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Friday, Oct 31, 2014
Arts & Music

Jeff Ross will be in 'roast mode' at Tampa Oddball fest

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You know how the president and vice president can't fly on the same plane together, because what if, god forbid, there was an accident?

That's how we should feel about the group of comedians coming to Tampa for the Oddball Comedy and Curiosity Festival. If a freak asteroid hits the MidFlorida Amphiteatre tonight — forget it, we'll just have to give up on laughter as a society (and cancel about eight TV shows).

Louis C.K. (“Louie”), Aziz Ansari (“Parks and Recreation”), Chris Hardwick (“Talking Dead,” “At Midnight”), Jeff Ross (“The Comedy Central Roast”) Marc Maron (“The Marc Maron Show”), Hannibal Buress (“Broad City”), Reggie Watts and Brent Morin (“Undateable”) will perform on the main stage. There's also a second stage with more comics, plus a roaming troupe of “misfit performers” known as the Cut Throat Freak Show.

We got on the phone with “Roastmaster General” Ross to talk about the tour he calls “the Woodstock of comedy,” poker and pizza (he kept bringing it up).

TBO: This tour has such a lineup, it's crazy.

JEFF ROSS: I can't believe I've become part of a show where I'm a huge fan of all the people on it; it's like a dream.

TBO: I've never been clear on what the Friar's Club is, other than it has to do with roasting people. Is it an actual club?

JEFF ROSS: It's a six-story building on East 55th Street in New York City that's been there about 100 years. It's basically a philanthropic club with a show business theme. There's lots of singers and actors and comedians and agents, but there's business people there too. It's basically a social club or a country club, but not in the country. It's like a living history of comedy in there. We do the roasts there at least once a year. You can go to the gym, you can get a haircut, you can play pool. Its a good place to get a sandwich and sit in the steam room with other naked sweaty comedians and complain about show business. I got to meet my idols there; Buddy Hackett, Henny Youngman and Milton Berle — so many great legends of roasting there.

TBO: How did you end up there?

JR: I got invited there to play poker. I was not really sure what it was myself. I knew I had to wear a sport jacket of some kind. I got to play poker in the George Burns card room, and I was thrilled because I got to bring a chicken salad sandwich up and eat it while I was playing poker. I felt like I made it into the big time.

TBO: What is it you like about poker? To me, it sounds cool, but ends up being torturous.

JR: I like to gamble, but beyond that, I usually play with other comedians, and it's a chance to talk in our own inside language. I love the camaraderie of it. Sarah Silverman has poker games all the time here in L.A., and she always invites comedians, and it's a lot of laughs. It's always a good excuse to get stoned and eat pizza.

TBO: Is there pressure to be funny when you're hanging out with a bunch of comedians?

JR: I think there's less pressure. I feel more pressure when I'm with regular people because they expect me to be the funny guy. I feel like comedy is my religion, and I love hanging out with other people who believe in the same thing as me. Stand up comics believe in free speech. We like to talk smack to each other and about the world in general.

TBO: Do you get to hang with the other comedians on a tour like this?

JR: Sometimes we share dressing rooms, and we often fly with each other. There's hours to pass traveling and waiting around. Especially a big traveling festival like this, I really love because normally I'm on the road by myself. On the Oddball Tour we're like one big unhappy family.

TBO: How do you kill time in these strange cities?

JR: I like to sight see. I like to eat in local restaurants. I like to acclimate myself. I'm not the type of guy to stay in the hotel and watch TV. I like to learn about where I am and explore. That way when I get on stage I'm an insider. Kind of like roasting from the inside out. I'm sort of a comedy chameleon. The more I know, the funnier my show is.

TBO: So what do you know about Tampa?

JR: Oh, my gosh, Trampa, are you kidding me, that's a wild city. Ybor City, I love the Cuban cigars everywhere, the food is great. It's gonna be super hot. I'll come there in full roast mode.

TBO: Did you recently start adding songs to your act?

JR: Yeah, I was just fiddling around with my guitar, and you have to play what you know so I started writing songs about food. So now I have one about pizza and one about Chinese food.

TBO: Did you ever have musical aspirations?

JR: I think all comedians are frustrated rock stars. I played in high school and college. Then my guitar got stolen off a baggage claim in Newark airport when I was in college and I was so devastated I didn't play again for along long time. A few years ago I met a guy who works for Fender and he built me the guitar that was stolen 20 years before, a fender custom. I was so touched by that I started playing again.

TBO: I heard you on a Podcast talking about your love for (Bruce) Springsteen. He played the same stage you're going to be on a few weeks ago.

JR: Oh, that's a good feeling. I gotta find out what dressing room was his and use the toilet. I want to be on the same throne The Boss sat on.

TBO: You really became a star when the Comedy Central Roasts hit. When did you know you were a celebrity?

JR: I don't think I can point to one moment. I think the fans discover you in a moment. They hear a joke or they see something they love and they'll remember you forever. From an artist's point of view, it's a step by step, insult by insult, city by city process that you don't even know is happening. It's kind of like getting fat. You know you're getting fat, but you just don't see it every day. Then one day you go out to buy pants and you realize, oh, my gosh, I went up four sizes. That's kind of what stardom is like, getting fat slowly but surely.

TBO: Ever have someone get really offended by your roasting?

JR: It's kind of hard to believe, but I pick my targets so carefully, there have been no attempts on my life. I think it is because I don't roast random people. They have to want it, and it's a test to see if they have thick skin. People consider it an honor.

TBO: My friend is going to be doing a comedy open-mic night for the first time coming up. Any advice?

JR: You want to be in the moment when you're up there. You don't want to stop and think how am I doing or what worked, you gotta be in the moment. Usually doing a shot right before you go on couldn't hurt. And wear a cup; you never know what can happen.

TBO: Do you remember your first set?

JR: I remember getting heckled by guys in Navy uniforms. They were in New York for Fleet Week. I threw it right back at them, and it lit a spark. I remember I went home and I couldn't sleep because I felt so energized. This is a country where you can say anything in front of a microphone. I don't take that for granted. I loved it since the first time I tried it. Like pizza.

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