is going to give me nightmares.
I’m as much an avid fan for films about stand-up comedy as I am films of stand-up comedy. Ross promotes this as little more than a “home movie”, but it’s simultaneously as strong a documentary about comedy as it is an endorsement of our brave troops stationed around the world. I don’t mind when those of us with different political agendas get caught up in deep discussions about our political beliefs, but it’s a weak mind that thinks a person opposed to a war is “against the troops”.
Maybe it’s the word troops; these are people like you and me, or our sons, daughters, siblings and parents, who have volunteered to serve our country and by that definition, serve the rest of us. When I hear some politico accusing another of being “against the troops” I know they’re out of mental ammo and gasping. It’s bullshit cheap shot rhetoric that only idiots and talk radio sheep buy into.
I wish all those poison hearted people who toss words around with such callous disregard could watch how a group of comics interact with our military personnel and juggle full frontal comedy with complete deference and respect. But even if you miss the more important point, you’ll come away having enjoyed some great jokes courtesy of Ross, Blake Clark, Drew Carey, Rocky LaPorte and Kathy Kinney. (And as a longtime fan of Drew Carey, I was glad to see his tireless efforts for the troops get some overdue recognition.)
Coincidentally I just re-read Jay Mohr’s book Gasping For Airtime this week. He and Ross both revered Buddy Hackett, and while I grew up watching Hackett on television and in the movies (It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World is a stone cold classic), I came away with a new respect for him as a both a comic and a mentor. And seeing a new generation of comics paying genuine respect to those who laid the foundation is heartwarming; both Mohr and Ross knew Hackett well (and Mohr does a killer impression of the man). Maybe someday the DVD wizards will finally release this gem.
Jeffrey Ross on Wikipedia.