Insult comic Jeff Ross remembers Abe Vigoda as a friend and a comic foil who gave as good as he got.
“It’s a sad day,” Ross told us after learning that the 94-year-old “Fish” actor has passed away.
Ross famously joked at a 1998 Friars Club Roast of Drew Carey that “My one regret is that Abe Vigoda isn’t alive to see this.”
Vigoda, who was sitting just a few feet away at the time, loved the joke. From then on, that became a running gag at the Friars Club, where Vigoda had been a member since 1983.
Ross recalls another classic Friars Club zinger that was inspired by Vigoda, who was in the crowd one night while he was performing.
“Alan King, Abe Vigoda, there was one other person (in the audience), Abe Beame maybe, the former mayorâ€¦ and I said something to the effect of ‘holy mackerel, I’ve seen younger faces on cash!” he laughed.
An emotional Ross tells the Daily News that it was through those jokes that he got to know Vigoda as a friend.
“I feel like every roast I’d have three or four Abe Vigoda jokes and I knew if I didn’t get to them, I could do them next year,” Ross said. “Abe was always there, always a good sport, always took the jokes so well. He was great to have at a roast.”
According to Ross, Vigoda’s understated sense of humor set the tone for a generation of comics.
“Abe was essentially responsible for a whole genre of Abe Vigoda jokes because he took it so well,” said Ross. “Abe knew there was a great affection there. He knew that when we mentioned him, it was out of love.”
Ross’ relationship with Vigoda cut both ways. When he wrote the appropriately titled “I Only Roast the Ones I Love: Busting Balls Without Burning Bridges,” Vigoda showed up at the book launch party to roast him.
“He was a very, very funny guy,” Ross remembers. “I grew up worshipping him on ‘Barney Miller.'”
Ross says that a part of him thinks that Vigoda could be getting the last laugh once more.
“Part of me thinks that I’m going to wake up tomorrow and this was all a big joke,” he said. “Nothing would make me happier.”
For Ross, Vigoda’s legend as “a beloved prince of primetime television and movies” is already set in stone and the deadpan funny man will be remembered fondly at next month’s Academy Awards memoriam tribute.
“Abe Vigoda â€” Roast in peace,” Ross concluded.