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Born December 10, 1954, in McMinnville, Oregon, Shafer graduated from Federal Way High School in Federal Way, Washington. As a high school All Conference football player, he received a scholarship to play linebacker for the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, where he earned a business marketing degree.
Shafer began his career as a small-town pet-store manager-turned-stand-up comic in Seattle, Washington, after winning the Showtime cable network's 1983 Showtime Comedy Laugh-Off. The following year, he created and hosted a late-night comedy series called Almost Live! on TV station KING Channel 5. After four and a half years and nearly 40 Emmy Awards, Shafer moved to Los Angeles to host the Fox Network's The Late Show. Shafer's first national TV show was the USA Network's Love Me, Love Me Not, taped in Vancouver, British Columbia. The show ran for 130 episodes and aired in Italy under the name Mama No Mama.
Picking up on this initially prankish effort, Whatcom County Councilman Craig Cole introduced Resolution No. 85-12 in the state legislature, citing the need for a "contemporary theme song that can be used to engender a sense of pride and community, and in the enhancement of tourism and economic development." His resolution also called for the creation of a new "Louie Louie County". While the House did not pass it, the Senate's Resolution 1985-37 declared April 12, 1985, "Louie Louie Day." A crowd of 4,000, estimated by press reports, convened on the state capital that day for speeches, singalongs and performances by the Wailers, the Kingsmen, and Paul Revere and the Raiders. Three days later, a Seattle event commemorated the occasion with the premiere performance of a new, Washington-centric version of the song written by Richard Berry.
In 1988, Shafer succeeded Arsenio Hall as host of the Fox Network talk show The Late Show, which had originally starred Joan Rivers. The stint lasted one year, after which Shafer co-hosted the ABC network magazine show Days End with rotating hosts Spencer Christian, Matt Lauer, and Hannah Storm. From 1990 to 1991, Shafer hosted a revival of Match Game on ABC Daytime.
In 1994, Ross began writing and producing a series of 14 human resource training films, distributed worldwide in nine languages. He also wrote and produced the comedy album Inside the First Family, about the travails and rumors surrounding the Clinton Administration.
As a seminar leader and motivator, he coined the phrase "customer empathy," created the Customer Empathy Institute at California State University, Monterey Bay, speaks at over 100 corporate events each year, and has written books including Nobody Moved Your Cheese: How to Ignore the Experts and Trust Your Gut, The Customer Shouts Back!, and Customer Empathy. Separately, he wrote the comedy-cookbook-for-men, Cook Like A Stud.