Like the entire crew of Jackass shoved into a suit and a late-night show format, Tom Green has zero problem taking people into weird, disgusting, and uncomfortable territory. From public access to MTV to the ill-fated Freddy Got Fingered, Green has stuck to his own brand of Canadian lunacy for two decades.
It’s this writer’s opinion that Green was ahead of his time, and continues to be in a small respect. And having seen him recently, I can tell you with absolute confidence that he puts on one hell of a show.
I recently spoke to Green via phone about his latest efforts with touring as a standup and his “Webovision” online talk show.
So you’re currently on tour in the U.S.
Well, you know, I’m just having a blast right now doing standup and doing my Webovision show on the internet. It’s really an exciting time for me, and for comedy in general. And I’ve got this hilarious show that I’ve been touring with – and adding to – and I’m writing my next standup special now. I’m also filming for my next standup special, so I’ll have cameras with me. If you come down to the show, there’s a chance that you might even be able to be on the show. So it’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s just a really high energy, crazy, and ridiculous… goofy standup comedy show that is surely gonna be a lot of laughs. And I’m lookin’ forward to it.
What specifically makes 2015 an exciting time for comedy?
The internet has really changed the world in so many ways. It’s effected comedy in so many ways. You have artists now who are able to engage with their fans directly online, build a following, hold on to a following, create comedy, create television, create radio and podcasts, and “Webovision” as I call it. And just really get something completely independent of any corporate media, which is just a great thing. It used to be that the only way you could get a national following was to get an appearance on the Johnny Carson show. It was left open to a very select few that were able to obviously be funny enough but able to work the system enough to be able to get onto these shows. Now, you have people who (in a very democratic fashion) go out there with complete freedom and speak their mind, and the people decide who to embrace and who they want to be fans of.
I’ve been very fortunate to have built a huge following all around the world with my comedy. I started in traditional media certainly. I started out doing a public access show on television that got picked up by MTV and got broadcast all around the world. I’ve been very fortunate have all these great fans who have stuck with me over the last ten years as I’ve been doing a lot of experimental internet television. It’s really cool. So right now, I just built a TV studio here in Los Angeles that is gonna basically begin broadcasting a new kind of television. I call it “Webovision” because it’s interactive television. People can call in and be on the show on the their computers through Skype and on the telephone… and through Twitter and Facebook, they can interact with my audience live whenever we’re on the air.
So that’s been a very cool, experimental, and exciting thing that people are getting into right now. Then I go out on the road and me so many of the people… it’s funny… I’ll be doing standup. I’ll look out into the audience and I’ll recognize somebody that I’ve actually talked to on the internet before.
It’s like “You called me on Skype, and we had a conversation with Larry King,” or somebody really cool that’s been on my television show. So it’s been neat.
As the media you mentioned becomes more available to consumers, do you think that they will become overwhelmed by choice? Or do you think that tastemakers will always have that level of say, like Carson or Letterman?
Everyone will find what appeals to them. I think that there are more options, certainly. There are ways that things bubble to the surface on the internet. When something is “good” on the internet, people talk about it. Word of mouth spreads the word that something is funny or interesting or cool. Eventually it grows in popularity, and people will know about it that way. That’s just the new way that things will go viral essentially. But it’s a much more democratic world that we’re living in where you don’t necessarily have to be on TV to do a TV show or you don’t have to be on the radio to have a radio show. You’ve got podcasting and internet broadcasting.
And so much of being on television has always been political. If you were funny enough to get a TV show, you still have a lot of people who are better at working the system and getting the right agents, the right managers, the right producers, and the right networks to all communication effectively together to put you on those television slots that existed. Over the years,there’s been a lot of hilarious people that just slipped through the cracks that we never even got to hear about. But now with the internet, you can create your own business and do your own shows. If you put your mind to it, and work at it hard enough, you can build a huge following and not even have to deal with any of that stuff.
So it’s up to the responsibility of the comedian to make the audience know that there’s a marketplace for this sort of comedy. Is it fair to say that there are too many resources for driven comedians to fail in 2015?
I mean, that’s one way of looking at it, but I don’t think that you have to look at it like that. Where the audience has to feel obligated to have to work hard to find things. Certainly, if that’s your interests, if you want to dig into the shadows of the internet and find the obscure things, you can. But you know, I truly believe that the best stuff will percolate to the surface and people will hear about it naturally. I’m touring around the country, and my standup shows are selling out all around the world. That’s just because of “word of mouth,” and people heard the show was funny. It spreads on Facebook and Twitter, and people talk about it. And you know, now I’m talking to you, and I’m fortunate enough to have you write an article about it and tell more people about it.
That just comes from doing stuff that works. Then you end up getting in a position where people hear about it. Like right now.
It just seems that we live in an age of a “cascade of content” and that it can be tough to keep up with at times. At least in theory, it seems that people should never be bored with the options that we’re continuously promised. But talking about your model in particular, your website also has a pay component for special content?
We’re launching that soon. Right now, it’s all free. But there’s so much content that I’m producing and shooting at all times that we’re going to have an additional tier for people that just wanna see some really obscure things. Old clips, things like that. That just sort of helps us cover our budgets, maintain the website, hire who we need, pay rent on the studio, things like that. That’s just another option. But there’s so much content on [the website] that you don’t have to pay if you don’t want to. We’re gonna be launching the subscription service probably within the next month or so. That’s going to have a lot of really hard to find content. But you don’t have to pay to go there.
What inspired you to make everything available to your fans?
It was honestly just because you couldn’t do it. As soon as the technology became available, to actually do a television show and build a television studio yourself with consumer electronics and interact directly with the world live, I was so intrigued and amazed by it. I’ve always been into technology. I’ve always been into the latest gadgets. I started TomGreen.com in 1996 when I was doing the show on public access television. I was always waiting for the video to come to the internet, and it’s here now. I just had to take advantage of it and see what kind of fun we could have.
I started one of the first internet talk shows in 2005, and it was very successful. We did it from the living room in my house. Five years ago, I stopped doing it through my house and really began focusing on my touring and standup. I’m having a blast with that, but I do miss the television show, so we moved the studio into an actual studio space here in Los Angeles, and I got my living room back. You know, when I’m not on the road touring, I’m in LA doing live shows and sort of building this really cool platform.
What would you cite as the next trend for comedy?
I actually think it’s what we’re talking about. I don’t think it’s a single thing. I think it’s combined with traditional forms of comedy into this electronic footprint. We have a lot more people like me and many others who have their own fanbase and create this really cool independent business for themselves. You don’t necessarily need to get a hundred million viewers for your show. You can have a few million “superfans” who are following you, and then tour around the world and go directly to your consumer.
So you’re able to cut out the middleman?
Yeah. The audience has been fragmented into much smaller audiences. Like, when Johnny Carson was on TV, he had 25 million people tuning in every night of the week. That was the show that everybody would watch. Now, you have thousands of comedians having shows where they only have a hundred thousand viewers watching, or a couple hundred thousand viewers watching. But that’s enough to be able to support a few employees. Couple that with touring… you can actually have quite a healthy and successful career without ever being on television.
But standup comedy in general is making a huge resurgence. Look at the fact that so many people can now see so many different voices. People are looking for unique personalities. It’s also better for the audience, because not everyone likes the exact same thing. If Carson had a guest on that he didn’t give a crap about or was in a bad mood that day… he wasn’t necessarily for every single person on. So many people today want to find things that are “off the beaten track,” and now we have that opportunity to find strange and wacky voices.
With the amount of options, is there an amount of pressure for people to perform better?
People are much more media literate today. They know how the sausage is made as an audience. Some of the standard tricks for making television just don’t work anymore. So whether you’re at a show seeing someone work out a bit, or listening to a podcast and hear mistakes being made, I think we kind of like those imperfections now. We feel like we’re not being lied to as an audience. It feels very honest. So sometimes when you take traditional television introductions and throw them out into the world today, they can feel a bit forced. Audiences are looking for something different, and they want to listen to real conversations and honesty, as well as engage and interact.
Green is currently touring the US. Check out TomGreen.com for touring information, his podcast, and the Webovision program for fans to interact with him via social media and phone-in opportunities. You can subscribe to his YouTube channel and follow him @TomGreenLive.
Justin Stokes is a hack writer based in the Nashville area.