Jim Jefferies talks offensiveness and sobriety ahead of 2012 Fringe show Fully Functional
Aussie comedian on bad reviews, Fully Functional and US sitcom Legit
This article is from 2012.
Jim Jefferies used to do a joke about getting a lift from a ‘tiny, hot, young girl’. He couldn’t believe his luck when she offered him a ride back into Los Angeles after they’d just spent the day working on a film-set. Before driving off in her sportscar, she called her mum, announcing there was a stranger in the passenger seat, but hoped to be home in an hour. It was just a little something she preferred to do, shrugged the girl, when giving lifts to strangers. ‘Sure, sure,’ Jefferies nodded. ‘But you’ve just made this rape really awkward.’
It was one of the funnier gags Jefferies told during his set at the 2008 Fringe. Delivered perfectly, the crowd howled and shed tears in appreciation. The rest of his show had the Australian homing in like a beer-soaked missile on any taboo he could: cancer, midgets, self-harm, religious idiots, fat idiots, lesbian idiots, prostitute idiots. Well, you get the picture. It became harder and harder to laugh along.
Not that boundary-bulldozing comedy shouldn’t be something to get excited about, as others have proven down the years. But Jefferies was lacking something. There was none of Richard Pryor’s vulnerability, or Doug Stanhope’s liberal political visions, or Bill Hicks’ bullshit-intolerance underpinning the no-holds-barred stuff. Instead it was just lad-gags with not much charm or intelligence, that I could see. And there was something desperate about his cranking up the shocks, like a stag-night hell-bent on behaving badly. And when he turned his bile on those who walked out, he seemed grumpy, as well as drunk. I gave it a one-star review.
Jefferies is lying flat on his back in bed, barely raising his head off his chest as he logs in for our Skype chat. The curtains are still closed, blocking out the bright LA sun over the Hollywood Hills, where he lives with his girlfriend. After our introduction, he gets up for a cigarette, leaving the webcam to linger over his boxer-shorted crotch as he rummages on the table for a lighter. When he’s finished smoking, he sprawls lengthways on the bed again, shovelling a smoked salmon omelette into his mouth as he chats.
The review was four years ago, but Jefferies remembers it clearly. ‘I’m not bothered if you didn’t like it,’ he insists. ‘That show sold 18,000 tickets. I just can’t be a one-star act. I can’t sell that many tickets if I’m shit. My second show got 11 four-star reviews,’ he throws in, as if to prove just how much he doesn’t care. ‘Are you gonna say I’m an arsehole in this article?’
No one said he was an arsehole. But he is, without question, a crowd divider. To some he’s a brave stand-up who simply speaks his mind; to others, he’s a homophobic, misogynistic, drunk bully. So how much of the obnoxious schtick is exaggeration? ‘It’s all exaggerated, but it’s all real too. I believe in all my jokes, but not 24-hours a day. If I say something slightly bigoted, that’s from an emotion that I’ve had for five seconds during a fight. I try to recreate it on stage, and get the same level of anger again.’ He laughs a bit at himself. ‘Christ, no one could function in society if you felt like that all the time.’
And does he care about the people who don’t get it? ‘I don’t need to win back those who walk out. What’s the point? When I was playing clubs in Britain, there were other comedians who got better responses than me, but no one remembered their name. I like that there’s people who have arguments about me with their friends. I was never going to be a comedian that everyone likes. You can’t pussy away from certain things.’
In life, as in his comedy, he’s unapologetic. But he does, after some cajoling, admit that his shows can be hit or miss. ‘When I’m drunk, I’ve done some of the best gigs of my life and I’ve also had some of my biggest disasters.’ He won’t be drinking onstage in Edinburgh this year. After giving up booze completely for eight months, he drinks occasionally now, but considers himself less of a barfly, and more a clean-living, hard-working office guy.
He’s swapped the four-day benders for 9-to-5 scriptwriting shifts. And it’s paid off, having just scored his own US sitcom, Legit, which will air on FX, the same channel which houses Louis CK and Russell Brand. The pilot episode features Jefferies (essentially playing himself) taking his room-mate, who has muscular dystrophy, to a brothel.
His new Edinburgh show, Fully Functional, is the follow-up to 2010’s Alcoholocaust. ‘I’ve got the best handle on drinking that I’ve had in 15 years. I’m a proper human now. I won’t say I don’t have a drinking problem, and maybe now I won’t be able to do those “sublime” shows, where everyone’s drunk. But I also won’t be getting escorted off stage either.’
He’s excited about coming back, and will be bringing his girlfriend, who is expecting his child later this year. ‘We both used to be good drinkers, but we’d rather stay home and have a nice meal now.’ She’ll be heavily pregnant, Jefferies points out. ‘But fuck her, I’ll still have her out flyering for me.’ For a second there, it almost seemed like he was going soft.
Jim Jefferies: Fully Functional, Assembly Hall, 623 3030, 4–26 Aug (not 13), 9pm, £16–£17.50 (£15–£16). Previews 2 & 3 Aug, £10.