Jim Jefferies brings new show Alcoholocaust to Edinburgh Fringe
The Aussie comic on LA, controversy and his deepest fears
This article is from 2010.
Having moved to sunny California, Jim Jefferies is basking in his stand-up success. But the Aussie comic tells Julian Hall that all he fears is becoming boring
Jim Jefferies is, by his own admission, never happy. You’d think that two years living in LA, auditioning for movies, recording an HBO special, playing ever larger venues, and generally getting more and more exposure would have cheered the no-nonsense Aussie comic up a bit. But if he’s to be believed, this is not the case. ‘I’ve always put pressure on myself. When I started, all I wanted was someone to pay me to do it: that happened and I still wasn’t happy. Then I wanted to be a headliner: that happened and I still wasn’t happy. And then I wanted to go to Britain and become a big act at the Fringe: that happened and I still wasn’t happy. Then I wanted to conquer America and now I want to be a movie star and I’m not a movie star so I am not happy.’
Jefferies (who added an extra ‘e’ to his surname because of another US performer called Jim Jeffries: ‘no one knows who this guy is or what he does’) does admit to being a bit more relaxed. And it’s not just because of the bouts of California sun that beat down upon him in between gaps on his never-ending tour: the Fringe is a real boon to his more positive frame of mind. ‘I really look forward to Edinburgh, seeing friends, having one base for all that time. Now the pressure is off. Reviewers don’t scare me anymore – and I used to be terrified of them – I’m not eligible for any awards any more so that’s gone, and best of all I don’t have the pressure of asking myself, “How much money am I losing right now?” The only pressure is whether people still remember who I am and trying not to get too drunk.’
Jefferies’ new show, Alcoholocaust, sounds like it could be a warning about this danger, but the 33-year-old comic says that it’s not a themed show; in fact the name is more of a sales pitch. ‘Show titles can be too long. The best ones are one-worders like Eddie Murphy’s Delirious or Louis C.K.’s Reckless. When people name their show Things that I thought about in the last year while sitting on a train talking to such and such is only OK for other comics, or friends, to read and maybe think is funny. The public need something that stands out.’
Some people have told Jefferies that Alcoholocaust stands out in the wrong way. ‘I didn’t know there would be a backlash over it; I mean I’m not doing jokes about the holocaust but I found out that simply having the word “holocaust” in there can upset some people. Controversy is never a bad thing, but you don’t want the wrong kind.’
The show’s title as a concept came from ‘what happens when you have a huge party and you come downstairs in the morning and there are bottles and vomit everywhere’. And while Jefferies will be talking about everything from religion to taking a friend who had muscular dystrophy to a strip club (‘probably my favourite routine,’ he says in what he describes as ‘his best show so far’), his relationship with booze will figure. ‘There’s a good chance that by the time I get to Edinburgh I might be sober. But I can’t deal with it at this level for the rest of my life, otherwise my life won’t last very long.’
I remind Jefferies that he has bluntly told his audience that ‘if you don’t drink you are boring’, and this prompts him to make the case for the preservation of that status quo. ‘Becoming boring is my biggest fear. I realise it is killing me but what do I do if I don’t do that? How will I relate to all my friends? What do people get up to? There are only so many movies you can go to. How do people meet people of the opposite sex? It’s one thing to meet someone at work and go out on five dates but comics are only in town for two days: you gotta work quick! Sometimes I wonder if giving up would mean my career would go better but I have done some of the greatest performances of my life legless. Besides my stuff is shenanigans-based and if you don’t drink, how do these stories come about?’
However his inspirations come, Jefferies says that when he gets them they are in a better condition than they have ever been, hence that solid belief in his latest show. ‘I’m more of a worldly comic now. With some of my previous shows, I used to rely on the angry man to cover up some fairly weak jokes. I always put on a good gig but I covered a lot of weak material with showmanship. Writing for TV in the States has meant that I have had to write a lot quicker. Some routines can take six months to work but these ones are all polished and ready to go.’
Among Jefferies’ previous polished routines, tales about his childhood and his work with the disabled have figured prominently and I wonder if he holds back stories to use in later shows? ‘I’ve never done that, but I keep on thinking that I have gone to that world too many times and the next time I go back it will be empty, whether it’s my childhood or whatever. Memories always get jolted. At the moment I am laying on my bunk bed at my parents house with loads of Beatles pictures around me. My room hasn’t changed since I was a kid, and I have already gotten a couple of stories after being here a few days.’
Jefferies may be 33 now, but if his brother is to be believed, childhood is never a concept that is far away from him. ‘My brother calls the world I live in “Peter Pan” world, walking around wearing Converse and a black T-shirt telling cock jokes and telling the rest of the world how it should be when I can’t even keep myself basically clean.’ He may well live in Never Never Land and but it sounds like Jim Jefferies is happier there than anywhere else.
Jim Jefferies, Udderbelly’s Pasture, 08445 458 252, 6–30 Aug (not 16, 27), 10.30pm; 27 Aug, 11.20pm, £14–£17.50 (£12–£15). Previews until 5 Aug, £10.