ThreeWeeks features editor Andy Malt talks to Jim Jeffries about false starts, Hollywood and being more than just a punch to the head
Jim Jeffries has earned himself a bit of a reputation. With his often anger-fuelled jokes, covering topics such as rape, disability and drug abuse, he has, perhaps understandably, had the tag ‘offensive comedian’ regularly attached to him. And while it’s an image he’s undoubtedly courted over the years, it’s not the be all and end all of his comedy.
“I don’t know why I’m seen as more offensive than other comics”, he says on the phone from LA, where he has been living since February. “I don’t even say these things that much in my shows, but they stand out and people focus on them. In the UK it got to the point where people were coming to see me in order to be offended. Some would come up to me after shows and tell me I wasn’t offensive enough”.
Born in Australia in 1977, Jim was a fan of stand-up from a young age, although his early experiences of getting up on stage nearly put him off altogether. “I was always just a fan. I used to watch a TV show called ‘The Big Gig’ with my brother every Saturday when I was about 10 years old. It was a show intended for adults, but that was the big highlight of my week”, he remembers. “Then when I was 17 I did two open spots in Sydney. They went really badly, and I got booed off at one of them. I didn’t do it again until I was 24”.
Things went better on the second attempt and after a year he moved to London to have a proper go at telling jokes for a living. “There are no comedy clubs in Australia, so you can’t really build a career over there”, he explains. “You can only do about one gig a month. In London you can gig every night, and that’s how you get good – by trial and error”.
Through that process his act has become more focused, meaning that while he may still be able to deliver a killer line, he’s not firing off in all directions. “My early material had stuff about hating women and things like that because I couldn’t write anything better”, he observes. “But as you do more, your material gets more personal and my personal life isn’t that bad. When I live with other comics, their friends all think I’m there killing hookers and stuff”.
Jim’s recent move to Hollywood came as his career started to take off in the States, aided by an hour long HBO Special, “The biggest thing you can do as a stand-up in the US”. And what do Americans make of him? “I don’t get called offensive so much”, he says. “But I’m the only comic saying ‘cunt’ in America and getting away with it. I think they think I don’t really know what I’m saying. Every now and then a story seems to carry but then it turns out it actually doesn’t, but I don’t change words or anything like that. They’ve seen Austin Powers, they can work it out”.
There are many people out there whose first contact with Jim was seeing him get punched on stage, via a video which has now been watched more than 15 million times on the internet. It’s something that Jim is nonetheless quite dismissive of.
“A lot of comics have been punched in the head”, he emphasises. “We just happen to have got some good footage. It wasn’t as bad as it looked. The only thing that really bothers me is that sometimes people imply that’s what made my career. I was already booked for big shows, and doing television like ‘Never Mind The Buzzcocks’ and ‘Have I Got News For You’. I still had to back it up by being good. If notoriety was all you needed then Aaron Barschak, the guy who invaded Prince William’s 21st birthday party, should be the biggest comic ever”.
It’s certainly not just notoriety that has caused Jim’s career to take off. With so much going on already, his Edinburgh run this year won’t be as long as he would like. “I’m ducking my head in for five shows, to say ‘don’t forget about me’”, he tells me.
“The show will be the best stuff from my last four shows, and then half new stuff”, he continues. “HBO made me do the same set over again for six months before we recorded it, so I couldn’t get an hour of new stuff ready in time. But I’ve just written the best 20 minutes I’ve ever written and I want to close the show on that. I’m going to do this new routine about taking a very good friend of mine who’s disabled to brothel. It was one of the most spurious and funny days of my life. At times quite sad, but funny. Those are the stories I like telling. I’ve got better at telling stories over time”.
And there’s that development he mentioned earlier. Okay, the subject matter still touches on areas others might shy away from. In fact, how many of us have even taken a disabled friend to a brothel? But Jim is keen to show a bit more of the man behind the reputation. For one thing, it might help his love life a little.
“I think a lot of the image around me has been devil horns and me with my throat cut on posters. I always really enjoyed doing that stuff. Recently a newspaper wanted pictures of me with some porn stars. I was like ‘yeah cool,’ but my management said, ‘Jim, we’ve told you we’re trying to get you away from this image’. I understand why they don’t want me with my arm round porn stars; I don’t want to be that guy either. It’s hard for lasting relationships with women. I’ve been a pretty good boyfriend over the years, but most girls’ friends point out the porn star pictures, the rape jokes, the ‘I hate women’ comments, and think I’m a complete arsehole”.
And, when he puts it like that, you can see why they might. But in the hour we spent on the phone, he was not that guy. Nor is he really that guy on stage. Like with much, if not most comedy, there’s a context that is lost when displayed in snippets and soundbites. All you really need to know is that Jim Jeffries is devastatingly funny.
Jim Jeffries – The Hits, Jim Jeffries, Udderbelly’s Pasture, 17 – 22 Aug, 8.35pm (9.35pm), £15.00, fpp64.