comics talk to comics

Jim Jefferies Talks With Anthony Jeselnik About Being ‘the Gun Guy,’ How to Remain Offensive, and Dating Comedians

Photo-Illustration: Kelly Chiello and Photos by Getty Images

Though comedians Jim Jefferies and Anthony Jeselnik have very different writing styles, personas, and deliveries, their jokes share one very important quality: They offend people. Thirty-nine-year-old Aussie Jefferies, who now lives and works in the U.S., comes across like a charismatic drinking buddy with a penchant for popping off at the mouth. Whether he’s telling debauched stories about prostitutes and blow, or knocking the American obsession with guns — as he famously did for 16 minutes in his special, Bare — it’s easy to be charmed by him in spite of his mouth. Jeselnik is something of a dark prince, calmly dispensing depraved one-liners (“Yesterday I accidentally hit a little kid with my car. It wasn’t serious — nobody saw me.”) and following up with a sidelong smirk that dares his audience to protest. A few months after the release of Jefferies’s Freedumb, and nearly one year after Jeselnik’s Thoughts and Prayers premiered — both on Netflix — the two comics talked about reacting to tragedy, responding to hate mail, and how to deal with the ire of frustrated family members.

Anthony Jeselnik: Jim, we like and respect each other, but we don’t really know each other.
Jim Jefferies: We like and respect each other. We once had an afternoon meal at Jimmy Carr’s house, and a cab ride. And we get along — I’d say we do.

But what I did was, I actually watched your special. I try not to watch specials. Do you watch other people’s stuff?
I used to watch everybody’s stuff but I found I would get slightly influenced by the other comics. I try to avoid it now. I have seen your Thoughts and Prayers, but I have not seen anything else.

Yeah, watching your newest special, I could tell that you had seen Thoughts and Prayers … recently. Seemed like a lot of that stuff was, I don’t want to say stolen but, certainly influenced by …
[Laughs.] I watched it after, mind you. Now, I’m really terrible at tweeting because I’ve got bad grammar and can hardly fuckin’ spell and I’m a moron and I don’t know the difference between their and there, and that type of bullshit. But the funny thing is, whenever I tweet something I think is kind of poignant, one of your fans will weasel up to me and go, “Well, Anthony already said it better.” And you’re like, “Fuck off, cunt.”

Yeah, I own that now. You can’t comment on hypocriticism during a tragedy without stepping on my territory.
I’m the same way. If you mention guns, you can fuck off, because I’m the gun guy.

I don’t want to say the gun bit is your biggest thing ever, but it is a big moment for you. Almost in the same way that Bill Burr’s big meltdown against Philadelphia become his calling card for a while. You’re obviously proud of that bit, but does it bother you that people are like, Jim Jefferies is the gun guy now?
I’m proud of that bit, but every time I do a radio interview, they always go, “We’re going to ask you a few questions, and we might bring up guns.” And I’m like, “I’ve said it. How much more do you think I’ve got on it? Do you think I’ve got another 16 minute routine I’m going to churn out?” Each time there’s a massacre or something, I get people writing to me, “Jim, I’m playing your bit again.” But during something like the truck incident in Nice, do you get people going, “Look at my dickhead friend, who’s acting like they’re upset?”

No, I get, “Where’s your joke for this one?” It’ll be five people who’ll be like, “Where is it?” I used to be like, I need that joke. Now I just ignore it. If I have a joke, I’ll tweet it. If I don’t, I don’t care what those people want. Being offensive is being surprising. So once you’ve let that cat out of the bag, you can’t be offensive in the same way.
Do you have any relatives that are upset with you, that have written you off a little bit?

I’ve got some religious relatives who, in the beginning, were so proud of me. Then they would watch things and be like, “You know, if your grandfather was alive he would kill you for this.” And I’m like, lucky me, he’s been gone for quite some time.
[Laughs.] Even in his last few years, he really couldn’t have taken you.

Exactly. I’ve kind of rejected the religion of my family. They’re not thrilled with that, but they’re thrilled with me. My mom used to say, “Oh, I didn’t like that one joke.” And I’d be like, “You can’t say that.” Everyone else criticizes me, and that’s fine, but my mother has to be good. And they’ve learned. How about you?
Well, my mother, I ripped into her a lot. She has a nickname in one of my early sets called Gunther, after an elephant I saw at the zoo when I was a kid. So it’s gotten to a weird stage with her where she can’t come to gigs anymore because the audience knows exactly who she is: She’s the 300-pound woman with the walking frame and the oxygen tank that people are chanting the elephant’s name to. She can’t really go. I have an uncle I no longer talk to because of a joke I made about my grandmother, who is his mother. He’s an 80-year-old man upset about a woman who died 15 years ago.

That seems like a guy who didn’t like you already and was just looking for a reason to stop talking to you.
Yeah, he didn’t particularly like me as a kid. Another bad one is my girlfriend, who is the mother of my kid. She’s the youngest of seven. All of her relatives are super-religious Trump supporters and about five of them think I’m the devil. My mother-in-law won’t stay in my house. She comes to visit the kid and Kate, my girlfriend, but she stays in a hotel down the road. And she goes, “I won’t stay in the house whilst you two aren’t married.” and I’m like, “Well, a lot of incentive not to get married. You’re going to stay in a shitty hotel, are you? Don’t hurt me.”

You talk a lot about your kid in this hour. Maybe you mentioned your son in your last hour?
I mentioned him in the hour before because he was just born and didn’t have a lot going on. But yeah, it’s what you’ve got to talk about when you live with a woman and you have a kid with her, and she doesn’t want you telling stories about having one-night stands and taking drugs anymore. My girlfriend is like, “Why are you always so mean about me and Hank?” Because you live in this big house for fucking free. If you could find another way to contribute without me just saying horrible things about you, then go ahead.

My girlfriend’s dated a lot of celebrities before me. I’m at the end of her run of famous people, I think. But you dated Amy Schumer! How was dating a comedian? I dated a comedian for about two months and I thought it was hard work.

Yeah, I mean, the best parts of dating a comedian are the dangerous parts, like, This is going to blow up in my face. And then when it’s over, you’re like, Oh, that’s why you’re not supposed to do that. It was fun for a couple of years, but lesson learned.
Did either of you do material about each other or did you sort of leave it be?

She would never say my name, but she had a couple of bits about me. I handle it better. If it’s for your art, go ahead and do it. But it was not a two-way street. I’d be like, “What if I said this?” It was like, “Don’t you ever dare.” Sometimes I would come up with a joke, and I would say, “What about this joke?” And she’d look at me like crazy and be like, “I’ve been doing that joke for a year.” And then I’m in trouble not just because I haven’t been paying attention to her act, but because I’ve subliminally stolen this joke, and that would be an argument for sure.
I dated a girl for about a year. I met her through another comedian and she said, “I used to do comedy. I wasn’t very good at it. I did it for about six months.” And then after I broke up with her, she took up comedy again because she wanted to say horrible shit about me. She should thank me because she’s still doing it now for a job!

Back to talking about your kid. A lot of comics have kids and they start talking about them immediately. Are you worried about becoming a total pussy?
Of course I am. I just do whatever’s going on in my life. Like, there’ll probably be an impending break-up and divorce and me ruining him one day. And I’ll talk about that. But of course I’m worried about becoming a pussy. I’ve lost a little bit of my edge having a kid.

I was actually joking. I thought you dodged that.
Yeah, but you don’t know how much I’m editing out. I’m doing the stuff about him shitting and the stuff about him being a bit of a moron, and lots of other stuff, but as a proud dad, I really want to be onstage going, “He said something that was so cute.” But I stop myself. [Laughs.] I’ve got a couple of other parent friends I can tell those jokes to, and then the rest of it, I’m like, I’m not Ray Romano.

When the kid becomes the comic and you’re just kind of repeating what they say, that’s when everybody’s like, “Aw, Jesus, Jim.” Another thing I love, when you talk about the Cosby thing, and you just stop and say, “I’m not pro-rape. If you want my opinion, here’s my opinion: I don’t want Bill Cosby to rape me.” People are starting to get upset and you make them feel stupid for ever being offended.
Sadly, the reason I had to write that line was because of the people who started protesting me in Australia. People were writing articles about me that were just, “Jim believes women should enjoy being drugged by men.” I went, I have to tell these people I’m joking. I have to actually say it. I felt like I had to do it. And then, as I did it, I went, Oh okay, now no one can complain about the joke. Hopefully they did feel stupid. But then you get that thing in your head, Well, maybe I should just have a disclaimer for everything. You can’t spend your life fucking worried about the morons.

How much do you enjoy upsetting some people? I like to tweak them a little. I don’t want anyone to feel safe, even if they’re fans.
I don’t want anyone feeling so upset that they have to leave. What I like is if someone’s in a group of six, and one person is really, really upset, and the rest of the group is still with me. They’re having that awkward night afterward. I always get that letter, “I brought this person along, they fucking hated you, but I had a great time.” Do you respond to your hate mail, if you get any at all?

No. It’s funny, but I find the response that they want is just for you to acknowledge them. They don’t really want to talk about it. They just want you to say, “I acknowledge that you’re there.” They’re like, “Oh, Jim Jefferies just emailed me!” So I never respond to hate mail or fan mail.
I slip up about once a month, when I just can’t help myself. If someone writes lies to you, they’re going, “And you said this, and you should feel ashamed …” I’ll write back, “That’s not what I said!” I’m the same way with fan mail. You watch old documentaries where the Beatles responded to every single letter that came to them. And there were thousands and thousands of them every day.

I feel like maybe, in the paper and pen days, it was easier than we have it now, when we have Facebook and everything is instantaneous. Because if someone writes you a letter, “I’m a big fan, I just saw you in Boise and had a great time,” and you write, “Thanks, I appreciate that,” and they write another message, you seem like a bigger cunt because they know that you’ve acknowledged the first one and then you’ve ignored the second one. So it’s better to just let them think that you’ve ignored everything.

Agreed. It’s funny that you mentioned the Beatles, because I read that the Rolling Stones had a policy: We don’t care what you write. We’re never going to sue you, we’re never going to make a statement about it. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not, we’re just not going to acknowledge it. I thought that was a cooler way to get through it.
What’s your favorite band of all time?

Today, I would say Run the Jewels, but of all time, I might have to go with the White Stripes. What about you?
It’s the Beatles, yeah. I once had a chance to meet what’s-his-name, Jack White. They played [the bass line of Seven Nations Army] at a Dodgers game, trying to hype the audience up. They show his face on the big screen, and then they pan out, and they show Conan [O’Brien], so him and Conan had gone to the game together. I was sitting three rows behind and I’m like, “That’s the six-foot-eight ginger guy who’s blocking my view.” I was with my girlfriend, and my baby was three months old and strapped to my chest in a baby carrier. I said to my girlfriend, “I know Conan, I’ve done his show twice. I’ll go talk to Conan and I’ll get to meet Jack White.” This is all working out fine. And I walked up with my baby strapped to my chest and said, “Hey!” And then Conan turned his head, and he looked at me with no recognition whatsoever, and I chickened out. I acted like I was looking two people past him, and I said, “Mike! Yeah, I’m a few rows back! I’ll, uh, no — I’ll speak to you afterwards. Alright? Yeah, yeah, it’s a good game!” and then I wandered away. That’s my meeting with him.

[Laughs.] Have you seen him since then and told him that story?
I’ve told Conan the story since then. It’s funny because I said, “I was at this game, this playoff game, the Dodgers versus …” and he goes, “I was at that game!” And I’m like, “Yeah, I know you were.” He’s a nice bloke, though.

Last question: How do you develop your material? You don’t seem like a guy who writes anything down.
I’ve never had a notebook or anything. I tell the story four to five times to friends or people in bars, and then tell it onstage. I never do a whole new set of new material, I do one new joke at a time and I wedge it in between two good jokes. Or if it’s a long story, I don’t do it in L.A. or New York, I do it in Kansas and Omaha, all these places I’m going this weekend.

Listen, Jim, this has been a lot of fun. I’m sure a lot more fun than you expected it to be. I’ve got to go, I’ve got to catch a flight.
Where to?

I’m off to Outside Lands. It’s a music festival where everyone watching me is just getting out of the sun for 20 minutes, and they hate me. I get blank stares from girls dressed like Pocahontas. Where will you be?
I’m in Kansas, Omaha, and Des Moines. So I’ll be drinking.

Yes, you certainly will. Well, listen, congrats on the special, it’s fantastic as always, and I hope to see you soon. We’ll be better friends now.
I enjoyed it as well, man.

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

Jim Jefferies Talks with Anthony Jeselnik