If you love God and hate a certain word for female genitalia that rhymes with hunt, Jim Jefferies is not the comedian for you. The Australian atheist made a name for himself on stages dropping c-bombs while talking about coke binges, and why God is an asshole and the people who believe in him are idiots (this explains, in part, why he was once famously attacked during a performance). Jefferies' is currently starring as himself on the semi-autobiographical FX series Legit, opposite Dan Bakkedahl, who plays his pathetic roommate Steve, and DJ Qualls, who plays Steve's brother Billy, who has muscular dystrophy. As unapologetic and shocking as any of his stand-up shows (the pilot focused on getting Billy laid for the first time), Legit is winning over an audience. Complex spoke to Jefferies about the origins of his offensiveness.
Interview by Justin Monroe (@40yardsplash)
Is there a joke that could offend you?
Not really. I think only things that are personal to us offend us. It’s always bizarre when people who would normally laugh at an AIDS joke won’t laugh at a cancer joke, but far more people know somebody who’s died from cancer. Personally I don’t like when people talk shit about suicide or depression, but I am smart enough to realize they’re not talking directly to me, so there’s no point in getting offended.
When did you know that raw humor was your kind of comedy?
From the start. It’s what I’ve always been doing. I grew up watching Eddy Murphy’s Delirious. That was the only standup performance I ever watched, so I thought that’s what you did to get here. Then I watched a few more on TV. I always hated guitar acts and guys who moved around too much. Every comedian is just doing the comedy they find funny. This is me and it’s not clean in any way. I could get a lot more work on TV playing clean but it’s never interesting.
It’s always bizarre when people who would normally laugh at an AIDS joke won’t laugh at a cancer joke.
Do people react differently to your act in different regions?
No, I think funny is the same all across the world, I’ve hadn’t had any problems in England, Australia, or over here. Occasionally in more rural areas of countries, if I do something about gun control, people get angry about that. There are obviously political things that you cannot avoid.
As for basic jokes about sex and even my religious stuff, I don’t find any problems with that, even if I’m gigging in the Bible Belt, because religious people don’t come and see me. If I was just a clubbing comic who showed up from town to town and people didn’t know who they were seeing, I’m sure I would get a lot of walk-outs.
So did you have many altercations early on in your career?
I had more altercations early on in my career, but my early career was done in England, and the British are pretty tolerant when it comes to things on stage. They don’t get freaked out too much. It’s not a religious place, and also I never talked about British politics because I never really understood them.
Do you tailor your material to regions?
No, but I might tailor it to the time of the night. The early show may get more long-winded stories because people in the audience can focus better, and the late show has to get snappier and shorter one-liners because they’re all drunk.
Do you think comedy has any ability to change society?
I think comedy has the ability to tip people who are thinking about change over the edge. I’m never going to convert someone who’s into gun control. I may convert someone who is not quite sure anymore. You can teach people sometimes, because they might not know what you’re talking about to begin with, but converting is a lot harder.
How did you become an atheist?
I was 13 when I was started questioning and 16 when I stopped [believing in God]. It wasn’t a hard decision for me; my family wasn’t particularly religious. We went to church like once a year, for Easter. My mother’s idea of religion was making us watch special biblical movies like fucking The Ten Commandments and all that shit. That was my religious education as a kid. I don’t think I’ve ever prayed in my entire life, never sat and had an imaginary chat with God.
Your religious bits seem well informed, at least.
I always research the facts and figures I give. I have tried reading the Bible but that’s a tough read there. I watch a lot of religious documentaries. I have a keen interest in religion for someone who’s not religious.
Have women ever been hesitant to have sex with you because you discuss your sexual experiences in your act?
I don’t think it ever hurt in that regard. It might have. I know my girlfriend doesn’t like those jokes, but she also appreciates that that’s the gig.
We’re approaching the end of the first season. What are your thoughts on how it went?
It’s finding its audience now, which is cool. First season, you learn what works and what doesn’t work, what people like and what they don’t like. There are episodes I’m proud of, two I am OK with, and three that I’m not happy with at all. But when you’re making one, you don’t think, “Oh, this one won’t be a good one.” Later, you may look at it and think, “Ah, I didn’t work hard enough on that story line,” or “I didn’t act good enough,” or whatever. All in all I’m proud of it.
How do you see the show evolving if FX renews it?
I like it when the three characters have adventures together, so I’m going to try and do more of that. I’ll utilize John Ratzenberger [who plays Steve and Billy’s father] a bit more too. When we made this show, I wasn’t keen on having the tiny tender moments, but people seem to have really responded to that, so maybe I was wrong about that. I thought it should be a little bit more heartless than it is but people think it’s good that it has a heart.
A good deal of the heart and hilarity comes from DJ Qualls, whose character has muscular dystrophy. He's impressive in how little he gets to move.
He’s got a very active neck for a person with muscular dystrophy! [Laughs.] All these muscles have depleted except for his neck! He can whip his head around really quickly! It seems that throughout the season he uses his oxygen less and less too. That’s DJ’s artistic license, but yeah, he does a great job. He’s gotten very capable in that wheelchair. We set up a stunt course during lunch and we race it and DJ wins every time by a mile.
The television version of you regularly beds beautiful women. Does that reflect real life?
Well, my girlfriend is very attractive! It’s the Woody Allen syndrome, you know? But whenever I meet a good-looking girl on the show, she always ends up hating me, just like in real life. Or she wakes up regretting sleeping with me. You get to be a couple points better looking when you’re in entertainment. The theory behind those female characters is that they are seeing me in a club somewhere, so I’m slightly better looking. You’ll notice that I never pick up the girl on the streets or walking around. [Laughs.]
You’ve worked you baby boy into your new stand-up material. How do you think he’s going to react to that later in life?
Yeah, I’m not saying my kid did something cute. It’s pretty nasty stuff. I hope he’s OK with it. I hope he has a good sense of humor. And if he’s not OK with it, he shouldn’t be living in my house, eating all my food.
Interview by Justin Monroe (@40yardsplash)