The hard-driving comedian takes on love and bananas, what the new Star Wars movies got wrong and the changing face of late night.
The Jim Jefferies Show debuted last year. What are the best and worst parts about having your own talk show?
You get to meet the people you want to meet. We just interviewed Noel Gallagher two days ago. The only reason he’s on the show is because he’s one of my favorite rock stars, but the interview turned out great. I asked him about stuff like Brexit, health care, the #MeToo movement, gun control. The worst part: I get far more abuse on the internet than I used to when I was doing my sitcom, Legit. Back then, the worst thing people would say was “This show’s not funny.” People didn’t hate-watch it. People do hate-watch this show, as they do with anything that’s opinion and news-based. Now they’re like, “Libtard!”
Your 2014 gun-control clip—in which you urge people to admit they’re pro-gun simply because guns are cool—went viral and arguably led to you getting your own political talk show. How do you look back on that bit?
What I like about the gun-control routine is that it gave people a lot of fun arguments to have at dinner parties, rather than just getting angry, yelling at each other and rattling off statistics. I wrote the whole thing the day after Sandy Hook. It came to me very quickly, because we were on the set of Legit, and I was having a debate with another actor, who was pro-gun. The whole routine came out of the argument we had over lunch. It actually would have been a one-off if people didn’t write me so much hate mail about it.
The New York Times called your brand of comedy “enlightened crudity.” How does that grab you?
Did they? That was nice of them. “Enlightened crudity”—yeah, I’ll take that as a compliment. I don’t see it as being crude, but I guess that’s what makes me crude. But enlightened? I don’t know if I’m enlightened—philosophical, maybe, but not enlightened. Like, I’m not saying it’s good philosophy. Back then there must have been, like, Plato, and then that other cunt you never heard of. I’m probably that other cunt you never heard of.
I heard you started out doing musical theater and opera when you were at university and only stopped because you damaged your vocal cords. True?
Yeah, I did a couple of summer opera gigs: Roméo et Juliette by Charles Gounod, in French, and The Flying Dutchman by Wagner. I was just in the chorus, in the back—a spear holder. But then I blew my throat out and had a couple of surgeries. I sometimes lie in interviews and say I have a degree in musical theater, but I never finished.
So was comedy your backup plan?
No, I always wanted to be a comedian. I was just doing theater to appease my parents and because I didn’t have the grades to get into university any other way. But you’ve gotta tap-dance and this and that, and I wasn’t good at any of that. I really wanted to be a stand-up. I actually did two open-mike spots when I was 17, but then I didn’t do any again till I was 23.
Did the first two go that poorly?
The second went appallingly bad. They said you had to bring a parent if you were under 18, so it went really bad in front of my dad. It was a really rainy day, and we had to drive all the way back together. He was like, “You’re good at other things.…” He was trying to give an encouraging speech, but it was really disheartening. It was good that I went to university in Perth, because it’s a very isolated city, not much of a comedy scene. So I got real good, real fast—in my mind. I was already used to having stage time, so I hit the ground running. I was like, “Wow, I’m good at this.” And then I moved to Sydney, and I was like, “I’m all right at this.” And then I moved to London, and I was like, “I might get by.” So yeah, it took a while.
I’ve also heard that you hate bananas. What’s wrong with you?
I’ve never touched a banana except when I was a child and my brother mashed one into my face. But I have never willingly picked up a banana. I don’t like the smell of them, the texture. I’m not a picky eater, but I’ve vomited several times just looking at someone eating a banana. I actually had a banana breakthrough recently: I took my son on a two-week string of gigs with me, just me and him. He’s five and a picky eater, and one of the fucking five or six things that he eats are fucking bananas. I know they’re good for you, and when you’re on a plane and he’s hungry and won’t eat the meal, you gotta get something into him that’s good, you know? So I actually peeled a banana for him, and then I had to sit next to him and just shut my eyes. Now that’s love.
Do you have any other surprisingly strong opinions on little things?
I can get into fights about Love Actually. I hate that movie.
You’ve said that social media is a place where you showcase your best days, and stand-up comedy is the opposite: It’s about sharing your worst day over and over. Does that mean you don’t like social media?
Yeah, I’m not a big fan. Social media makes you feel shit about whatever relationship you’re in. Everyone else is having a better time than you are. Everyone else is amazing, and you don’t get to go on enough holidays. A lot of the time I’m on social media, it’s because I’ve been told I should do it more. Instagram’s not a good medium for a guy who looks like me. I don’t mind Twitter as much, but I don’t really do one-liners, so that’s not a format that works out well for me. It’s good for the occasional argument with another celebrity.Q10
If you could rewrite any movie, what would you pick?
Superman IV. And Superman III. And all three of the Star Wars prequels—could’ve made those a lot better. And I’ll tell you what other film: The fucking Last Jedi was a piece of shit.
I write things as they happen to me. I don't see any problem with it, as long as it's a true story.
I almost don’t want to ask, but why don’t you think The Last Jedi is good?
Here’s what The Last Jedi and The Force Awakens do wrong: In Return of the Jedi they beat the Empire, and now, immediately, the Empire’s back? No, no, no! There’s always a time of “good.” Like in the real world, power goes back and forth: We go Republicans, Democrats, Republicans, Democrats. What should have happened is Luke and Leia are running shit now. They’re the government but maybe slightly corrupt at this stage, because power corrupts, right? So the Empire’s all shut down, but you’ve still got some disgruntled ex-stormtroopers and some young people who are the equivalent of neo-Nazis. They’re like, ‘Oh, I want to be a stormtrooper.’ They’re obsessed with the old ways. Maybe they salute pictures of fucking Darth Vader.
But do you realize you just described Kylo Ren, Adam Driver’s character?
No, because you need the good guys to be the big people and the bad guys to be the little people. Then the bad guys rise up and get their victory over the good guys, and we’re off to the races again. And who knows what the fuck’s going on with Snoke? Who is he? What was the point of him? He was a huge hologram, and they missed a big opportunity by not making him two feet tall in real life, like an evil Yoda.
You’ve made a lot of raunchy and offensive jokes over the years, many of which come from personal experience: One character on Legit had muscular dystrophy like a friend of yours, and you had a bit about getting diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. Has your approach to topics like that changed over the years as your career has grown, especially in today’s atmosphere?
No. I write things as they happen to me. If I had a dodgy situation or a one-night stand now, of course I would still talk about it. I don’t see any problem with it, as long as it’s a true story. What constantly surprises me, though, is people taking stories I’ve done and writing in articles that I did all these things verbatim. Some of the stories I tell are 50 or even 10 percent true. You start with a story, you tell it onstage, and then you add a line and you take out a thing and you add another line, and then all of a sudden the story’s bigger. It’s still entertainment. Now, with the whole “being on the spectrum” thing—when I was a kid they said I had ADD. Is it just that people aren’t allowed to be weird? Are we diagnosing personalities? I know that some people really are extremely autistic, but can’t I just be awkward? I don’t view myself any differently now. Other people have used it as an excuse for my behavior. [laughs] I think they did an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm about that recently, where Larry David is acting like an asshole and then saying, “I’m on the spectrum.”
You also make a lot of tongue-in-cheek jokes about being a foreigner and taking American jobs. Are there any rising non-white-guy comedians you’d like to plug to make up for that?
One of our best writers on the show, a guy named Curtis Cook, does very good stand-up. I would suggest him. I think Michelle Wolf’s amazing; she just got a show similar to mine on Netflix. Sarah Tiana is hysterical. Kelsey Cook is very good.
The Jim Jefferies Show is one of the only late-night talk shows currently on that didn’t exist before the Trump administration. How does that affect how you put the show together?
I didn’t think he’d win. People tell me, “This show is Trump bashing.” But if he hadn’t been voted in, we would have done a fair amount of Hillary bashing, or whoever-was-in-power bashing. It’s establishment bashing. When he’s doing something good, I try to comment on it—not to appease people but to appease myself. I was saying in the writers’ room today: Is he responsible for the stock market doing well? Because if he is, I don’t want to tease him about that. Even if it’s just a throwaway comment: “Although he has fixed the stock market and unemployment is down.…” You gotta give credit where credit’s due.
Has anything happened between seasons that you wish you could have done a segment on?
I would have enjoyed doing a bit when the “shithole countries” comment went down. John Oliver talked about the Australian deputy prime minister who got his mistress knocked up—I would have done a good bit on that.
Home-court advantage. How has late-night comedy changed in the past few years?
People doing it have become more politicized. Late-night hosts never used to give their opinions outside of joke form. You never saw Jay Leno cry after a massacre, like Kimmel did. And people used to almost be on teams, like “I’m a Letterman guy” or “I’m a Leno guy.” Now you might watch one Kimmel a week, then one Fallon. I will say this about John Oliver’s show—and I’m not taking anything away from it—its lead-in is Game of Thrones, the most popular show on earth. So let’s not give it too much credit, right? The people who fall asleep during Game of Thrones are watching John Oliver. My lead-in is Tosh.0, which I’m not turning my nose up at, but I can’t compare my ratings to its ratings.
Do you watch Game of Thrones?
No. I watched one season, but I just didn’t get why the characters cared so much. It’s like, “Oh, now I’m the king of this town that has 12 people.” You’re a fucking idiot in a village, mate. And every time I liked a character, they got killed, so I was like, Fuck this. There are a lot of breasts, but if I want to see breasts, I’ll read your magazine. But to de-stress, I’ve been watching a lot of sitcoms. I just watched the last season of The Goldbergs. And The Good Place is really good.
I was just watching the reboot of One Day at a Time. Have you seen it?
It’s so bizarre that you mention that, because I was actually cast as [Kramer-esque building manager] Schneider before I decided to do the talk show instead. If I’d done it, the character would have been rewritten as a slightly bigoted Australian guy. I remember in the audition the line was something like “Cubans can be so loud when you’re partying,” and I changed it to “you people,” to make it slightly more racist. I watched a few episodes, but I haven’t continued to watch it because I don’t want to regret not taking the job.
What does that alternate life look like?
That would be a very easy, nice life. There’s probably more money in sitcoms, and I wouldn’t get hate mail all the time. Look, I see myself retiring one day, to Maui or something, and becoming the four-to-six P.M. drive-time radio guy. It doesn’t have to pay well. I just need to work two hours a day to keep busy—just every day go, “It’s Jim Jefferies’s Drive Time. And there’s no traffic, because you’re in Maui. Go for a swim!”