By Kira Golden
Jefferies is known for his offensive, ranting style of comedy and controversial subject matter, but that doesn’t stop him from being loved worldwide. He has performed for crowds all over the world, and was notoriously attacked onstage during one of his shows at the Manchester Comedy Store. Jefferies made the story of the incident part of his act, which can be seen in his 2008 DVD Contraband. He became well-known in the U.S. after his HBO special I Swear to God premiered in 2009, and has since released further DVDs of his stand-up, including Alcoholocaust, Fully Functional, and Bare. In 2013, he wrote and starred in his own comedy series, Legit. Though it was cancelled after its second season, Jefferies has since partnered with Netflix and the show is featured on the site as well as many of his stand-up DVDs.
Recently, Jefferies took time out of his very busy schedule to speak with CV Weekly about his early life, comedy, and upcoming projects.
CVW: So much of your act is you telling stories of your real-life experiences. How did you become such a great story-teller, or have you always been?
Jefferies: I don’t know. There’s no real trick to it. Yeah, I think I’ve always had a knack for telling stories, which is good because I’m not the greatest joke-writer in the world—well, I write good jokes, but I’m better at telling stories, so I always get excited when something happens to me that I think will be a good story. I try to make little shit moments in life happen—like I don’t go on the best holidays with my kid, I try to take him in an RV or something, because hopefully something will come from that. Sometimes, when you have a one-night stand, back in the day, I was always happier afterward if it went crap than if it went good (laughs).
CVW: When/how did you realize you could turn that into a successful stand-up career?
Jefferies: I wanted to be a stand-up comedian since I was a little kid. I would always watch them on TV. If there was a late-night show on I was always way more excited if they had a comedian coming on than any band. As for when did I know I could turn it into a career—I was probably 22 when I figured it out. My brother got married and made me the best man and I had a good best man speech and then that gave me the courage to get up and do some stand-up.
CVW: Who were your favorite comedians as a kid? Who were your greatest influences?
Jefferies: As a kid well—a lot of Australian acts you never would’ve heard of. But on a larger scale, as a kid, it was Eddie Murphy’s Delirious. It was the first time I saw a guy onstage swearing and stuff and that really got me excited. I used to watch that Betamax video like people watch porn, you know, like two or three minutes while my parents were out in the garden or something and then I’d turn it off cuz I was very little when that thing came out.
CVW: Your material can be controversial and you have described yourself as an “offensive” comedian. How have you learned to handle the negative responses?
Jefferies: I ignore them. It’s the only way to do it. I’m actually fairly thin-skinned so I don’t read comments on YouTube clips or Netflix or anything like that. It’s just best to stay away from it. Thing is with me—people either really like me or they despise me (laughing). All I know is when I’m walking down the street, the people who come up to me are always nice to me. Everyone always shakes my hand and say they like me and are super nice to me. But that makes me think that one in ten people that notice me, there’s someone walking past me muttering to themselves, “That guy’s a fucking asshole.” Those people never say hello (laughing).
CVW: Given that you do like to tackle these controversial subjects, is there any subject you won’t touch with a ten-foot pole?
Jefferies: My rule is: The more offensive the subject matter, the funnier the joke has to be. I never really casually say something offensive. There are some, mostly newer acts that go, “I’m gonna talk about pedophilia or rape.” But they’re not seasoned enough and the joke isn’t even that funny. And they start going, “Aw, am I too risqué for you? This audience, is it too much for you?” And it’s not too much for the audience. It’s just not funny enough. I’ve never had a huge backlash if the joke’s been really really good.
CVW: When did you move to the U.S. and what prompted the move?
Jefferies: I moved to the U.S. five years ago but I’ve only been living here 3 years full-time. I came over because I got myself an agent and I thought I’d do three months worth of gigs. I’d just broken up with a girl in the U.K. and I thought, “This’ll be a nice change of pace.” I’d never really been to America. And then I got the HBO special and I was like, “Well, might as well stay here.”
CVW: Do you prefer acting in TV and movies or stand-up?
Jefferies: If I wasn’t a stand-up comedian I never would have considered being an actor. I was just in an episode of Bad Judge for NBC and I saw the footage and I thought, “Oh my God, I look like a fucking potato.” I think being funny gets you a long way in life. With stand-up comedy you can be as busy or as unbusy as you want to be. I would advise my son not to be an actor, but I wouldn’t tell him not to be a stand-up comedian. Acting’s just not a very stable job. I’m much happier working onstage but I’ll take the acting work if I can get it.
CVW: Do you have any upcoming projects to follow Legit?
Jefferies: I’m trying to sell a new sitcom right now. I’d like to make a movie to wrap everything up with Legit. I just did a movie with Ken Jeong and Rhys Darby about killing David Hasselhoff, which was a lot of fun. Apart from that, I’m just gigging as always. I just did a scene for an indie movie with J.K. Simmons, who looks like he’s gonna win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for Whiplash. I’ve done a scene with Carrie Fisher, who’s from my favorite movie in the world, Star Wars. So if I never act again, I’ve done some things I never expected to be able to do.
CVW: What advice would you give to a young comedian starting out?
Jefferies: The best advice is: try to get as much stage time as possible and try to write as much material as possible. It’s just good practice. I would say, even, quantity over quality. The more stuff you can bring out, the more entertaining you’ll be.
Jefferies’ colorful way of speaking and self-deprecating manner had me laughing throughout the interview. He was generous with his time, and true to form, told me some great stories.
Tickets for the November 29 show are $25 and $35 and are going fast. Get yours at www.Spotlight29.com, Star Tickets (800) 585-3737, or the Spotlight 29 Box Office and Gift Shop. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the show starts at 8 p.m.