Australian virtuoso violinist Ian Cooper interviewed comic legend and entertainer Jim Jefferies from his car in Los Angeles last week. [If you haven’t seen Jefferies bit on gun control, you must watch this and this.]
Ian: G’day, Jim. What part of the world have I caught you in?
Jim: I’m in L.A. right now. It’s fuckin’ pouring with rain.
Ian: Oh man, I’m sorry to hear that. Mate, your thoughts on U.S. gun control have pretty much gone viral around the world. Congratulations.
Ian: We’re well known for being able to take the piss out of ourselves, but not every country is like us. How have you managed to get away with it in the U.S.?
Jim: I don’t know if that statement is true. I find that the Americans are very good at taking the piss out of themselves. It’s just, the problem is with 330 million people, you’re going to have 30 million of ’em that are sensitive bastards, you know? So you’re left with 300 million people who are pretty good at satire and taking the piss out of themselves.
But also, the Australians—I sometimes get very bad reviews when I go back to Australia because I feel like they think I’m like this naughty kid who left the family and has gone around the world swearing and giving Australians a bad name. So I don’t know if Australians do take the piss out of themselves that well after all. (laughs)
Not a lot of Americans like me. But you don’t need a lot of ’em to like you. You just need a few million of ’em to like ya. So as long as you’re playing to this small demographic in a country that’s so vastly populated, you’re not gonna have a problem. The people who don’t like me don’t come to the shows. It was harder in the early days of my career when I used to play comedy clubs and people didn’t know who was coming on stage. That was a much harder period of my career than it is now. I get a lot of hate mail though in saying that, from gun nuts and all that. But, you know, who cares? I actually enjoy it now. I used to get very sensitive about it but I quite enjoy the hate mail now.
Ian: I’m surprised you have time to read it.
Jim: Well, the thing is that it comes to your Facebook or it comes to your Twitter account so it’s very hard to ignore. I don’t read anything on YouTube or see how my clips are going or anything like that, but when they send it directly to you, it’s very hard. Sometimes the opening sentence is, “I’m a big fan of your work.” So you go, “Ohhh, I’ll read this. This is a compliment.” And then it delves into nastiness.
Ian: Would you class yourself as purely an entertainer, or do you feel that you have an opportunity to educate people?
Jim: First and foremost I consider myself an entertainer. But I do enjoy having a platform where millions of people listen to me talk. I don’t think many people get that opportunity in life. I always say to the Americans that it doesn’t matter what I say about their government or whatever, because I can’t vote. But I feel I have something more powerful than a vote. I can sway opinions and I don’t take that responsibility lightly. But also, I don’t know if I really can convert people, but I do like having the opportunity of starting the conversation. So if it’s about atheism for example, if someone’s teetering, “Is there a God? Isn’t there a God?” or whatever, I may make a few points that might resonate with them. But I don’t think there’s a Christian or a Jewish person or a Muslim who’s listened to my routine and then gone, “I’ve been wrong all along!” No, I don’t think that’s happening.
Ian: Do you remember the trouble Salman Rushdie was in? Mate, you’re like teflon; nothing sticks. Do you ever worry about anything like that?
Jim: I do. I have beefed up my security when I’m on stage. I put metal detectors in all the theatres. Everyone gets wanded as they come in the room and I do put security at the edge of the stage. And I put security at all the exits. So I have beefed it up. But apart from doing that, there’s nothing more you can really do. You can’t live your life in fear. You can’t worry that you’re gonna say something that’s going to upset someone so much that they’re going to hurt you. You just try to keep things as secure as possible.
I wouldn’t compare myself to John Lennon, but I bet you John Lennon wasn’t walking around the street thinking that he was going to get shot. That’s no way to live your life.
Ian: Your massive range of topics … obviously gun laws, but alcoholism, sex, recreational drug use, religion, and aeroplane etiquette—I really enjoyed that; I travel a lot … is there anything off limits? Is there anything you won’t talk about for fear of offending the wrong person or the wrong group of people?
Jim: There’s nothing I won’t talk about if it’s really funny. If it’s really, really funny, I’ll talk about anything. I think if it’s really funny, the people who get offended look stupid because it’s a joke—it’s really funny! Sometimes I think, “Will this really upset me mother and me dad?” like when I talk about them on stage—sure, I worry about that. And then there’s been things like when I wrote my TV show, Legit, I edited it slightly because I thought the network will hate this and I’ll be out of a TV show before you know it. So there are little things you do, but for the most part, no, there is nothing that I’d worry about an audience member being really offended by.
Primarily when I’m performing, I’m writing the jokes that I want to hear. I’m not writing for other people, I’m writing for me, and then my hope is that there are more people like me that will enjoy it. If an artist starts preempting what the audience are going to enjoy, then I think they’ve lost a little bit of their integrity. You know, if some fuckin’ songwriter sits down and thinks, Oh, this has got a good hook and the kids will like it or whatever, I feel it’s a bit cheap. I’m sure Van Gogh never fuckin’ painted anything ’cause he thought it will be commercial. It’s because it was something he digged.
Ian: Now, hecklers! (Jim laughs.) Hecklers! Can you predict by where you’re going to play, which area or which town or whatever, whether you’re going to get heckled, and whether it’s going to be a good heckle or just a nuisance, waste of time, attention-seeking heckle?
Jim: Yeah, the more metropolitan the city, then normally the heckles are a bit more refined. In saying that, there are some cities in the world that are renowned for it. Liverpool in England—you can’t go to Liverpool and not get heckled because it’s a city of people who all think they’re comedic. And they really love heckling in that town.
Ian: Sure. We’re all proud of you at home, mate, because you say a lot of things that many of us think but would never dare to say. Look, I’ve never heard you say anything that you haven’t convinced me of. All your arguments work!
Jim: (laughs) When it comes to guns, sure, and religion, sure. But I do have an unhealthy amount of misogyny in my shows that I get hate mail for. Some of (the show) is just jokes, some of it’s stuff I don’t even believe, and some of it’s stuff that I believe deeply in. But while I’m on stage, I can’t make people know when I’m just taking the piss or when I’m being serious. I just hope that they can see it.