In the last ten years Jim Jefferies has been making a slow shift from booze-fueled raunch to slightly-more-sober social commentary. The shift became undeniable in Jefferies’$2 2014 special Bare, which featured his 15-minute bit on gun control, a bit that continues to pop back into circulation every time a mass shooting occurs. Next came Freedumb, an even more politically charged hour that revisited gun control and addressed Trump, ISIS, and the American concept of freedom. Now he continues the trend as the host of Comedy Central’s latest culture and politics news show The Jim Jefferies Show (Tuesdays at 10:30/9:30c) where each week he takes a seat at the desk to break down current events from an outsider perspective. I talked to Jim the day after the show’s premiere about his new gig, the positive side of sparking debate, and comedy as a tool for social change.
The last time you and I talked was when Bare was coming out. How have the last three years been treating you?
Busy. I feel like my life has changed in a big way. I’m a single dad and a TV host now. I never thought I would be a TV host. I always had my eye on acting. Turns out I probably wasn’t that great an actor. My decision to stop acting wasn’t made by me. It was made by the general public. Let’s see if they decide to stop me from being a TV host as well. Happily, people still want to see me do standup no matter what. If all else fails I’ll still be a standup, which is still my favorite thing to do in the world.
Are you still personally interested in pursuing acting?
Yeah, I still do auditions, but I can’t do them at the moment because even if I got a role I can’t do it. I’m not available. I hear that James Corden gets asked to do acting roles all the time, but he’s not in many films because he’s working every night. I’ve got another job at the moment, so acting is put on hold. I’m just working my ass off on this show. I’ve got to take my hat off to The Daily Show, Trevor Noah, and Jon Stewart. How they did that everyday…unbelievable. I felt like I ran a marathon just getting to last night. I let myself relax last night and have a few drinks at the after party. It was like being at my own wedding. There was a party for my TV show and I had to go around and thank everybody for coming. I think I was the last person to leave the party because when everyone left I just sat on the couch in the corner and had a quiet moment to myself, a couple of beers, and contemplated what had just happened. It all went by like a blur. That’s what people say about their own weddings. It goes by and you don’t even remember it yourself. You have to look at all the photos.
It sounds like that scene in Father of the Bride where Steve Martin is sitting in his house after the wedding. The day has gone by, he missed saying goodbye to his daughter, he’s all alone, there’s shit everywhere, he’s exhausted. Is that how you felt?
That’s exactly how I felt. I woke up today with a little bit of a hangover – not a severe one, but a bit of a hangover. I haven’t been drinking much lately, so I haven’t had a hangover in quite a while. I woke up and was like, “God, I used to have these three days a week.” But I woke up and came straight back to the office and after I get off the phone with you I’m going to go to the writers’ room to say, “Okay, what are we doing next Tuesday?” It’s very rare in standup comedy that you have deadlines. Those are deadlines like, “I’m filming my special on this particular day.” Those are deadlines that feel like you’ve been given a school assignment that you have to turn in every 18 months. But this is…by Monday I have to have a script and I have to know it and be ready to go for Tuesday. I’m enjoying being a proper worker. I’m enjoying the idea of not being by myself all the time. Standup is very selfish. You travel by yourself, show up by yourself, do your show. You might have an opening act and a road manager, but that’s about it. With this there’s a team of people. I go around and check out what everyone’s doing. It’s nice! It’s nice being in an office where we have a lunch break and all that sort of stuff. It’s different. I’ve never done this in my whole life.
Standup comedy creates a sense of independence because it’s all about you. Now that you’re working with a team do you feel that you’re the kind of person who plays well with others?
I hope I play well with others. From what I hear from people who work in TV, often - and I say this very loosely - the star of the show can be a bit of an asshole. But I understand why they’re a bit of an asshole because everyone’s job in the building relies on me working hard. If I fuck up they’re all out of a job. I have more pressure than they do. I don’t know if they see that or not. I don’t think I’m an asshole, but no one’s going to tell me if I am. I think I play well with others. Still, when it comes down to it, when the script is turned in, I’m approving everything. It’s not like I’m a TV presenter on Entertainment Tonight where I’m saying whatever is handed to me. I’m still going, “I don’t like that joke. I like that joke.” I’m writing a lot of the jokes myself. The buck definitely does stop here. I’m taking full responsibility for anything I say on the show. I’m never going to hide behind, “Oh, one of my writers wrote that for me.”
Your last special Freedumb was very political and now you’re hosting a news show. Why do you think that yours is a good voice to discuss American politics?
That’s a good question. I don’t think I’m more qualified than anyone else on the planet, but I also don’t think I’m less qualified. These shows call themselves topical news shows, but they’re not news. The news is meant to be impartial. The news is meant to be someone telling you what’s happened and giving you the facts. These are think pieces. These are opinions. What I hope is that people enjoy watching me give my opinion. Over the years, whether I have talked about gun control or Trump, people have enjoyed it. Also, people have despised some of my opinions. That’s good as well. I think a big secret to success is to be polarizing. If you get enough people to hate you you’ll get enough people to love you. A debate will happen and as soon as people start talking about you people will start listening to you. It’s good that people are arguing. It means that we are all involved.
What is your end goal with tackling all this material? Clearly it’s become your job, but you do so much of it it seems there might be something greater…
The idea of social change is a very nice thing. I don’t think comedians have the ability to change society in the sense that they will say something and all of the sudden laws will be put into place. I don’t think we have that much power, but I definitely think that comedy is the best way to start a difficult conversation. Even what I did with the gun thing…I made a few points there where even if you didn’t agree with it, you could see my angle and have a bit of a laugh with it. If you’re at Thanksgiving and your uncle is talking about guns, maybe you could use a couple of those jokes yourself to get your point across without going, “You’re wrong and I’m right.” I didn’t become an atheist because of George Carlin, but he definitely helped me along.