When picking a seat at a table at the Fireplace Inn (1448 N. Wells St.) on Thursday, Jeffrey Ross -- the insult comic with a knack for pointing out the worst in people -- chose the chair facing the entrance.
Did he want to watch people come in to the Old Town bar and restaurant and zing them for my satisfaction? I wish -- but, no. Was he expecting someone? No. His girlfriend, Megan, whom he met at a show in St. Charles a year and a half ago, was with a friend at an Irish pub a block away.
According to Ross, who played the Zanies comedy club down the street earlier that night, he chose the chair because ninjas never have their backs to the door.
It was tough to tell if he was entirely kidding. Besides a joke here and there, Ross, the king of celebrity roasts, was subdued following his show. He also claimed he began karate at age 6 and was a black belt at 11.
"At one point, I was the second-youngest black belt in the U.S. behind the kid who played the monkey on 'Land of the Lost,'" said Ross, who believes his martial arts training gave him the confidence to insult people and not fear the repercussions. In other words, he was ready in case Courtney Love decided to attack him after he famously asked, "How is it possible that Courtney Love looks worse than Kurt Cobain?" as she sat a few feet from him.
The 44-year-old comedian recently released his first book, "I Only Roast the Ones I Love: Busting Balls Without Burning Bridges," which details his experiences at roasts and how he comes up with his material. I asked Ross if he actually loved everyone he roasted over the years -- including Flavor Flav.
"I was a huge Public Enemy fan as a kid. My boys and I used to drive around and listen to this one song ('You're Gonna Get Yours')," Ross said before rapping, "Suckaz to the side, I know you hate my '98/You're gonna get yours!"
Before Ross' barbecue ribs arrived, he asked me for a pen. Ross said he usually spends 2 minutes writing down jokes after each show.
"This is a true story," Ross said about the joke on his mind. "I met a college kid and he told me he read all of my book in one sitting except for the last chapter. I asked why he didn't read the last chapter and he said, 'Because the store was closing.'"
Surprisingly, there isn't much Ross complains about. He had nothing but good things to say about his fellow comedians, and he refused to roll his eyes when talking about the countless fans and interviewers that want to be roasted on the spot. ("I feel like I made fun of everybody that interviewed me today but you.") Ross is willing to play along, but he saves his harshest material for celebrities.
Has Ross ever felt badly about the jokes he makes at a celeb's expense?
"I ... I've ... I guess every now and then," he said. "I remember I had some mean jokes about Rodney Dangerfield and I didn't tell them because I didn't think he looked well. I didn't want to pick on him."
He said he had the most fun at Pamela Anderson's roast, while Penny Marshall was the worst sport he's dealt with. As for the heir apparent to his "king of the roast" crown, Ross, aka "The Roastmaster General," said he isn't sure who it will be.
"Whoever he or she is," Ross deadpanned, "they're probably reading my book right now."