Interview: Jim Jefferies
If you haven’t experienced Jim Jefferies yet, I’d thoroughly recommend it – and his latest showing, Alcoholocaust, is possibly his best yet. Behind his outlandish comments and an abundance of profanities lie more profound messages in his writing, and if you like your comedy to be thought-provoking and close to the bone, Jefferies is your man. Andrew Dipper caught up with the Australian comic to talk about his latest tour, life in America, and that incident at The Comedy Store.
AD: How’s your tour going?
JJ: We’re a couple of weeks in, and it’s going all right. Numbers have been fine, audiences have been great. I’ve been running a little bit long on stage, but I’m sure I’ll work on that by the end of the tour.
AD: So has your set developed much since you began your show in Edinburgh?
JJ: It’s always developing, yeah. You’re always adding little bits here and there, you know. No two shows are exactly the same.
AD: Generally, what can people expect from your tour?
JJ: Well, if you’re a fan of what I do then it’s more of the same, but if you’ve never seen what I do – it’s a few sex stories, a couple of stories about old jobs I’ve had or something like that, some religious rhetoric and uh-anti-religious rhetoric, actually, and a few bits of bar-room philosophy.
AD: I’ve seen your show and I really enjoyed it. People seem to classify you as an offensive comedian – do you think that’s fair and accurate?
JJ: Uhm, well I am offensive so I think it’s fair enough. I think it’s unfair when that’s all they classify me as. I mostly tell stories, you know.
AD: There always seems to be a moral truth behind what you write.
JJ: Yeah, there is. There’s always a meaning or a beginning, middle and end. Sometimes you’ll just get an offensive comic who’ll go on stage and do a face of someone with cerebral palsy and stomp around, or talk about raping a puppy or something like that. There’s offensive and there’s being funny.
AD: Yeah, I agree. I think as long as you do it well, you know…
JJ: Yeah, definitely. You’ve got to be funny and you’ve got to be charming and all those type of things, you know.
AD: Without spoiling your set for anyone reading this, how much of the brothel routine at the end of your show is true, and how much have you padded out?
JJ: About 85% true, that story. It’s true in that those people are real people, and we did go to the brothel and all those things actually happened. But some of the details weren’t true, like his cock wasn’t nine and a half inches long, for example – that’s just artistic licence.
AD: You have quite a confrontational style on stage much like your fellow Australian comedian Brendon Burns – is it an Australian thing?
JJ: [Laughs] No, no, not at all. I don’t think I’m as much like Brendon Burns as people think I am, really. Brendon’s out making political statements and stuff, and I don’t do that. And Brendon doesn’t tell many stories anymore, you know. He just rants.
AD: From when you started doing comedy have you changed your style in order to become more successful?
JJ: Not consciously, no. I’ve actually mellowed in the last few years. I used to yell the whole set and now I hardly yell at all.
AD: You’re quite an outgoing character on stage – has your background in acting helped with that?
JJ: Yeah, I think if you learn how to be an actor first I think it helps you in the first few years. It helps early on in your career because it helps with stage fright. I don’t think it helps with your timing or anything like that – I think that comes naturally to a comic and it doesn’t help to make you funny, either. But if you’re telling a story and have to act out different characters, even if you’re not doing different voices, it helps with faces and movements.
AD: How do you think the two compare as an art form?
Well, I always get a little bit pissed off when stand-up comedy is not recognised as being as good a craft as being an actor. We give Oscars to people and it’s like, ‘Aw, this person is the greatest person on earth’, but being an actor is pretty easy in comparison to stand-up comedy. It’s no surprise that several stand-up comics have gone on to become great actors. I don’t know any great actors that have gone on to become great stand-up comics. I think sometimes we don’t get enough credit for being good writers, as well.
AD: You’ve relocated from England to America – was it to further your career or was it because the weather was nicer?
JJ: Mostly my career, but the weather doesn’t hurt things.
AD: How does the American public reaction compare to British?
JJ: Well in America it was quite easy for me – I went over with HBO so I already had a fan base and they know what to expect from me. But I don’t think it would be a very easy country to start doing comedy in. You get a lot of people who believe in God and religion and you’ll get people who are uptight about swearing, but I don’t have to police that like a comic who’s just going to a comedy club and playing to a random selection of people.
AD: You got a lot of media attention a few years ago from that night at The Comedy Store when you were punched in the face by a member of the crowd. What can you tell us about that, and are you sick of answering the question yet?
JJ: [Laughs] I am sick of answering the question. No, I get asked every day about it. The simple answer is that I don’t know what happened. The guy was upset – he didn’t heckle or anything, he just ran on stage and punched me, and by the time I was back on stage the police had already whisked him away. I’ve heard a few rumours on what he might’ve been upset by, but I’ve got nothing concrete. There was nothing in the set – as far as I can tell he was on a first date with a girl, and she wasn’t enjoying it, and he was a bit drunk so thought he had to do something about it, you know?
AD: Christ. That was probably his last date with her then. I’m going to see your show in Newcastle – do you have a favourite memory of working in the North East?
JJ: We just did Darlington and that was great. We do a few gigs in Whitley Bay, Middlesbrough and Newcastle, so I probably cover the North East more than any other part of the country. They always pull fairly good crowds up there, and I go wherever the audience shows up. You know, I don’t know why they are so affectionate towards me, but I always get a good crowd in the North East.
AD: Maybe they appreciate your honest style of comedy.
JJ: Yeah. I think also, when you get up North, they seem to appreciate what they classify as working class comics. And I’m not going to say working class comedy as in talking about working down the fuckin’ mines or whatever, but non pompous comedy – and Australia’s a whole working class country as far as they’re concerned!
AD: You mentioned Australia then – who do you think is the best Australian comic working in Britain?
JJ: I’d say Steve Hughes.
AD: I went to see Steve Hughes on Sunday. He was great. So do you get to visit Australia much then?
JJ: I go about once a year, usually to visit my mum and do a few gigs, but it’s not really a market I’m looking to crack. I don’t care that much.
AD: Finally, your show is called Alcoholocaust. You mentioned in your Edinburgh show that you’re trying to give up drinking – how has that worked out?
JJ: Well…officially I’m saying I haven’t had a drink since August 29th, but I’ve had maybe five beers, maybe six beers since then. I haven’t had a night when I was blind drunk since August 29th though…
If you want to see Jim Jefferies: Alcoholocaust he is playing The Journal Tyne Theatre in Newcastle this evening. Tickets are priced at £15 and more information is available here. Jefferies is also playing Middlesbrough Town Hall Crypt on December 2nd, and Whitley Bay Playhouse on December 7th.
And if you can’t make it to any of those shows, his Alcoholocaust DVD, a review of which can be found here, was released yesterday and is available from most online retailers.