Tom Green interview - Canadian comedian brings stand-up show to Edinburgh
Shock humour actor from internet show and Freddy Got Fingered
This article is from 2011.
He was the original television prankster, a former Mr Drew Barrymore and the brains behind the universally reviled Freddy Got Fingered. Canada’s Tom Green tells Jay Richardson a thing or three about notoriety
When the bestiality-heavy, incest-evoking, gross-out cult Freddy Got Fingered won Worst Picture, Worst Actor, Worst Director, Worst Screenplay and Worst On-Screen Couple at the Golden Raspberry Awards, Tom Green became the first actor in history to accept his awards in person, turning up at the ceremony in a white Cadillac and tuxedo, before rolling out his own red carpet. He was unceremoniously dragged away from his acceptance speech still playing the harmonica.
In 2001, only Osama Bin Laden provoked more revulsion and hatred in America. So it was bizarrely apposite that Green was first to break the news of the al-Qaeda leader’s death. Announcing it on Twitter, the Canadian comic pre-empted President Obama and the world’s media by several minutes. Of this truly 21st century coup, he maintains, ‘you never saw CNN reporting the fact that “Tom Green, the guy that humped the dead moose, scooped us”. Nobody wanted to admit that.’
Arriving in Scotland for the first time to perform stand-up at the Fringe, Green is hoping to ruffle more feathers and frighten more horses than the ill-fated equine he once infamously pleasured on celluloid, promising a ‘dangerous, crazy show, man. It’s so nice to be able to get up on stage and just say the most disgusting, ridiculous, outrageous, offensive thing, knowing it’s just between you and the audience,’ he reflects. ‘People say to me that stand-up’s a more “traditional” form of comedy than I’ve done in the past. But that makes me cringe, because I like to push buttons and talk about things you can’t really talk about on television. Whenever you go on TV, there are so many checks and balances, it’s a big business with a lot of rules. Stand-up is intimate and the freest, most lawless place I’ve ever been able to go.’
Green started performing stand-up at 15 but gave it up to pursue a brief rapping career. After hosting comedy call-in shows on college radio, in 1994 he progressed to The Tom Green Show on public access television in Ottawa, where the outrageousness of his pre-taped stunts led to the show being picked up by MTV. Long before Sacha Baron Cohen began harassing the public as Borat or Bruno, or Jackass were shattering their families’ sleep with juvenile imbecility, Green – who turns 40 just before the Fringe starts – was conducting vox pops with dog faeces on the mic and depositing a cow’s head in his parents’ bed as they snored.
‘I have a real close relationship with my parents and yeah, they forgave me for most of that stuff, shortly after each bit was filmed actually,’ he recalls. ‘Of course, I’d get them in the dead of night when they weren’t able to rationalise what was going on.’ Fame delivered roles in Hollywood movies like Road Trip and in Charlie’s Angels after producer Drew Barrymore, who was a fan, requested his presence in the blockbuster. She reciprocated by appearing in Freddy and the pair married in July 2001, though they split less than six months later.
When he returned to stand-up two years ago, he toyed with satisfying prurient interest in their relationship and his recovery from testicular cancer, despite having previously screened graphic footage of his surgery in The Tom Green Cancer Special. ‘I don’t really talk about my divorce anymore, I stopped about six months ago,’ he says. ‘When I started doing stand-up again, I had this insecurity that “everybody’s thinking about this, I better talk about it”. But I do a lot less of the self-deprecating stuff now. I realised that the audience and I have a lot more fun if I keep it aggressive and positive. That’s not to say my previous marriage doesn’t come up but I never plan on it. I do sometimes talk about my cancer because that’s something people relate to a lot, as we’re all going to die. Because I’ve been close to death and won, I have strong opinions about it and I’ve learned how to discuss it and keep the energy high in the show.’
Seeing him reflect upon the Bin Laden exclusive from his living room in the Hollywood Hills, via his ground-breaking, hugely popular internet call-in show, Tom Green’s House Tonight, afforded a surreal clash of genuine historical significance and irreverent, cigar-smoking triumphalism. He alluded enigmatically to ‘his sources’, pointed to a recent stint in Afghanistan entertaining the troops, yet admits that the story derived from a combination of being ‘plugged in to internet chatter’ and educated guesswork.
This atypically close relationship with his fans across the world and the web, engaging with them via Skype on the show, supplements the fact that he’s at ease documenting every element of his life. He carries a video camera with him to most places, if not a small camera crew, and has been busy shooting his stand-up odyssey. ‘I’ve been touring by myself for the last few weeks and enjoying the feeling of being a lone wolf, a road warrior,’ he admits. ‘But I’ve never been to Scotland before and I’m hugely excited, so I’ll be bringing cameras, for sure. I’ve already shot so much footage, maybe 400 hours.’
Happy to chat and pose for photographs after gigs, he looks less favourably upon those who shoot their own footage, just as he does with those interrupting his flow with lines plucked from Freddy. ‘I like to get into a rhythm and hit the punchlines just right; it’s like I’m still rapping. So while I think I’ve got better at controlling it, if someone blurts out “daddy, would you like some sausage?”, I find it harder to get into the pocket. And I’ll just go right after those people filming on their phones, hard, because we’ve got to watch we don’t get too sucked into all this technological craze that’s going on right now. A big part of the show is about how it’s destroying our privacy: Facebook, cellphones and cameras have changed the landscape of the world we’re living in.’
He might even go so far as to transport his chat show (which has hosted the likes of Pamela Anderson, Val Kilmer and Thora Birch) out of his living room. He claims Tom Green’s House Tonight has received up to 8m views an episode, ‘far, far more than I ever got on MTV’, and he intends to expand the channel into a self-funding network by autumn. Hosting the shows of friends like fellow Fringe attendee Neil Hamburger, he’ll only be syndicating on to TV as an afterthought. ‘Television’s dead man, television’s dead. Get ready because here we come: a 24-hour-a-day internet network full of straight-up stupidity!’
Tom Green: World Comedy Tour, Udderbelly’s Pasture, Bristo Square, 0844 545 8252, 6–14 Aug, 10.55pm, £13–£15 (£12–£14). Previews 3–5 Aug, £10.