He's quickly become the most feared amongst the other comics on the Comedy Central Roasts, and his one hour Comedy Central special, Anthony Jeselnik: Caligula, premiered Sunday night. When it comes to telling offensive jokes, Jeselnik doesn't just cross the line, he long jumps over it. Anthony's act appears to be centered around the notion that if a joke is funny, it's really not offensive.
The underlying merit of hilarity in his dark, absurd jokes is what's making the Pittsburgh native a household name... And it doesn't hurt that he resembles an Abercrombie model that you shouldn't trust with your kids. Jeselnik also has a weekly series coming to Comedy Central February 19th called the Jeselnik Offensive.
Anthony's special is available on DVD this week. The bonus features include Jeselnik’s uncut performances from the “COMEDY CENTRAL Roast of Donald Trump,” the “COMEDY CENTRAL Roast of Charlie Sheen,” and the “COMEDY CENTRAL Roast of Roseanne.” You can also check out his special on Xbox, Playstation, iTunes, and Vudu.
Anthony called me Wednesday to discuss his one hour special, the pressure of being the new guy on the roasts, writing for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, how his new show is going to be different than the other shows on Comedy Central, working on the roasts with girlfriend Amy Schumer, and shooting his special in Chicago.
You started out writing on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. How did you get involved with the show and was that one of your first TV appearances?
I had done a few sets over the years by the time I got to Fallon. That was the job I wanted when I got into stand up comedy. I wanted to be a joke writer. And someone who was already a joke writer told me that the best way to do it was to get into stand up because instead of someone trying to get someone to read things, you could just do it and they would see your sense of humor and that would develop. You would get better at joke writing by doing that.
Then after six years of grinding it out, I was kind of in the right place at the right time for Fallon, when they had to hire a whole staff. They were starting out, so it was easier for me to get in there. Usually when they hire a writer, they hire somebody's friend. When you have to hire everybody it's easier to slip in that way. I was the first stand up on that show, but it was not my first stand up set on TV.
Was that a comfortable job for you?
It was not a comfortable gig because I had very dark jokes, edgy jokes, and they didn't really want that there. I thought they would, that's why they hired me, but they were like, "We need to find Jimmy's voice here." They didn't like my best stuff, which was frustrating.
So I did it for a year, then it was more comfortable for me to go and do stand up and do what I want to do, instead of having someone tell me, "Yes" and "No" based on their tastes. We parted on great terms, but it was a frustrating job.
Some people were under the impression Jeselnik got his first spot on a Comedy Central Roast because well known roaster Greg Giraldo passed away, but Anthony sets the record straight.
Was doing your first roast (Roast of Donald Trump) after Greg Giraldo passed away a lot of pressure for you?
It was a lot of pressure. It didn't have anything to do with Giraldo though. The last time I talked to him (Greg) was after the Hasselhoff Roast, I wrote for that. He was a friend of mine, so we were both excited that I was going to be on the next one with him and just joking about how we were going to make fun of each other, and that was the last time I saw the guy.
So the pressure on the roast was strictly from me just having watched them since I was a kid, and loving them... and wanting to do a great job. So that's where the pressure came from. If it went well it was going to change my whole life, and if it went badly, it was going to change my whole life for the worst.
So it was very important to me, and it was kind of easier too because people didn't know who I was, so it was easier to come out and be unexpected. On these roasts now, they know I'm coming up to kill everybody. It makes it a little tougher.
Do you have a favorite roast joke you've done?
Maybe my favorite roast joke I've done was when I skipped Lisa Lampanelli. When I just told her she was cool after crushing everyone on the dais. The surprise on her face and just how no one would have ever expected that.
I thought that people said the same thing about her everytime and that would be really funny, and I had to fight for it too. They were always telling me, "No you have to have a fat joke for her." I said "Screw you," that's my favorite for sure.
When you made the joke "It's been a rough year for comedy, not only did the world lose Greg Giraldo, but even worse it kept Jeff Ross," do you think you rung Jeff's bell on that judging from his reaction? (see video below)
I think partially I rung his bell on that, but I think he was doing me a favor. Him being like, "Oh, wow." For him to turn and say, "That's harsh," I think he was helping out his friend Anthony.
How do you and the other people working on the Jeselnik Offensive differentiate it from the other shows on Comedy Central?
That was a big thought for us in the beginning, "How are we going to be different?" It comes down to me, I'm different from everyone else that has ever done a show. It's more of a hosting, talk about current events show. But I think any difference in the show is going to come from me being different from Jon Stewart or from Daniel Tosh. It'll be very apparent that we're like nothing else on TV once it starts.
Have you thought about getting into movies later?
I would like to do movies, I've always wanted to do movies but it hasn't really interested me to get better as an actor, if that makes sense. I'd rather be writing jokes and trying out jokes than trying out a stupid acting class.
The experience of having done more television now and done some sketches on Fallon... I'm better as an actor, but if the show ends or if I have a lot of down time and someone says "Hey come do this," and it sounds fun, I'm in. I don't really want to turn myself into an actor, but I'm happy to go perform this character that I do in movies for sure.
Are you doing sets in LA while taping the new show?
I just did Leno last week, So I had to get up and run that Leno set a bunch of times, but with the special I wanted to have a lot of new material. With the TV show it's been tough to sit down and write stand up, so I haven't been getting up that much, but once the show ends I'll go on a big tour and have a lot of new jokes for everybody.
Did you enjoy being a New York comic with the history of a lot of the clubs there like the Comedy Cellar?
Absolutely. I moved to New York to write for Fallon, but I knew I just wanted to keep doing stand up and I didn't want to stop because I was a writer. I know a lot of comedians who were great comics, but just fell out of it because they got a day job. I wanted to get up everynight and the Comedy Cellar was great to me with that.
They embraced me right away and would put me up in the early show so I could go home and go to sleep afterwards and get up for work. They were great. The Cellar itself kept me in New York for years because I didn't want to give it up.
The movie Comedian meant the world to me when I was younger, with Seinfeld. They were all over the Comedy Cellar and I didn't really realize what that was until I had already gotten in there. Once they passed me, I was like, "Oh this is the place from that movie, one of my favorite movies," so I just always wanted to be there all the time. I would consider that place my family pretty much.
The Cellar is known for relentless ball-busting between the comics. Was it bad early on?
I love that kind of stuff. I get in trouble for making fun of my comedian friends when I take it too far. I thought it was going to be way worse. It was almost like my first day of high school... "The seniors are going to kill me." Then you realize it's not even that bad. People kind of gave me respect at the Cellar right away. People didn't mess with me too hard. I think a lot of guys get blatantly disrespected, but I got away pretty free from the Cellar.
Who were the best ball busters?
Jim Norton, Norton was really good at it. Colin Quinn was amazing, Bobby Kelly was great with an insult, Keith Robinson. Keith Robinson was one of the worst guys, where if Keith Robinson was in the mood to make fun of you, you were in for a long night. He will never let it go.
Why'd you choose to shoot your special in Chicago?
I found that I hadn't really performed in Chicago proper in the last couple years. I've been to Schaumburg, they have that Improv. I did really well there so I thought Chicago is a great comedy city that I would love to be able to do more there. It just timed out perfectly for the special. I've never even seen the Vic Theatre till I got there to do the special. I loved it, I love Chicago, it's a great place to perform.
Since you've made a name for yourself telling dark jokes, do you think the industry will keep you from doing another type of act if you decided to change it up later?
In the beginning, I worried about how far I could go with the dark jokes. Those are my favorite. I don't tell these jokes because I want to shock people, I tell them because that's what I think is the funniest. If I wasn't a comedian and I saw someone doing my act, that would be my favorite comedian.
I'll never be onstage talking about the differences between men and women. I feel if I need to change or evolve in order to keep doing comedy, that I'll find a way, I'll write my way out of this. I'll still be doing something very similar. It's not like I would alienate my fans and do something completely different. Any stages that happen to me are going to happen organically.
Starting out, did people not there to see you take offense at your jokes?
Absolutely. When I started touring early on. I went out a lot with Doug Benson, Brian Posehn, Sarah Silverman, Zach Galifianakis... most of the crowds were great, Posehn's crowd loved me, they were surprised, but they were like, "Oh this is great." Doug Benson's crowd hated me so much it was unbelievable.. the anger.
Because they were coming to see jokes from VH1 and pot, they don't want to hear my dead baby jokes, and Doug didn't care. Doug to his credit, kept me with him. I got a lot of either, complaints or praise. People would come up to him and go, "That guy who opened for you..." he knew they were either going to say "...is a genius" or "Is the worst comic I've ever seen." They were equal compliments.
On the roasts, the comics avoid taking shots at you and Amy (Schumer) is that for your own comfort or because a lot of the public doesn't know you're dating?
Comedy Central loves the idea of me and Amy being together. They love it. If we said we were going to do a show together, they'd be thrilled, it would be a done deal. So when we did the roast (Roast of Donald Trump), she was on it. They asked me, "Would you be okay with Amy being on the roast?" I said, " Amy is going to do great, of course."
Then I thought, "Wait, are they going to talk about us being a couple?"Because I would never say, "Please don't make fun of my ears," But I said, "Listen, no one knows who Amy and I are, they sure as sh*t don't know we're together, so you have to set up that we're together to tell a joke and I think that sucks, please don't do that.
Then they did it anyway. Jon Lovitz's first joke was about how we're a couple and he had to set it up, and those jokes don't even work. On the second roast, on Roseanne, that we did together, we weren't really together at that time, so they layed off us for that.
We realized we should have just told them that the first time. They try to make jokes, it's hard to make a good joke about us at all, so it's hard to make a funny joke. Most of the jokes about me are like, "Oh his delivery is slow," or "He looks like a frat boy," very simple stuff. They want to get to the real people. They want to get to Roseanne, not me.
Anthony said Amy will be on the first episode of his show next month.
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Tags: Amy Schumer, Anthony Jeselnik, Bobby Kelly, Brian Posehn, Colin Quinn, Comedy Cellar, Comedy Central, Daniel Tosh, Donald Trump, Doug Benson, Giraldo, Greg Giraldo, Jerry Seinfeld, Jerry Seinfeld's Comedian, Jim Norton, Jimmy Fallon, Jon Lovitz, Jon Stewart, Keith Robinson, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Lisa Lampanelli, Roast of Donald Trump, Sarah Silverman, Seinfeld, The Comedy Cellar, the Daily Show, Tosh.0, Vic Theatre, Zach Galifianakis