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.
Question: Could you talk a little about how the idea for the series came about?
Peter O’Fallon: John Landgraf is a good friend of mine at FX. I worked with him before on the The Riches and a couple other projects in the past. I had lunch with him one day and I said I really want to do the comedy thing that he’s doing, particularly the Louie model. At the time, he said go find me a comedian. Then I went to my agency, which was CA, and looked a whole bunch of different comedians and came up with Jim. We met a couple of times and watched almost all of his stand-ups and saw him do a bunch of stand-ups live and ultimately came up the idea for the pilot, which came directly from a stand-up, so that’s basically how Jim and I met together and figured out we could work it out.
Jim Jefferies: Yes, that’s basically it. There is not much more I could add to that question. The pilot episode was directly mixed out of my third DVD, Alcoholocaust, and a true story from my life about me taking a friend with muscular dystrophy to a brothel, so the way we came up with the idea is we just did true stories, I guess.
Peter: The other thing, like with Jim’s manager, Lisa Blum, who is also an executive producer on the show, we met with her and - I met with her alone and she said what do you think - and I said I think there is a pinprick of a heart in there. One of the things Jim told me after he did this stand-up, particularly the muscular dystrophy - the thing about taking him to the hooker or the brothel - is that afterwards, parents, brothers and sisters - those kind of people would walk up to him and say how can I do that for my brother. So, for me, there was a kindness to this incredibly raw, incredibly abrasive and difficult humor, but at the core of it was a kind act - not necessarily heart but it was a nice thing to do to somebody. So in my mind, that’s what kind of sparked the idea for me of trying to balance the difference of this really dark humor with ultimately someone trying to do a nice thing.
Question: Jim, in the stand-up world, do you get instant feedback from the live crowd as to what works and what doesn’t. How has it been different working on this?
Jim: Not as pleasurable, of course. It is better to hear it live directly instead of doing something and then waiting three months to see if people are laughing at it. But I have never acted before, so I’ve enjoyed the process very much.
Peter: Although I will add that we all laugh like … on the set.
Jim: We do laugh on the set … but I’ve enjoyed it. I find the whole acting process to be a little bit more than the … I traded my stand-up career.
Question: FX is known for giving people a lot of freedom with their shows. What have they done for you as far as do they give you notes or do you just kind of do your thing and turn it in?
Peter: Let me start with that one, Jim. One of the reasons I wanted to go back to FX is from working with other networks and stuff was that idea and the concept that John has, which is a brilliant concept in my opinion, especially with these comedies, is trying to keep them at a low enough budget that there is not as much pressure and there is not as much heat, and because of that, there is a lot more freedom. One of the things that I found really amazing with FX, and this really isn’t me blowing smoke - I found them to be the best example that Nick Grad gave me. Once I was complimenting them on their notes and he said, yes, we like to be more like a book editor than an actual network.
I think that’s a really great analogy because as we went through the process, there were a couple of notes they gave us on the script, initially, and it was about the basic heart of the script. I don’t mean the heart of the show but what the show was about. They kept pushing us to push further and further into what the show was actually about. They were great notes, and it actually did help us find the rhythm and find it. And then in the editing process - again, their notes are big and overall. It isn’t like cut here and cut here. I thought this would be funnier and I thought this would be more touching or whatever. Those are bad examples. But in the big pictures, I have really loved the process. The freedom is tremendous and when you need it, they’re there, which I think is great.
Jim: I agree with Peter. But for me, the notes don’t really apply that much to me because they never really questioned any of my jokes.
Peter: None of them.
Jim: They never question my jokes. They sometimes say is this not a bit risky, and then we always say we’ll shoot it and see how it turns out and if it doesn’t turn out, we’ll just cut it.
Peter: Except for one that Jim brought up - Never mind.
Question: I really liked the, forgive me if I get the name of this wrong, the 1950s dad voice. How did you come up with that?
Jim: I don’t know when we called it the 1950s. That was an ad lib. That happened on set once.
Peter: He started doing it. I thought it was hilarious.
Jim: I think it was like me trying to do an infomercial commercial or just the dad off Leave it to Beaver. I just started doing the dialogue like that and I thought Peter would come in and say stop being an idiot. But they told me to keep going so we just worked it into the episode.
Peter: I remember we were just doing rehearsals just before we started shooting. There was a close-up of Jim and he turned to the camera and said, “Well, Billy, let me tell you how this works.” I fell over laughing and hollered out to him as we were shooting and said just keep going, and he kept going and then we started calling him. I said what is that. He said, you know it’s kind of like a 50s dad. The guy that talks about asbestos plants that he goes to work out. I said that’s hilarious. Let’s go with that.
That’s a great example of what we were talking about a minute ago about FX’s freedom. We saw it on the set. We thought it was great, and we said let’s go.
Jim: FX gave us notes from that episode. They said we love 50s dad, a great bit from Jim’s stand-up. We never argued with them. That was never in the stand-up.
Peter: One of the things we do. I don’t know if you guys have heard this, but we try to get together on the set. We have a script. Scripts are good and they’re tight. But we try to get in there and we have really - Dan Bakkedahl, who was Second City, and Mindy, who is Groundlings, and D.J., who - everybody knows D.J., and Sonya - we have this group of extremely talented people that are really good at playing their instruments. I always like to use the music analogy. Jim gets tired of this one. We kind of jam. We get it going and things start working. We rehearse over and over again - like when we do the big master shots, we spend a lot of time trying to find the rhythm and things like 50s dad come out of it.
Question: Jim, you said you hadn’t acted before. Are you taking acting lessons or are you just winging it?
Jim: I’m just winging it. I think I’ll take an acting lesson if I ever play a different character besides myself. At the moment, I think I should be able to play myself alright.
Question: I think I understand risky and pushed limits. Do you find that it’s hard to top in the television atmosphere today?
Jim: I don’t think it’s hard to top in the sense that it’s not hard to top live action. But when you’ve got to top something like Family Guy or American Dad or any of those shows because we can’t do what cartoons can do, but I think live action-wise, everyone’s got the same boundaries. I came and … off a person with muscular dystrophy. As long as you don’t see the pain and you see my hand moving and that’s the same rule that everyone has to play by.
Peter: What we’re trying not to do—at least what I’m trying not to do - is to continue the whatever outgrowths or - One of the things using the idea of American Dad and Family Guy is they are a lot of jokes. We’re a bit more of a story. In a perfect world, what we are trying to do is to make that whatever you do in life has consequences. So there is a very small - I don’t want to call it a moral because then it sounds like we’re trying to make moral judgments and we’re not but the idea of like what Jim just used the example of … of Billy. It was something he did because he had to because Billy needed it because he was a buddy and he has to do it. The comedy of that is I love putting people in difficult situations and watching them try to get out of it. But secondly is the idea that it is also a nice thing to do. That’s the balance that we’re trying to get. We’re not trying to get too crazy. Does that make any sense?
Question: Jim, you’re opening your life to a larger audience, how does that feel? Different?
Jim: Yes, it feels very odd, especially since a lot of these stories are 100 percent true. I’m really raking my life to get each story out. If we go to a second season, I’ve got a few stories ready to go. But it is odd. It’s like they say that when you know a person, you only know the tip of the iceberg and 90 percent of the iceberg is underwater. I think people know 90 percent of me and only 10 percent underwater. I haven’t held much back.
Peter: I love one time we were watching one of the shows and Jim turned to me and said, “Am I that much of a douche?”
Jim: I’m portrayed as … but it’s probably a fib.
Question: Can you describe the process of actually portraying Jim Jefferies in a TV show reenacting stories you’ve already told in stand-ups?
Jim: The way to do it is you just have to act like a bit of a prick. That’s the only way to do it. Also, you have to have a false sense of confidence where you think you’re cool and the rest of the world doesn’t think you’re as cool as you think you are.
Peter: I think is a really great thing to say. We’ve had a couple of people say it was really great but it wasn’t as funny as his stand-up. The thing about that was so important what Jim said is that a stand-up is - you tell them Jim.
Jim: It’s pretty bizarre that people go your stand-up is way funnier than the show. I’m like I hope so. Stand-up is just me trying to be as funny as possible in the most concentrated hour with me standing on stage with no storyline, no plot line, and no character development. Doing the TV show, you have to have the characters. We want you to root for them. We want you to have emotions for these people. It used to be people that I just explained on stage. So, obviously, it’s slower and it’s not quite as funny. But I hope the TV show leaves you a little bit more fulfilled than the stand-up does. Does that make sense?
Question: So far, in the first season, we’re seeing stories from your life off stage. Will see any of Jim Jefferies, the professional comedian, also?
Jim: I never really stand-up on stage, at least in this season. You’ll see me a couple of times in clubs. We were really conscious. We didn’t want to be compared to Louie, so we thought we’d end up doing stand-up on the show.
Peter: And also I believe - and it’s just my own little parameters I want to put in - one of the things that is easy about being able to do the stand-up is that you can - we used to call it the Wonder Years trick where at the end you say what we learned today was. By not being able to go to a stand-up and have us explain or tell the joke or try to illiterate the story, it makes our job a little bit harder, but I think it makes it ultimately hopefully a more satisfying show.
What we’re trying to do is make little mini movies - little 23-minute movies. If you notice, there are no titles. The titles just come on. There is no theme song. There is no music going out to commercial or music coming in to commercial. The only music we use is needle drops. Every show is a little bit different. Every show there is no real pattern. One of the hardest things we’ve had marketing the show is what’s the show about. Well, it’s about Jim trying to become legit. So the good news about that is it opens up so much more for us.
Question: I have to say I have seen you, Jim, do the stand-up, and I have to say I actually almost prefer the show better because, like you’re right, you’re doing the whole story and you have the whole time to actually relax and do the whole story. Although I love them both, I think this show is really a great vehicle for you - a wonderful vehicle. I think it’s incredible. Of course, Peter, you’ve done like a lexicon of everything I’ve ever loved from The Riches on down way back to Party of Five and Northern Exposure. You’re quite a prolific guy.
Peter: One of the things that has been interesting about my career, and it’s a thing that has only existed, I think, in the last few years is I always try to go for things that I find interesting. I did the first two episodes after the pilots of Northern Exposure. My agent sent it to me and she said you’ll love this because it’s weird. We went up there and we did it. I don’t know if you heard the whole story about Northern Exposure years ago about how everybody hated it. The network buried it in the summer, and so we did whatever we wanted to, which was great.
In that kind of freedom, the first show I ever did was Thirtysomething and that show as like graduate film-making school. After that I did American Gothic and a bunch of other shows like that were - all throughout my career The Riches were like independent films for television. It’s been really great and wonderful. I’ve really enjoyed it, maybe not as much financially as I could have, but creatively it’s been great.