Interviews: Jeff Ross, Scott Adsit, Chris D’Elia at Just for Laughs Chicago

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CHICAGO – The just completed “Just for Laughs Chicago” comedy festival brought in a variety of name acts. Insult comedy, improvisation and stand up was performed by Jeff Ross (“Comedy Central Roast”), Scott Adsit (“30 Rock”) and Chris D’Elia (“Whitney”).

Six days of amazing comedy stretched through all parts of Chicago during the festival. New and old venues served as stages for the events, including the famous iO Theater (Adsit), the Park West (Ross) and the new Laugh Factory (D’Elia). HollywoodChicago got a chance to talk with each of the comedians.

StarJeff Ross, Roast Master of the “Comedy Central Roast”

Jeff Ross has established a niche in the art of insult comedy, and is the current New York Friar’s Club Roastmaster General, besides presiding over all nine “Comedy Central Roast” presentations. He was born in Springfield, New Jersey, and experienced difficult years as a teenager, as both of his parents passed away within a few years of each other.

He began to do stand up in his early twenties, writing about his journey in the 2009 book, “I Only Roast the Ones I Love: Busting Balls Without Burning Bridges.” He has done numerous TV appearances on series and specials, including a turn on the seventh season of “Dancing with the Stars.” He appeared at the Park West venue for “Just for Laughs Chicago,” with his annual show “Jeff Ross Roasts Chicago.”

Jeff Ross
Jeff Ross at ‘Just for Laughs Chicago,’ June 15, 2012
Photo credit: Joe Arce of Starstruck Foto for You’ve written a book about it, and you’ve based most of your career around the nuances of the comedy roast. What was the most perfectly timed insult you’ve ever thrown?

Jeff Ross: I remember when we were roasting Matt Lauer, and the legendary Aretha Franklin opened the show by singing ‘God Bless America,’ and it was very moving and very beautiful, and she received a standing ovation. Then they introduced me. I didn’t know she was going to be there, I didn’t know she was going to sing. I said, ‘Wow, I’ve never been to a show where the fat lady sings in the beginning.’ Got a big reaction. especially from her. She gave me the finger, which was a great retort as well. What is the best response you’ve experienced from a celebrity ‘roastee,’ and why do you think they handled it so well?

Ross: Some people want to be roasted, they need the reboot in their life. It’s like getting surgery, you might be nervous about it beforehand, but you know you have to do it and you feel good when it’s over, because you know you’re on your way to recovery. And I feel like Charlie Sheen had that going for him at his roast. I feel like he took it better than anybody I’ve ever roasted, so much so that I watched the roast at his house, he was into sharing the experience with the roasters. How did the unusual circumstances of your early life inform and motivate you as a comic performer?

Ross: Comedy comes from pain, that’s pretty much how it happens. Just take all the bad things that happen to you, and you learn how to make them into art or in my case, jokes. Did you ever have a ‘step-back’ moment in your career, as in how the hell did I get here?

Ross: Everyday. It’s always remarkable to me. My parents never got to see me do this, so the idea that I get to hang out with all the comedians and meet all the guys that they loved, all the legends, I have that moment all the time.

StarScott Adsit, Portrays Pete Hornberger on “30 Rock”

The freewheeling Scott Adsit is a improvisation master and was a legend on the Second City main stage in Chicago, in the same troupe in the 1990s that featured Tina Fey. That connection led him to a role on “30 Rock,” as the put upon producer of the show-within-the-show, Pete Hornberger. He grew up in the Chicago suburb of Northbrook, and returned at the “Just for Laughs Chicago” fest at iO Theater, performing with various improvisation partners.

Scott Adsit
Scott Adsit at ‘Just for Laughs Chicago,’ June 15, 2012
Photo credit: Joe Arce of Starstruck Foto for Now that ’30 Rock’ has announced their last season, what can we expect from the long-awaited Pete Hornberger spinoff and what will be the premise?

Scott Adsit: I’m working on it. It’s Pete as an international spy, and he lives in an underwater apartment and he’s married to Denise Richards. Besides that it’s part of your livelihood, what intellectual and emotional benefits do you get from doing improvisation?

Adsit: It makes me feel good about myself, because it’s something I’m skilled at, I know I can do it and it’s something I enjoy doing. It’s a nice combination of skill and desire. There is a rapport that goes on between the audience and a seasoned performer, where you find a rhythm together and it’s like good sex. Since you are from the Chicago area, what do you gravitate towards to really make you feel like you’re back at home?

Adsit: My Mom’s house in Northbrook where I grew up is pretty good. [laughs] I didn’t move from Chicago until I was 30 years old, so I feel very comfortable in Old Town [where Second City is located], and the north side in general. I like Lincoln Avenue, most of it, and I love the original Potbelly’s Sandwich Shop there. What was behind your decision to make the big move to Los Angeles from Chicago?

Adsit: My good friend and writing partner Dino Stamatopoulous was hired by Barry Levinson to write a show back in 1998 about the backstage goings-on at a show like ‘Saturday Night Live.’ He called me, I was still working at the main stage at Second City, and said come write the show with me. I quit my job two weeks before we were opening a new show, which was rude as hell, and went out there with Stephen Colbert and Mike Stoyanov, and the four of us wrote this show. We wrote a pretty good show, but Barry’s vision changed and it came to be more about sketches – which we weren’t happy about. But we did it, pitched it and it didn’t go. I stayed in L.A. and did mercenary work as an actor. You are one of my bald heroes. Who was your bald hero?

Adsit: The woman from the first ‘Star Trek’ movie. [laughs]

StarChris D’Elia, Portrays Alex Green on “Whitney”

First and foremost a Los Angeles-based stand up comedian, Chris D’Elia recently broke out as the second lead in the NBC sitcom, “Whitney.” He bounced around as a young actor while developing his comedy act, and did a couple of Comedy Central specials before landing a supporting role on the TBS comedy-drama “Glory Daze.” D’Elia performed during the festival at one of Chicago’s newest comedy venues, The Laugh Factory.

Chris D’Elia
Chris D’Elia at ‘Just for Laughs Chicago,’ June 15, 2012
Photo credit: Joe Arce of Starstruck Foto for What is currently happening to the series you pitched – ‘Nocturnal Mission’ – to Comedy Central?

Chris D’Elia: I don’t even know. That was one of those things we sold to Comedy Central, even before I got ‘Glory Days.’ Then I started doing ‘Whitney,’ so we haven’t talked about it in awhile. It might be dead in the water. Considering how the show was hyped and marketed, what was the most surreal moment in the run-up to ‘Whitney’?

D’Elia: I came up through the stand-up circuit with Whitney Cummings, so that first pilot we shot for the sitcom had us both standing there and saying, ‘I can’t believe this is our lives right now.’ That was very surreal. I’d never done a multi-camera show and never had done a TV sitcom in front of a studio audience. It was so surreal, so weird. It felt like we were in a movie about ourselves.

And then I got to work with John Cleese on the show, so that was crazy. I had never met a Pythoner before, but he was the nicest guy…and the tallest guy. Had you done any acting training besides just performing stand up?

D’Elia: I started doing acting professionally at 16 years old, with bit parts here and there, and then went to NYU for school and studied theater. So yeah, I’m an actor, but the day-in-day-out of it all, I’m a comedian. That’s who I am, I feel like. How does where you grew up and who your family was inform your comic sensibility?

D’Elia: I grew up in a really, really silly family. My Dad is one of the silliest guys I know, and he’s always doing things that are funny, but don’t make sense. [laughs] My Mom is really funny as well, she’s does one liners that belong in sitcoms, and she was always making fun of my Dad and me. I got made fun of the most out of all my family members, and there was nothing else I could have done, given the way I was brought up. Even my brother is in the business, he does writing and directing in a comedic vein.

I would go into my parents bedroom late at night, when they were trying to fall asleep, and try and make them laugh. I thought if I could make them laugh, because they were tired and literally saying get out of there…then what I was doing was good and now I’m doing it for a living. What was the first joke you told in front of a microphone, and what was the root of the subject?

D’Elia: I remember the second one. It was about the show ’24.’ It was about no matter what Jack Bauer did, everything was important. For example, I would do him getting a haircut. It was a lame bit, but I did go on stage and got a laugh or two. What would you like to do beyond ‘Whitney’? What future projects most interest you?

D’Elia: I’d like to do action movies. Seriously. That’s what I want to do, I want to run around with a gun. But right now, I’m trying to put new material together and do my hour, for a comedy special.

For a blog wrap-up of the TBS “Just For Laughs Chicago” 2012 comedy festival, click here. senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2012 Patrick McDonald,

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