"There are only so many dead baby jokes in the world," says comedian Anthony Jeselnik. That includes the closing joke on his last album, Caligula, about Casey Anthony.
You may know him as the smug, ruthless-yet-dashing comedian from the Comedy Central roasts of Charlie Sheen and Donald Trump. He's like Dorian Gray if he had also received the gift of wit for selling his soul. While there's an intelligence to his provocation, his jokes about death, tragedies, and taboo subjects have kept his mainstream popularity unstable. His Comedy Central show, The Jeselnik Offensive, was canceled in late 2013 after two seasons.
Jeselnik is now on a nationwide tour to prepare for a new and undoubtedly more offensive standup special, which you can get a taste of tonight at the Pantages Theatre. Before the show, we talked about why he's not concerned with social media and postponing his new standup special. In an attempt to understand the man whose career is built on cancer and rape jokes, we also asked what makes him cry. He told us.
[jump] You've performed in Minneapolis a couple of times, once at Acme Comedy Co. and once at the Varsity Theater. Do you remember anything about those shows?
I remember the Acme very well, because it's like an oasis for comedians. Every comic loves it, the audience is always great, and Louis [Lee] is one of the most knowledgeable comedy-club owners I've ever met. He was really great to me. The shows were fantastic, and I knew I was really going to like Minneapolis.
Now that you're selling out theaters and you have fans that expect a certain thing from you, does it take you longer to write your new material?
It makes it a little more difficult. Not so much because of fan expectations, but because I've just done this a couple of times. It's kind of like I'm putting a bunch of different material into a juicer: Just cram it in and see what comes out. I'm trying all kinds of new things, because it has to be fresh to me and it has to be fresh to the audience. Even though they know what they're getting, I don't want to let anybody down. I want to give them exactly what they're expecting and then a little more.
Along similar lines, when something tragic happens in the world, it seems like people are waiting for you to come up with a joke about it. Is that something that still interests and challenges you? Or would you rather move on to material that's not event-based?
I used to not like doing event-based material because it has a shelf life. If you thought of this great joke for a current event, you could only use it for like two weeks and then it was gone. That always broke my heart a little bit. But with Twitter and other social media, for a little while I was the guy. I was the anti-voice. I would do the opposite of what everyone was saying. If there was a tragedy, I would make a joke. But that kind of got taken away from me.
When I had my TV show [The Jeselnik Offensive] I would get in fights with my bosses at Comedy Central. I would talk about it in the act, about being made to take down a joke, which ruined Twitter for me. If something really crosses my mind after a current event I'll tweet about it, but that's very rare for me. I'd rather keep it to myself or do it onstage. The social media benefits -- they don't concern me.
Since there are a lot of comedians that heavily use social media, it seems that they're putting a lot of time and effort into the jokes they're writing on Twitter and other platforms. When you did use Twitter regularly, did you ever think about whether it was a waste of good material or not?
I just thought it was a hollow way to get feedback. I think some comics really love it because it's all they have. I'd rather go on the road and see people in real life and do my jokes for them. And I'm able to do that. A lot of comics can't, so social media is everything. They worry about how many retweets they get or how many new followers they get. I've got hundreds of thousands of followers, but that doesn't mean anything when a cat that tweets has two million followers. You know, who really cares?
I spent most of last night coming up with questions to ask you, but I also went to see Interstellar. To be honest with you, I cried during it. And when I got out of the theater I thought, "Would Anthony Jeselnik cry during this?" Do you tear up during movies or while reading certain books? Or is crying just not a place that you go?
I wish I cried. I don't have it. I'm not a crier in real life, but movies or TV can sometimes get me. It'd be interesting with Interstellar -- I've seen like eight movies recently and none of them [made me cry]. Maybe the end of Fury almost got me teary a little bit. It's tough to do, maybe Interstellar will do it. I mean, my eyes will tear up at the end of movies sometimes, and I'm not ashamed of that in any way.
The last time I really cried, I was in a hotel room and watched the last episode of The Office with Michael Scott where he says goodbye. He tells everyone that Friday is his last day, but it's actually Thursday. So he's going around on Thursday telling everyone goodbye and they don't know why he's saying goodbye to them. That got me so badly that I was bawling, absolutely bawling. I haven't cried like that before.
Tell us about your new standup special. You were going to record it in a week, but you said on Twitter that it's being postponed. Can you say anything about why it's being pushed back to 2015?
It was for very boring reasons. I'm doing the special with Netflix, and it took a while to negotiate the deal. It took too long, and the company that was going to produce was like, "Listen, they're not going to give us this budget for another week. So do you want to rush this? Or do you want to push it until February, find a new place, and keep going with it?" And I thought, "You know what? That's fine. I'll take a little break."
The idea of taking a month off during the holidays and then going back on the road in January and shooting it early February sounds good to me. It was not for any creative reasons whatsoever. The special will be just as good if not better a few months from now.
IF YOU GO:
710 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis
8 p.m. Friday, November 7
For tickets, call 1-800-982-2787 or visit www.hennepintheatretrust.org