The Insider: Jeffrey Ross on Reaching for the ‘Stars’

Sep 28, 2008  •  Post A Comment

The Insider has long had a soft spot in her heart and on her funny bone for comedian Jeffrey Ross, so she was starting this season of ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” with something she usually didn’t have: a predetermined rooting interest.
Dancing With the Stars
Then fate, and partner Edyta Slewinska’s fingernail, intervened during the final rehearsal before last Monday’s season premiere and Mr. Ross went down with a cornea injury that changed everything.
The Insider talked to Mr. Ross Thursday, just after he’d been back to his eye doctor, about his experience, from the high hopes he’d had, to the support he’d gotten from—and the big prank that was played by—some very big names, to the freak accident that ended everything except the “great, great feeling” about his five weeks preparing for the show.
The Insider: How is your eye?
Jeffrey Ross: It’s almost healed. It still hurts, but I think I’m going to be OK. I know I’m going to be OK.
The Insider: How is your ego?
Mr. Ross: I really feel like my ego is intact, because it was a freak accident. I only lost because I got hurt. Because I was able to dance, I showed myself, my family and everybody watching that I shouldn’t have been the first one out.
As my eye doctor said today, my jokes have gotten very cornea.
The Insider: That’s probably one of the few jokes you could tell to a third-grader.
Mr. Ross: Yeah. My ego is going to be OK. For me, it was always about the dancing on the show. It was never about the competition. I did get to practice for five weeks, learn something new, lost some weight, broadened my fan base, lowered my blood pressure, my cholesterol. So I’m a winner here.
I’m a loser among the 13 winners, I’m the 13th place.
The Insider: How do you rationalize getting beat by Cloris Leachman, an 82-year-old woman?
Mr. Ross: Listen, she has a huge following—doctors, a nurse and a mortician.
The Insider: What were the words coming out of Cloris Leachman’s mouth Monday night that got bleeped? Were they sort of quaint compared to language in your comedy routines?
Mr. Ross: She is far, far raunchier than I ever could be. She is completely loose as a goose. Yesterday at rehearsal—and I’m not sure why, but this is a true story—she got some kind of perverse pleasure out of cutting up my food and feeding me. She didn’t talk about it. It was small talk. She just fed me like she was my mom and I was a little baby.
She is one of a kind. I never met anybody like her and I doubt I ever will. She seems to have some sort of crush on me, which is kind of flattering. She constantly tells me how much she loves me. She repeats my jokes. Before the first night, she said, “Jeff, what’s my first score going to be?” I said, “I don’t know, Cloris. 911?”
The Insider: She kicked her leg up on the judges’ desk, which inspired you to do the same. Who was that harder for?
Mr. Ross: I’ve got to tell you, that leg is my broken hip. I have three titanium pins holding that femur together, so just those kicks and putting my leg up there like that was an effort. I feel like my body has gone through quite a dancer’s puberty in the last couple of days.
The Insider: How did you and your partner, Edyta Slewinska, pass the long time waiting to hear which couple, you, were voted off? You were seen nuzzling sweetly on her shoulder.
Mr. Ross: I was pranked. It all came to light last night on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” Jimmy’s cousin Sal is quite the wise guy and a very good friend of mine, but the two of them, Jimmy and Sal, get great pleasure in torturing me every now and then.
So it’s Tuesday night. I’m in my wardrobe. I’ve been back to the eye doctor. I missed rehearsal. I’ve been working on this routine every day for five weeks, including Labor Day weekend. I’m getting made up. I’m in my dance shoes. Cousin Sal text messages me: “You’re safe. Don’t tell anyone.” Now, I know that they sometimes get inside information, because they get the castoffs, and they have to prepare. So I say, “Are you sure?” and he texts back: “Yes, don’t tell anyone.”
I know that I’m dancing. I now know that I’m safe. This is my great friend, who has an inside track, telling me I’m safe. I whispered it to Edyta. She says, “How do you know?” I say, “I can’t tell, but we’re cool. We’re going to dance. It will probably be at the end because they’re going to want people to assume we’re off.”
I’m mortified. I’m completely heart-broken and devastated. I have a scratched cornea and broken heart at the end of the night. I can’t believe that my friend did that to me.
The only bright side, if you will, even though I can’t look into light right now, is that I went onto the [Kimmel] show last night and they made it hilarious: Me running around in that ridiculous tuxedo, cursing at Sal on national television, made it worth it.
I really am going to get killed in the next roast. I already know that.
The Insider: Well, you shouldn’t. What did your comedian pals say to you when you signed up for “Dancing With the Stars?”
Mr. Ross: I really thought I would have a lot of teasing. But I think when they realized I was taking it so seriously and they saw how awesome my partner was, it became more like they were rooting for me—and jealousy.
I’m not one to name-drop normally, but Chris Rock called me every single day this week to see if I was ready, to wish me luck, to see how my eye was. I heard from all the great comedians, so being the first comedian on the show, I really feel like I was going about it for all the funny guys out there. I didn’t embarrass the comics of the country too much.
The Insider: Does this mean you don’t consider Adam Carolla a comedian?
Mr. Ross: Adam Carolla I consider a philosopher. He’s a very good friend of mine. I love Adam. He’s a genius. I’ve worked with Adam. I support Adam. He supports me. But when it comes to standup, he’s nowhere near it, he’s just not going to do it. He doesn’t have the discipline and probably doesn’t have the guts to do standup. He’s more of a guy who will sit there and drink coffee and talk for four hours. That’s an art I’ll never be able to do. I sharpen my pencils, fine-tune my material and go out there for a few minutes. But he’s the kind of guy who can go off on anything. Although he’s hilarious, I think of him as a genius philosopher. They positioned him as the funny guy, but when it comes to standup, I’m very particular about that.
The Insider: Last night, Adam, who got booted last season in spite of using a unicycle in his paso doble…
Mr. Ross: My take on it was that he made TV history. He was the first person with a unibrow to ride a unicycle in a unitard.
The Insider: Funny, but last night he was doing a fan-on-the street segment. Do you hope to be invited back to do shtick?
Mr. Ross: I know they’ve invited me back for the season finale. And I’ve made some friends there on the staff, on the crew. Honestly, the amazing thing about this show is that even though there’s 13 stars, I felt like I was the only guy on the show. When I met with the producers and the staff, they made me feel really important. They set me up great to be funny.
If not for this freak accident. We did this routine 1,000 times. The last rehearsal, the last move of the routine, I’m out, I’m hit. It was like a Two Stooges routine, poked in the eye.
The Insider: You have a DVD featuring your Comedy Central special, “No Offense: Live From New Jersey,” dropping Oct. 14.
Mr. Ross: The timing is very interesting. It’s my first standup DVD—I’ve done these on Comedy Central, but I’ve never done anything sort of for myself. I produced this myself. I never had the guts, during 19 years of standup, both amateur and professional, to headline in New Jersey, where I’m from. I went out on the road for a year and I got my act together, got stronger and really think I did something special. I have a black silk suit, a gold microphone with diamonds around it. It’s essentially me roasting New Jersey.
The Insider: What else do you have coming up?
Mr. Ross: I’ll probably do some work on the road, I have a book project in the works. It’s interesting. I did a year on the road to get ready for this special. As soon as I was finished with it I got a call from “Dancing With the Stars.” One of the great things about being me is that every day is a new adventure, so I eagerly await the next adventure.
The Insider: What’s the next item on your bucket list?
Mr. Ross: I’m going to try out for “American Idol.” All the great comedians back in the day could do anything: sing, dance, juggle, play trombone. I’m like the next Sammy Davis Jr., you know. Jewish, blind, funny. Except he could actually dance.
The Insider: You’re over the age limit for “American Idol.” You could probably do “America’s Got Talent.”
Mr. Ross: Oh, well, that I don’t have.
Right now it’s about resting my eye, answering a thousand e-mails. Everybody I met from birth to Sunday watched that show and supported me. Apparently I did very well in the popular vote, but my initial score was so low with the injury that I got bounced.
I feel encouraged that millions and millions of people voted for me just based on what they knew about me before, I think.
Most of the bonding I did was with Penn Jillette, Adam Carolla, Jason Taylor, Mario Lopez. They all look back very fondly on the experience, no matter how they did in the competition.
I’ve got to tell you, I woke up Monday morning like a 12-year-old about to start in my first Little League game. I ran to the studio, all the comics calling me wishing me luck. My family flew in from Jersey. I was very, very excited.
I got there. We did our rehearsal. They said, “Do it one more time.” I got hurt.
I was so handicapped by not being able to see clearly. I had been to two doctors. I had had a tetanus shot. I hadn’t eaten. It was very emotional.
I was told not to dance by two doctors. The producers recommended that—this had never happened on “Dancing With the Stars” before—that I don’t dance and that we show my rehearsal footage and let that be judged. You’d see me in a T-shirt and Edyta in curlers.
I would have come back with the quick step the next day.
But Jimmy Kimmel called and said, “You’ve got to dance. You’ll be a hero.” I love Jimmy. I always take Jimmy’s advice. He’s a smart guy as far as these sorts of TV moments go. In retrospect, maybe I did a braver thing, but as far as staying in the game, I probably should have gone for the sympathy vote and sat on the bench that night.
But I really feel like I showed everybody last night that I did learn how to dance.
I left with a great, great feeling and I’m a better man for it.

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