At 43, Jeffrey Ross has spent two decades in comedy, and as he told me over the phone just minutes ago, he has "waited a long time" for today, the release of his first stand-up comedy DVD, No Offense: Live From New Jersey. My review appears after the jump. First, let's talk about the extras on your DVD.
The commentary track is a brilliant idea, not only because most comics analyze their sets in this kind of depth already, making it fun for fellow comedians to see your own process, but also because casual fans of yours get to know more about your jokes and you as a person. "I guess it was the director's idea. To me it seemed like he made a movie, so it made sense to do the commentary. Plus I got to tell a bunch of boring uninteresting comedy stories," he said. "Plus I wanted to give my director Jay Karas some much deserved credit."
"We looked at old stand-up concert films like Richard Pryor and other comedians used to do. Like Live on the Sunset Strip. Most comedy movies these days look the same way they host the Emmys, with the camera swooping in over the audience and the chandeliers…We wanted it to look more rock-and-roll…Plus, it also looks cooler. Anything to distract from my jokes."
One of the other DVD extras is a documentary following you back to your hometown and high school. Did it feel any different telling dick jokes to students there now compared to when you were wise-cracking as as student back then? "In high school you don't know you're telling dick jokes. It's only when you get out to the outside world and you're around adults, do you even think about whether you're trying to be funny," Ross said. And his relatives and friends all had good senses of humor. "Everyone in my neighborhood back in Jersey were funnier than me. They still think that way. I was back at my high-school reunion and people were saying I wasn't that funny back then. I said, well people don't think I'm that funny now, either."
How did you decide on Atlantic City versus other locales in your home state? "I investigated a bunch of theaters all over Jersey. I originally tried to do it in Newark but Newark couldn't get its s&!t together. Ultimately Atlantic City proved to be the best…with the brash attitude and the swagger, the Sinatras and the Sopranos, the Jersey vibe would be there." He also thought his material would go over better with that type of venue and crowd.
And Ross knows tough crowds as the Roastmaster General for the Friars Club (as well as Comedy Central's celebrity roasts). So what did he think of the club's So You Think You Can Roast? contest (which coincidentally just named a winner, John "Goumba Johnny" Sialiano)?
"I saw some clips, it looked pretty fun," Ross said. "I did see Matt Lauer and Al Roker recently and they're both really looking forward to it." The winner gets to participate in that roast of Today Show anchor Lauer on Oct. 24, you know. "I know, that's scary. I actually had to earn it." He thinks about it a moment. "I'm against the contest! I think I'm actually on the advisory board. But I'm definitely conflicted about that, because whomever wins is funnier than me. But at least I'm better looking than Lisa Lampanelli."
Have you been able to get any distance and added perspective yet on your performance on this season's ongoing Dancing With the Stars? "I'm still in my post-Dance depression," Ross said. "You can't imagine how depressed I am. I finished 13th out of 13 in a contest that now only has 12 contestants! I have a better chance of winning the Preakness." Does it hurt more because you got injured before the first night?
"It was a heartbreaker not because I got hurt, but because I couldn't dance better for my partner, Edyta," he said. "She did say, though, that poking someone in the eye is a form of greeting, and we're now married by Polish tradition."
For my review of No Offense: Live from New Jersey, by Jeffrey Ross, keep reading...
If you're a fan of Jeffrey Ross, then you'll love his new DVD, No Offense: Live from New Jersey. If you're not a big fan, then his DVD might convert you, or at least give you a great appreciation for him and comedy in general.
Recorded in June at the Borgata casino/resort in Atlantic City, the hourlong special is well executed and filmed (and even features a crowd flasher, which you don't expect to see in a stand-up comedy film), but it's the extras on the DVD that make it extra special, as it were.
There's a behind-the-scenes documentary that follows Ross as he flies back to New Jersey and meets up with his sister and a cousin, goes to his late parents' catering hall, then to their gravestones at the cemetery, and finally to his high school for a daylong tour and nighttime performance/Q&A.
But you're in for more of a treat if you watch his 54-minute set with the commentary track, as Ross and director Jay Karas provide running feedback and details, from the smallest of technical decisions to Ross ably dissecting his performance and individual jokes. It's something every comedian does anyhow, recording his or her set and then watching it back for flaws or laughs they didn't notice while onstage, or to see why certain things worked or didn't. Putting this on a DVD gives us all a chance to look into his thought process, find out what jokes Ross likes the best and why, what jokes he may be sick of but keeps telling because they work. And even, in an instance or two, a joke he wishes he had a do-over on.
Most people who have heard of Ross know him as the Roastmaster for the Friar's Club (and in more recent years, the Comedy Central televised celebrity roasts), so seeing him work the crowd isn't all that unusual.
Hearing him talk about it in a serious way is.
And you may not have known is affinity for love poems, or for including audience participation and piano playing in that, as well.
Here's what he had to say about it on the DVD:
"Most of my volunteers on the road cannot play piano. They're usually just drunk people who want to be onstage…it all works out OK. You never know though," he said. "It's fun being onstage with other people. It takes the pressure off me, but adds a different element of comedy, a different dynamic. You don't know what's going to happen."
For the special, he did want to make sure one thing worked out well, which is why the second volunteer pianist from the audience, "Larry," well, (spoiler alert!) was really Steven Glickman, a door guy from The Comedy Store on the Sunset Strip who Ross discovered to be a great comic foil when Glickman had volunteered during a previous show at the club.