“If you can laugh at yourself, you’re one step closer to freedom.”
That’s how Jeffrey Ross, aka “The Roastmaster General,” describes his decision to venture into the proverbial belly of the beast and make fun of the prisoners of Brazos County in West Texas near College Station. His mission, filmed for Comedy Central, premieres tonight as Jeff Ross Roasts Criminals: Live at Brazos County Jail.
The jail administrator, Wayne Dicky, told Ross that prisoners had to behave for a month with no disciplinary actions to attend the show, and almost half qualified.
“Where my murderers at?” Ross asks up top.
Several hands shoot up.
“Where my innocent people at?”
Even more hands fly into the sky.
Ross doesn’t hold himself above reproach, either. He admits to having broken the law, then spins it into a joke of how he’d handle his first day in jail. Plenty of this hour is specifically customized for the inmates. One segment opens with him visiting inmates at lunch — cut to Ross joking the cook should be arrested for attempted murder. He has bits about wondering how many NFL players are in the audience, and about how Cosby probably should be locked up, too. “Bill Cosby will never get in real trouble, because he’s rich, it’s the poor people who go to jail in America. There’s racism, but there’s also classism. Right now there are men in here locked up for possession of less marijuana than is in my lungs right now,” Ross noted in one of several funny-because-it’s-sadly-too-true moments.
Ross hits the class note time and again.
“You got to think like the big corporations in America,” he tells the inmates. You’re small-time criminals compared to them. “They say crime doesn’t pay? It pays, it just doesn’t pay you motherfuckers.”
And of course, no Ross special can end without roasting. The Roastmaster General assembles his troops for battle, and then he roasts them.
This is from the opening of the special.
Ross performed separate shows for both male and female inmates. When he visited the women’s pod of the jail, he used this as one of his opening lines: “Have you been in here long enough to find me attractive?”
A true pro knows how to adapt to any audience, and Ross fulfills his mission with flying orange colors.
He even closes by strapping on a guitar, and in tribute to Johnny Cash, customizes the music from “I Shot A Man In Reno” with new lyrics for what Ross called “The Brazos County Blues.”
There’s also a very prescient moment, when a loud noise interrupts the proceedings, prompting Ross to ask: “Are you guys laughing extra loud because someone’s trying to build a tunnel right now?” (Since filming this in Texas, two convicted murderers broke out of a New York prison by cutting their way into a tunnel!)
Mo’Nique recorded a stand-up special back in 2007 where she visited with women inmates — long before Orange is the New Black — and empathized with them on and offstage. Her special was precious.
This one hopefully changes hearts and minds. If not yours, then at least those of the men on the inside.