Why Jeff Ross Won't Apologize for Aurora Shooting Joke

Comedy Central's Roast Roseanne Barr and Jeffrey Ross on Stage - H 2012
Getty Images

Comedy Central's Roast Roseanne Barr and Jeffrey Ross on Stage - H 2012

"We should be more focused on guns that kill than jokes that sting," says Comedy Central's resident roaster, who kicks off his new series "The Burn" Aug. 14.

A little controversy never hurt TV ratings. At least that may be the calculation for Jeff Ross. Comedy Central’s resident roaster stirred up some when he opened last Sunday’s Roast of Roseanne with a joke about the mass killings at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colo. The joke will not air on Comedy Central’s broadcast of the roast set for Sunday, said the network. And even Roseanne – a proud purveyor of rude comedy – admitted Ross’ joke “crossed the line.”

Ross is unapologetic. He also walked the pre-roast red carpet at the Hollywood Palladium last Saturday dressed as late Penn State football coach Joe Paterno and flanked by two young men wearing football helmets and white towels around their waists. And he’s planning to cross a lot more lines with his new Comedy Central sketch show The Burn with Jeff Ross.

PHOTOS: Batman's Onscreen Villains: 10 Greats From the Joker to Bane

The first of six episodes premieres Tuesday at 10:30 p.m. and will feature JB Smoove, Amy Schumer and Ralphie May helping Ross skewer the week's pop culture topics. The show tapes on Thursdays and will air the following Tuesday.

"I want it to be relevant and in the moment,” says Ross, adding that he hopes the network orders more episodes of the series. "I can’t wait to do a New Year’s episode or a Valentine’s Day episode. To me, there are endless things that I can burn."

The Hollywood Reporter: How do you feel about the reaction to your Aurora joke?

Jeff Ross: It’s the comedian’s job to put it out there. Let me put it this way: we should be more focused on guns that kill than jokes that sting.

THR Cover: Reflections on 'The Dark Knight Rises' Tragedy

THR: Multiple comedians have been compelled to apologize for jokes they’ve made, including Daniel Tosh and Dane Cook, while Chris Rock said cameras should be banned in comedy clubs. Do you think we’re in a new era of political correctness when it comes to comedy?

Ross: [Controversial] jokes handled by professionals in the right context are a good thing. It keeps the dialogue going. If can't we sweep things under the carpet, whether it’s guns or child molestation. I think it’s important for comedians to do our little part. I don’t do it carelessly. I do it thoughtfully. I don’t try to just shock. I try to make a statement.

THR: Do you think social media has made comedians censor themselves?

Ross: Comedians second-guessing themselves is scary. Poor taste is not a crime and we can’t forget that. That a fan or a spectator or some sicko can say something and anyone will see it ... it’s a lot different than the old days when people wrote fan mail and it all went to Rockefeller Center and you didn’t know if Jack Benny was ever going to see it. Now you can go right to that person. I don’t begrudge it. I can also talk directly to my fans. There’s no middle man. It’s fascinating. Twitter can be great. It gives me something to do while I’m in the bathroom. But it’s not always good.

STORY: Comedian Jeffrey Ross Attends Comedy Central Roast Dressed as Joe Paterno

THR: You've done ten roasts at Comedy Central and you're the Roastmaster General at the New York Friar's Club. How do you prepare for a roast?

Ross: I try it out on my friends. I try it out on other comedians. I take it pretty seriously. It’s like going to war. You really want to buckle down. With roasting, you’ve really got to bring your A-game. I hate to admit it, but I probably think and obsess more about the roasts than my own series. Because there’s so much attention focused on the roasts. It’s like the Super Bowl of comedy. Everybody is going to talk about it. Forever. So there’s a lot of pressure on me to deliver. I like doing the work. I love rising to the occasion.

THR: Do you watch any TV comedies?

Ross: I watch two shows. I watch Glee because I love musicals and I love the comedy on that show. And believe it or not, I’m obsessed with how bad Mrs. Eastwood & Company is. It’s like E! has done a practical joke on Clint Eastwood. If they don’t get divorced in the season finale then I don’t know anything about human nature because there’s no way he’s putting up with that. These people are despicable. Why are they doing that?!

THR: For the money?

Ross: Alright, I’ll give Snooki that. But not if you’re Clint Eastwood’s wife and you’re still married. He’s very private. Seems to me if there’s not a divorce episode in the first season, then the show’s fake. It blows my mind. They had a hoarders-type episode where they’re going through all this stuff in the attic and they find ashes of their dead pets. And they opened them up and they threw them on each other like it was a pillow fight! Who does that?!           

THR: Well with reality TV, the worse you behave…

Ross: …the more attention you get, which is the opposite of how things should be.

Email: Marisa.Guthrie@thr.com; Twitter: @MarisaGuthrie