Jeff Ross on the art of roast­ing - com­edy

Ross hosts a 16-comic, four-night roast tour­na­ment on The Com­edy Net­work

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - BILL BRIOUX

MON­TREAL Jeff Ross has an idea for how to re­solve the con­tentious U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

“I would love to see Hil­lary Clin­ton and Donald Trump, two great minds, set­tle this not in a de­bate but in a roast bat­tle,” says the co­me­dian, who knows a thing or two about roasts. He’s been a ma­jor player in many of them, in­clud­ing celebrity TV roasts for Cana­dian-born en­ter­tain­ers such as Justin Bieber, Wil­liam Shat­ner and Pamela An­der­son.

The New Jersey na­tive, long a main­stay at Mon­treal’s Just for Laughs com­edy fes­ti­val, is back this year with “Jeff Ross Presents Roast Bat­tle.” The four-night, 16-comic tour­na­ment which winds up Saturday and Sun­day at 10 p.m. E.T. on The Com­edy Net­work.

Ross road-tested the for­mat in a tour­ney held last year in Mon­treal. This year, how­ever, the hand­picked co­me­di­ans — in­clud­ing Toronto-na­tive K. Trevor Wilson (Squir­relly Dan on CraveTV’s “Let­terkenny”) — are vy­ing for a share in a $100,000 purse. “The money adds a lit­tle ex­tra ten­sion,” says Ross.

Celebrity judges have also been added, in­clud­ing Kevin Hart, Whoopi Gold­berg, Judd Apatow, Jimmy Kim­mel, Seth Ro­gen, Sarah Sil­ver­man, David Spade and Anthony Je­sel­nik. The rules are fairly straight­for­ward: four jokes/in­sults per round and any­thing is fair game. Orig­i­nal ma­te­rial only and each round must end in a hug.

Ross knows all about Trump, hav­ing roasted the Repub­li­can con­tender in a celebrity special in 2011.

“He’s a good sport,” says Ross. “He doesn’t al­ways show it but he al­ways comes back for more.”

Just don’t as­sume Trump would crush Clin­ton in a roast bat­tle.

“Women are very com­pet­i­tive in that world,” he says. “Have you ever seen a woman lose an ar­gu­ment?”

In “Roast Bat­tle,” Wilson is one to watch, says Ross. He was the top Cana­dian last year, com­ing in third over­all. “He’s com­ing in with a bit of a swag­ger, which is fun to watch.

“He’s also lov­able,” he adds. Roast­ers are usu­ally “spit­ting venom, but he has a heart un­der all those clogged ar­ter­ies.”

This is Wilson’s fifth con­sec­u­tive year at Just for Laughs. A grad­u­ate of the Eto­bi­coke School of the Arts as well as Hum­ber Col­lege, his TV cred­its date all the way back to his child ac­tor days on “Goose­bumps.”

His size helped land him a part on that se­ries, he fig­ures. “They needed a bully.”

It will also of­fer his “Roast Bat­tle” op­po­nent — young Amer­i­can Olivia Grace in the opener — an easy tar­get, but Wilson’s ready for that. “You gotta have a tough skin for this show,” he says.

Last year, he got picked on by celebrity judge Wanda Sykes. She called him “the brother who was too fat for ‘Duck Dy­nasty.’”

Go­ing up against a woman is tricky, he con­cedes. “You can’t be mean. You have to wait for them to make a cou­ple of cracks about your size and then the door is open.”

Lis­ten­ing — and zing­ing back — is a big part of win­ning in these kinds of tour­na­ments, he feels. U.K. fun­ny­man Jimmy Carr, who is back this year, won the previous tour­na­ment with his snappy come­backs.

Wilson says it’s strange be­ing rec­og­nized at air­ports and other places now for “Let­terkenny.” Pro­duc­tion on sea­son 2 of the se­ries has al­ready wrapped with new episodes ex­pected by the end of the year. The third sea­son will shoot in Sud­bury, Ont., next Fe­bru­ary. Se­ries star and co-cre­ator Jared Keeso fig­ured it was “high time we did some win­ter scenes,” says Wilson.

Wilson’s stand-up style is more of a sto­ry­teller than an in­sult comic, but Ross says the good comics can change. He’s seen co­me­di­ans as di­verse as Andy Sam­berg, Bill Hader and Aziz An­sari — and even the late Bea Arthur — adapt to the roast style.

“It just goes to show you a funny per­son is funny,” says Ross, “whether they’re at a roast or a fu­neral.”

GETTY IM­AGES

Co­me­dian Jeff Ross at the Justin Bieber roast in 2015.

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