What Jim Jefferies does is going to be different.
That’s what the Australian comic keeps stressing during an interview about his new weekly Comedy Central series, The Jim Jefferies Show, debuting Tuesday at 10:30 p.m. A half-hour look at current events mixed with prerecorded reported pieces from the field, it may be the natural next step for the stand-up comedian and former star of FX’s Legit, whose recent Netflix specials have been notable for their commentaries on gun control (see Jim Jefferies: Bare) and Trump’s politics (see: Jim Jefferies: FreeDumb). As for his appearance on Real Time With Bill Maher last February, that was notable because Jefferies told fellow guest Piers Morgan to fuck off.
That outspokenness will inform his new show, which is entering a landscape already crowded with shows attempting to find gallows humor in the barrage of daily Trump-related Twitter gaffes and controversies. During a visit to Washington, D.C. — one that happened to take place two days after Trump fired James Comey as FBI director, and during which Jefferies, an L.A. resident, was planning to meet with the ambassador of Azerbaijan for a future segment — he discussed what will set his series apart from other late-night shows that riff on the news, what it was like to take the Melania Trump tour, and his evolution into political comedy.
I want to ask what everyone is probably going to ask: Why do we need another show like this, and what are you going to bring to the table that’s different from what Trevor Noah or Sam Bee or John Oliver brings?
The difference is all those shows have names like Today, Tomorrow, Tonight, and then the Full Frontal. It’s like, these aren’t new concepts to those shows either. The difference will be me. The show’s going to be more international, and we’re going to go for funny more than some of the other shows. I feel like, I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus, but one of the shows is so left that it’s just yelling at you left ideals all the time, and the other one is talking down to you a little bit. Ours will be a little bit more jokey. But this idea that there are already shows that exist like this — then why should we ever make another action movie because we’ve already had hundreds of them? Why should you interview me when Barbara Walters has already interviewed people? You know what I mean? There’s room for everyone to do this, you know.
So I watched the pilot. You must have taped that between the election and the inauguration based on what I was gathering.
We did that in the first week of December.
Obviously the content is going to change because that was a few months ago.
When we were writing the show, we were writing it with the idea that Trump wouldn’t win. I wanted to stay away from talking about Trump or anything like that, and then we were in the office when the election started. We were like, “Oh, wow, he’s about to win Florida.” Then we’re like, “Oh, wow, we’d better change the whole script.” [Laughs.] Everything changed in that moment obviously. I don’t want to just talk about Trump every episode either, but you can’t have a week like this week and not talk about [James] Comey or even [Sean] Spicer hiding behind the bushes or whatever.
In terms of the basic format and structure, which is generally you discussing issues from behind a desk, plus prerecorded pieces, is it going to be fairly similar to what was in that pilot?
There are a few changes. I am still going to do all those international field pieces. Other shows have correspondents and I’ll be doing my own correspondent work — unless it gets to be too much trouble. But we just went to Slovenia and visited Melania Trump’s hometown.
Yeah, I did a tour of everything Melania.
Is there actually an official Melania tour?
Well, there was an official tour, and they thought the tourism would be a big thing, but on the day that I showed up — and we didn’t direct it this way — I was the only person who wanted to take the tour. It was just me, and this guy’s talking about how tourism has doubled. I was the only person who showed up that day.
Did they know who you were and that you were doing it for a TV show?
They knew there was going to be a TV camera, so he does two tours a day and then two people showed up after my tour for the next one. I was thinking there was going to be a bus — no.
We [also] went to Australia and visited the Great Barrier Reef. We saw the coral bleaching. So that’ll be an environmental episode. There will be bigger, sweeping subjects. There will never be anything where the whole episode is just the news that week. We will have prepared pieces for every single one of the ten episodes.
Sorry, I’m fascinated by this Melania thing. Where does one go on a Melania tour?
It’s the little town of Sevnica, and it’s about an hour and a half drive out of Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. But it’s also just an hour-and-a-half drive away from Venice, so there’s no real point to go there. Tourism has never been there. It has a castle.
On the tour you see the school she went to. They took me to a cake store she would have bought cake from. Her parents’ house. It’s a very mundane trip. I don’t recommend anyone going. I feel like me showing the American public this tour will actually put the tour out of business.
Did the tour exist before Trump was elected?
No. I spoke to [Melania’s] lawyer and she was a very nice lady. There was, to begin with, a billboard up with “The Hometown of Melania.” Then there were a few commemorative plates and spoons and stuff like that. By the time we got there that was all gone. The Trumps had gone in there and said no to anything saying the word Trump on it. So anything now is like, you go into a cake store and there will be the Melania Cake, or someone’s made a bar of soap, or there’s a Trump hamburger, but they have to change the name to “the Presidential Burger.” Every product was perishable. I don’t know what they were so worried about. It’s not like it was going to be there forever.
Even the things you couldn’t eat were things like soap, as I said. There were no T-shirts or anything, it was all a storm in a teacup. The idea that they sent lawyers in there to stop this was ridiculous. It’s also creating jobs in this tiny village.
That’s really interesting.
It was quite a beautiful place.
I want to back up: When and how was the show conceived?
Basically, I was never really a political comic. Then I had a routine on gun control that probably got close to 100 million hits because it got put on the internet and then taken down, then put on the internet and taken down, then put on the internet and taken down. Most of the reason it got taken down was because Netflix didn’t want their content being put up online, but I think there was a bit of — I don’t know if mythology is the right word — but there was a bit of hype that maybe it was the gun people taking it down. I didn’t let anyone think differently. [Laughs.]
For me that was just a little 15-minute routine, and that sort of went viral. Overnight my whole audience changed, because I used to be a guy who told dirty jokes and long-winded stories. Now I had this one routine, and then I did a routine in my next special about Trump that I really didn’t think would go anywhere. Actually the people at Netflix said to me, “Maybe you shouldn’t do that routine because by the time this special comes out, he’ll be irrelevant in a couple of months.” It turns out that wasn’t the case.
Was the interest in that gun control bit what made you think you should do political stuff?
I started getting put on a lot of TV shows to talk about things. Every time a massacre would happen, newspapers would ring me up for my opinion. My opinion was stated in a 16-minute routine. It already exists. I can say it again in different forms for you or something like that.
I was doing so many of these shows, talking about things. I started to think, “Well, yeah, I could do this for myself.” It wasn’t a hard pitch to just go to Comedy Central. I didn’t want to do the [Larry] Wilmore spot if he was leaving, because I didn’t want to move to New York. To do a nightly show you have to do it from New York because of time zone problems. You can’t do a nightly show from L.A. I said, “Look, if you’re interested, I’d like to do a once-a-week show.” They bought it the next day and we were off making a pilot.
I’m very optimistic that it’s going to do quite well. The only other TV show that I’ve had before this was a sitcom on FX.
Yeah, which the critics liked but it didn’t get great ratings. It was moved to different channels, then it had a life on Netflix. Now I guess I’m becoming a political comic? That wasn’t always my idea of what I was going to be, but you get older and you move and …. When I was 23, I didn’t have much of an interest in politics. All of my interests were in partying and meeting girls and doing stand-up. That’s all I cared about. Now when you have a kid and stuff, you start watching the news and say, “They shouldn’t take money away from this education department.” You start having much more exact opinions. It was only about maybe five or six years ago that I actually became a news junkie. Now I reckon I consume more news than anyone I know. I have CNN or Fox. I watch both of those in the background.
All day on in the background in my office. I’ll look at stuff online. I read papers and articles. It’s not even a chore to me now, I kind of enjoy it. It’s this weird thing and you watch it like sport. I enjoy the outrage: “I can’t believe that this politician is doing this.” I used to find it tedious or people who talked about it tedious. That’s changed for me now.
It does change as you get older. I also think that at this particular moment, a lot of people who would not consider themselves political are becoming political.
I’ve seen people around me who weren’t political before. My ex used to never be into politics and now she texts me every day like, “Did you see what just happened?”
Now she’s marching in the streets.Yeah! She did! She went marching in the streets. The election and what happened after the election also changed how I do stand-up comedy. I used to do a lot of misogynistic jokes that I thought were tongue-in-cheek but everyone understood I was joking. Then after the Women’s March and this I thought, I’m not going to do those jokes anymore. Also something weird happened with comedy around when Trump was elected where comedians were being told, “You said A, B, C, and D, and what did you mean by that?” We would come back with, “We’re joking.” Then Donald Trump would actually say something and we were just told that he was joking. [Laughs.]
You said earlier that in terms of what you talk about in every episode, you don’t want to necessarily lean too heavily on talking about Trump and his administration. How do you figure out that balance?
I’m only going to talk about him on the days that something big happens. So when Comey gets fired, that’s fine.
I’m not a big Trump fan. I’m not going to lie to anyone and say I am. [But] when, or if, he does things right, I’m going to go out of my way to mention it. If you’ve ever been a schoolteacher to troubled kids, there’s this whole “you’re an idiot, it’s not working for anyone,” so, if he nails it one day I look forward to, “All right, that was a good executive order.” For instance, I know, I’m not in total disagreement of dropping the bomb in Afghanistan – the mother of all bombs. I wasn’t in total disagreement with that. I think if you looked at what was going on: They knew that the terrorists were there and such and such. It can be blown up as, “He dropped the biggest bomb since World War II,” and it’s very easy to get clouded by words and stuff.
I don’t think that I am a lefty in the sense that I grew up in countries that have a universal health-care system, but I also think that I’m a little right in other directions. I also think that — in regards to the whole health-care thing — that yeah, they should repeal and replace Obamacare with universal health care. I don’t think that their health-care plan worked either. What he’s doing sounds worse to me, but I don’t think that having the private sector involved with it in any way is the right way of doing it.
I had a head injury when I was living in England; I was in the hospital for three days and they didn’t even ask for my name, I spent three days in there. And then when I was done, I just got up and left. I wasn’t a British citizen; I was there on a work permit.
So they just covered the cost of the whole thing?
They didn’t even make me sign anything!
It’s like, can you imagine? That would be as a tourist, you could do that.
So you’re going to record at 1 o’clock every day, West Coast time, for a Tuesday-night broadcast. One of the challenging things for anyone doing this type of show is that there’s so much happening. Like, if the Comey firing story breaks at 5:30 p.m., do you just go, “Oh, well, we’re just going to have to do that next week”?
So we’re airing on a Tuesday, and I feel like if we miss out on something that happens on 5 o’clock Tuesday, we just don’t get that story. And then you’ve got to think with certain things, if something happens on Tuesday, will it still be relevant in seven days’ time, or will every bit of comedy be wrenched out of this thing by every late night show before it comes back around to us? I think there’s a lot of luck on what happens on your watch.
Let’s say the Comey firing happened and you were up and running, what would you do with that?
Well, I actually thought about that yesterday. I remember thinking, “I’m sort of glad that happened before.” Obviously, the news story there is, for me, picking through the lies. The whole idea that of course he didn’t [fire Comey] because of what the guy did to Hillary, it’s because he was under investigation and stuff. And then you work through some analogies and metaphors, and as ridiculous as it is, I try to find a solution. The solution is obviously ridiculous and wouldn’t work, but I try to make an argument for it that it would. I try to do that all the time, and that’s actually something I’m very conscious of.
I’m trying to come to every single subject we pick like I was doing debate in high-school, where even if you don’t agree with the thing, see if you can debate from the other angle. Then write it again and debate from that angle and see what’s the funniest thing that happens at the end.
My hope for this show is that we’re funnier than everyone else. That’s my biggest hope. I feel like a thing that I do well is that I get very complex subjects and big, large topics and I simplify them for everyone — not for the dumb, but for the smart as well. I would like to be the thinking man’s idiot or the idiot’s thinking man. You know what I mean?
Some of these shows take themselves very, very seriously, and I’m hoping we’re not going to be seen as taking ourselves too seriously.