Friday, August 17, 2012

Jeff Ross will burn you

Jeff Ross is s roaster extraordinaire for Comedy Central during the annual event where comedians go after an "honored" celebrity. With frequent appearances, usually providing some of the funnier material in the specials, it seems natural for Ross to move on to his own show, roasting anyone that he wants to, whether they like it or not. Thus is born the new series that premieres last night, The Burn with Jeff Ross.

The title tells you everything that you need to know about the series, really. Ross stands up on a stage and lays into famous people. Some deserve it, some don't. Jokes are broken up into segments, but there isn't any real sense of distinction between what belongs in each solo-performed category; instead, it just provides a way to break up the show a bit.

Ross has an edgy style that may go too far. In fact, in the first episode he starts a bit called "Too Soon?" This week's topic is Sally Ride, and he rips on the recently deceased female astronaut. Ride is a pioneer and a hero to Americans. While some may be shocked that Ross says anything negative about such a woman, at least he does seem to take it easier on her than his still-living subjects.

Besides these monologues, Ross also brings on a few pals. In the first episode, Amy Schumer, J.B. Smoove, and Ralphie May are the victims, er, guests. Ross actually leaves them alone, for the most part, just allowing them to partake in his rant-fest, if it's even severe enough to call it that. This is a bit of a shame, because here are some targets that would fight back, which could be amusing. Instead, they all just feel like they're having fun, bonding over telling mean jokes, but not getting too carried away. Sarah Silverman appears briefly in a smaller segment, to much the same effect.

This exposes the "secret" behind The Burn: Jeff Ross is not mean. Sure, he may touch on topics that are a bit taboo, and say some things that will offend some. But his smile betrays his genuinely nice qualities, and the guests are his friends, proving he isn't a total jerk. This is why he gets away with picking on people who aren't defending themselves. Even when attacking meter maids on the street, half of them smile at Ross's gags at their expense. A segment in the first episode where Ross roasts his elderly uncle is also aces at demonstrating the real Ross.

So will a nice roast format work? Is it really a burn if the person delivering it is nonthreatening and likable? Eh, that's debatable. The bottom line that people will really care about is, is The Burn with Jeff Ross funny? And like most weekly comedy shows, the answer is: sometimes. It's hard to pump out so much new material on a regular basis, and while Ross tries, he only succeeds part of the time. Which makes me doubt the longevity of such a program.

Enjoy The Burn with Jeff Ross while it lasts, Tuesdays at 10:30 p.m. ET on Comedy Central.

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