J.R. of the ‘Iraq Pack’

Don't flag Jeffrey Ross for his red- white-and-blue humor; the guy's a veritable weapon of mirth destruction, disarming the unaware while armed for mirthful combat.

Ross regales with an arsenal of quips, quotes and clever put-downs that have made him the chicken dish of choice for many a Friars Club celebrity roast.

He is a J.R. you wouldn't turn your back on — cunningly clever, sharp with a stiletto-skilled savvy, a guy with a puppy dog-punim who's house-trained to bring down the house.

A military twist on "Death of a Salesman's" legendary line: Atten-hut must be paid Jeffrey Ross.

The class-act comedian is earning his star-spangled stripes these days as a movie-maker with a film shot full of humor and heart on battlefields in the muddled and muddied Mideast.

You're in the Army now, Jeff Ross — and the army's the better for it.

Indeed, Ross gets the best of a situation by knowing how to play it for laughs.

And that is why his bittersweet "Patriot Act: A Jeffrey Ross Home Movie" hits so close to home for those who, thousands of miles away, feel the reverberation of those rebel bombs echoing with chaos and heartache.

Joining the 2003 USO edition of U.S. comedians visiting Iraq to cheer up soldiers, Ross is a l'chaim of laughter, his patriot act a sincere one — a salute studded with kibitzes of every stripe.

He makes a pledge of allegiance to the heart in "Patriot Act." Where there's Ross, there's hope … if not Bob Hope.

"No," he chuckles, "I'm not the Jewish Bob Hope. In fact, if I'm the next Bob Hope, there's no hope at all."

But hope not so much floats as soars with Ross to the rescue. And who knew he could get that holiday feeling in a tented area no one would ever mistake for a sukkah.

Indeed, one of the highlights of the DVD just released is Ross' celebration of the High Holidays.

"It was a lucky break," he says of visiting during Rosh Hashanah, 2003. "I was wandering through the lunch hall and the [troops] called me over."

Can he hymn a few bars? "It was a nice moment."

Proud of the Fit
Helmet as yarmulke? Ross wears his Jewishness in full regalia, proud of the fit. It comes across that way in his act, numerous TV appearances and those infamous stints at the Friars Club, where celebrities are honored to be dishonored by this "nice Jewish boy" with a fountain pen of put-downs.

From Roastmaster General to major kuved in Iraq, he attacks with bullet-branded humor. But "Patriot Act" has its moments of R&R, too — Ross at Rest.

Essentially, he says, the movie is a missive, "a love letter to Bob Hope, to his spirit."

Ross' spirited stand-up stands the test of time — and tummlers. Ironically, the comic isn't doing so much stand-up these days; his roasts are such sure-fire hits, where'd he find the time?

How'd he find the sarcastic style?

It's all a question of bathroom humor, but not of the raunchy style. "When I'd perform at the Comedy Cellar, people in the audience would sometimes get up in the middle of my act and head to the bathroom, which was right nearby. And as they went, I'd pick them off."

A sniper of sass? It serves him well at the roasts, which, he acknowledges, are "the Super Bowl of comedy."

But touching down in Iraq three years ago — Ross has since returned for other engagements — left its sand-swept impressions.

"Sadly enough, it changed me in a lot of ways," he says. "It opened my eyes to the human condition."

No starring role in "Eyes Wide Shut" for him. "It opened my eyes as a comedian."

A funny thing happened on the way to the bunker … it all debunked any comic-centric id he had been part of.

"It was all bigger than me," says Ross.

No one is bigger than the caustic comic these days: With many an appearance on cable shows (HBO's "Six Feet Under"; Showtime's "Weeds"), as well as films for the Farrelley Brothers and Paul Weitz — who can forget his "patrician" participation in "The Aristocrats" documentary, one of the funniest films of the year — Ross is also co-creator and voice star of "Where My Dogs At?" on MTV2.

But it is "Patriot Act" which, in meaningful ways, has given him a new leash on life since it debuted on Showtime before its DVD release.

"I went for an adventure," says Ross of his joining the "Iraq Pack" led by comedian Drew Carey, "and now it's more of a mission."

Impossible to say where it will lead, but its impact is clear. While Ross is not going soft, his Mideast missions have made him softer as a person. "It has softened my personal life, yes," he concedes.

But he still plays hard and fast in front of a crowd. And battle cries aren't funny for a crowd. "On stage and with a microphone in my hands, no. I'm still the same."

The reel treat is in being able to do what he started out to do so many years back.

"I went to film school," says Ross, the magna cum comic who went to Boston University. "I've been on a 16-year tangent as a comedian."

Before this, the closest he got to reviving his film career may have been writing for the Academy Awards show in 2000, hosted by Billy Crystal.

"I want to make another film," Ross says. "But it depends."

On the stars? Budget? Craft services?

"No," he says, the imp ever closer to his soul than the imperial. "It depends on the next country we attack." 



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