Jim Jefferies is one of the edgiest and, in my opinion, funniest comedians touring today. With unabashed opinions on sex, drugs, and religion among other things, Jefferies can alienate and amuse at the same time.
Over the last five years, Jefferies has had four stand-up specials and his popularity stateside has steadily been on the rise. Now, he is the star of the new FX comedy series Legit (Thursday nights at 10:30 p.m.). A combination of dark humor and heart
In a recent conference call, Jefferies and series creator Peter O’Fallon, spoke about the show, how it came about and much, much more.
Click for Part 1
Question: Jim, when you first started talking to Peter, did you have a rough idea that this was something you did want to do or did he have to talk you into it?
Jim: I’ve sold a lot of sitcom premises and scripts over the years, which were always like I’m a taxi driver or I’m in a boy band. Actually there was one that I was the manager of the Thunder from Down Under in Vegas, which wasn’t a bad one, believe it or not. In the end, I kept selling these scripts and I was like I have these stories in my stand-up and we can just do them. Originally, the concept was that from my stand-up we’d do these stories and then maybe the D.J. character would be in for three or four episodes. Then FX like it so much, they wanted him to be in the series regular. At first, I was a little bit apprehensive about that. But now I’m glad. It’s given us a definite B story or sometimes an A story that we always have to write through. Having to care for this character in a wheelchair and still make it funny is a nice little challenge weekly.
Question: It really is. It really adds a whole lot. I just want to say the series just opens you up to so many different things. Before I let you go, you mentioned that 10 percent we don’t see. Is that 10 percent that you edit out because you think it’s not interesting or stuff you just don’t want to talk about?
Jim: No, no. It’s illegal. Obviously, I’m not allowed to say it.
Question: There is no edit button on you.
Peter: Jim lives his life like most people live 90 percent. I don’t know if you heard that other comment - the life underneath. I have found pretty much across the board Jim lives his life pretty much wide open.
Question: What has been your favorite part of working on this show or your most memorable moment on set thus far?
Peter: Can I take that one? You guys met Rodney last week. He has become a great friend of Jim and me. His name is Nick Daley, and he’s an actor with special needs. On our final episode - he absolutely loves fire trucks. So he came out at lunchtime and gave us this great speech telling us how special it was for him to be here. Our medic, who has worked with the LAFD, got the fire truck to show up at lunch and two fire trucks showed up. They dressed him all up. He got to drive around with the fire truck and do the hose and all that kind of stuff. It was just a really killer moment because it was so great for him because he kept bugging because I kept telling him we’re going to take you to the firehouse. For me that was really great.
Jim: For me, I’ll have to say meeting my girlfriend in the pilot episode.
Peter: There you go.
Question: I heard she played one of the hookers, right?
Jim: No, no, no. She was Nick Daley, the mentally challenged guy on the fire truck. I just said girlfriend very loosely.
Question: So the second question is there anything you guys can tease about the upcoming episodes - maybe some guest stars that are going to be dropping by or anything?
Jim: We can tell you guest stars, I think.
Peter: We have Andy Dick.
Jim: Andy Dick. We have Marlon Wayans.
Peter: John Ratzenberger.
Jim: Verne Troyer.
Peter: Well, we have Brad.
Jim: Brad Williams. Eddy Ifft from my podcast will be making an appearance.
Peter: We have some really crazy, crazy story lines coming up.
Jim: What about girls? Rachel - we have some pretty girls coming up.
Peter: Somebody sent me an e-mail - somebody online, which, by the way, you guys are the key to our hopeful successful. I think it’s because of you guys we bumped up last week. Please keep the buzz out. I don’t want to call us an underdog, but FX’s model - this actually comes from one of the guys at FX is they take their chickens, the make them, and then they throw them out of the nest and see what flies. As you’ve noticed, it’s mainly built on this whole concept of whether people like it or not. Right now …. The buzz on the internet has been great. The comments I get - all this stuff I’ve been getting has been really fun. The thing that I really enjoy about you guys, and I have to be honest with you, and, again, I’m not blowing smoke, is you guys get it. Really, it’s been encouraging and very fun for me to read a lot of these reviews where people say I was surprised by the heart. I always get scared by calling it the heart because it really isn’t heart, but whatever it is, I appreciate it. It’s really great.
Question: It seems to me that you guys are exploring how close being selfless is to being selfish. Was that on your minds when creating the show and how do you keep that balance?
Jim: Actually, I don’t think anyone has said it more succinctly as that.
Peter: That was very well put. In my career, what I’ve always tried to do, even like I made a movie a long time ago—Suicide Kings. I always can’t stand movie or anything that happens. In Suicide Kings, it’s quite violent. What I have the people do is when the violence happens, they all freak out and go crazy like we all would - like normal people would. The thing that we’re trying to do in this show is the same kind of thing. How do you react? It is funny, but it is also a difficult situation - with Billy in the wheelchair and Dan having trouble with work, all those kinds of things. There is just a hint of reality.
So one of the things we love about the show is that somebody called it a bromance, which I think it kind of is. I think thinks it’s a really good analogy - selfless and selfish. Actually, that came from Jim, in my mind. After watching all of the stand-up and sitting down with him, it’s the same struggle I think we all have is how much are we out for ourselves and how much are we out for other people?
Question: How do you balance the sweetness with the crudeness on show? I love both but I wonders how you strike that balance?
Jim: I think I’ve struck that balance my whole career with my stand-up so to me, it feels like a fairly natural way of telling jokes. I don’t see any other way to tell jokes, to be honest with you.
Peter: I think what I was saying a minute ago - with Jim and I - I think that is one of the things that has been a nice marriage for us is I believe that it’s really important to show, for lack of a better term, the consequences of your actions, even if they’re emotional or they’re simple little things in life. The thing that I think we’re hopefully doing well on this show right now is the crude and terrible humor but then the reality of life comes in. That’s where I hope that our plan is to make it funny as … and then suddenly surprise you with life, more so than heart. This is a real situation with a guy in a wheelchair. It’s really funny, but he still has to wipe his … which hopefully will work.
Question: So you guys both wear so many hats on the production of the show. What do you find are the challenges or benefits in being involved in so many aspects?
Peter: The challenges are obviously I work myself to death - seven days a week and that kind of stuff because as I think we mentioned earlier, there is not a lot of money in the show. But the positive aspect is the ability to have one vision so that it ends up being pretty much what you want. It’s the amazing thing, again, about FX. I cannot say enough good things about them. Everything that has been on the air so far, Jim and I, hopefully also, are very proud of. It’s pretty much what we want - 98 percent of what we want. The 2 percent may have been places where we crossed the line maybe too far, but, in general, it’s been really rewarding to, like I said a minute ago, to make these little mini movies every week.
As a filmmaker, one of the things that I’m trying to do is I’m primarily known as the director. I’ve written a couple of movies in the past and I did my own series about 10 years ago, but one of the things that I always wanted as kind of a fantasy of mine was to try to make television a bit more of a film-maker’s medium. I have been able to do that with this one. It’s been really great - really fun.
Question: Could you talk a little bit about how you go about casting the series and getting D.J. and some of the other main cast?
Jim: D.J. auditioned for us like a regular person. It was quite the prize when he walked in. I think it was just luck. I think Memphis had just been canceled that day.
Peter: We have this wonderful tracking agent.
Jim: Wendy O’Brien is very good.
Peter: Another Canadian.
Jim: Apart from that, we got John Ratzenberger because I do John Ratzenberger impersonations. When we wrote that character, whenever I would table read, I would say I’ll take Walter and then I’d just do a John Ratzenberger And then we were why don’t we just ask if we can get him. And then lo and behold, we got him.
Peter: D.J. is another great example. He came in and auditioned. Like I said, it was a bit of luck. And then he got cold feet. We were up in Portland and we shot the pilot in Portland and his manager called me up and said I think you may need to talk D.J. into this. So I got on the phone with D.J. and talked to him. I first started out with the obvious question - really, D.J., you don’t want to play a guy in a wheelchair? That’s what everybody gets awards for. And then after that, he was just worried and nervous about what he could do. Now, if you talk to him, he loves the choice he made. Again, he’s the hub we wheel around because the other people are more improv and comedy centered and D.J. is a really solid actor. Because he’s stuck to a chair and only can express with his face, it’s critical he is as good as he is and obviously is.
Then we have Andy Dick, a good friend of Jim’s. He came in and he killed it. We have a show coming up you’re just going to love. He’s outrageous. He talks about his troubles and his issues that he’s had and talks about being sober and not being sober and it’s really quite funny.
Jim: When we want someone like Andy Dick who is playing themselves, we wanted them to be portrayed as they actually are, you know what I mean, rather than a glossy version of themselves.
Question: How did you originally get started in comedy? What was your calling? Did you always know you wanted to be a comedian?
Jim: I wanted to be a stand-up comedian since I was about 14. I started watching stand-up comedy on TV. I did some open spots when I was 17. The first one went rather well. Then they found out I was 17. In Australia, you have to be 18 to go to a bar. They said if I wanted to come back, I had to bring a parent. So I told my dad that I went off and did this. And my dad said alright, I’ll come out with you. I remember it was hailing and it was really bad. I went on stage and I bombed in front of about seven people. Just died on my … My dad was there. I was doing a lot of jokes about you know when you’re in school and this happens and that happens. My dad, in the car ride home, said I don’t think this is for you, mate. It broke my little 17-year-old heart. I went out and did it one more time and it just didn’t go well. I didn’t do it again until I was 23. Then I got up on stage. I’m 35 now. It’s been my occupation since I was 23 years old.
Peter: When I asked him the same question at first, what did your mother call you - The King of th...
Jim: The Kind of the Idiots.
Question: Is that an appropriate term?
Jim: I think it’s appropriate. I’ve never been the type of guy that had a lot of friends or was part of the cool group. If I have got friends, I seem to be running the show.
Peter: As him mom used to say, they’re all a bunch of idiots. We’re just continuing that now with the show. Jim calls it the ugliest show on television.
Question: You talk a lot about your family in your performances. Are you going to be bringing in family for yourself on the show?
Jim: That’s the plan I have at the moment for Season Two is to bring my parents over for maybe three episodes.
Question: Your mother sounds hilarious.
Jim: A lot of stuff in Mindy Sterling’s character, which is lifted directly from my mother. Obviously, Mindy is not morbidly obese, but my mother’s a hoarder and Mindy’s character is a hoarder. There are a few lines where I’ve had arguments with my mother that I put straight into this script. I have an idea of a few actors I’d like to play my mom and dad that would be my dream cast. They’ll definitely be in the next season.
Question: How do they feel about the show? Have they seen a lot of it?
Jim: No. I’ve shown some episodes to my brother because I like to get his feedback but not to my parents. They can watch it if it ever gets to Australian television. They’ve never laughed at anything I’ve ever said. I don’t think they’re going to start laughing now.
Question: So is all the cast from Legit - is that your new family, then?
Jim: I hate to get mushy and say something like that, but I do believe we’re all friends. This is the first set that I’ve ever been on. I hear that’s a rarity. We all - me, D.J., Dan, and Mindy - have all been calling each other after each episode airs and see how we all feel. We’ve all remained friends.
Peter: One of the things, from my point of view, is I’ve been doing this a long time and one of the things I told John Landgraf and FX when I wanted to do this - one of the reasons I wanted all the freedom that FX gives you is that part of the problems with studios and networks and all that good stuff is they tend to often times make things to be difficult. I try to go out of my way on this show to do everything that I’ve seen that there have been problems in the past to try to make it really fun and to try to have a good time. As we discussed, we’re on a fairly low budget. I’m making a tenth or whatever of what I usually make, but the idea is that you pay for it, hopefully, with fun. Part of that fun is the more fun you have, the more it becomes a group of people - like in a perfect world, what I would like to do is like make a troupe, like we could all go together and have more and more fun. So far, it’s been really great.
Question: Peter, do you feel like FX is the perfect place for you? I think it is, but do you think it’s perfect place for a jumping board for this show?
Peter: Absolutely. I have no question.
Jim: I’ve said before that I like that they like their comedies as edgy as possible, but there are still some restrictions. I can’t say …, right?
Question: I miss that.
Jim: If I had a show on HBO, it would just be a naked girl sitting on a chair saying … over and over.
Peter: Jim has a good point. Even though there are very few rules, and you will see one coming up here next week is about Jim in an airplane where he calls the guy a …, and we beep it out. We beep it out in a really great way. It’s very obvious what he said. In some ways, it’s almost funnier that he actually said it and that we have to beep it out. One of the things that has been kind of nice about it is it does give us rules like a basketball court where you’re inside the court and you have to play within those rules. In some ways, it’s an odd way to say it, but I think it actually helps the stories. I think FX is also the perfect place for a number of reasons but also for the fact that they are—as I said earlier, this book editor thing. There are occasional times when it feels like we’re on our own for a second and then they come in and say I think this is working and you say good.