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Jim Jefferies – booze hound turned puppy dog?

Wednesday, August 01 2012

With a baby on the way and a poster featuring a super-cute mutt, Jim Jefferies is a changed man. At least, offstage he is. He spoke to EiF from his pad in the Hollywood Hills

Jim Jefferies

What a different Jim Jefferies it is this time round. I interviewed him just before the 2010 Fringe and the resulting article was headlined "Jim Jefferies' guide to partying". Now he's going gooey over babies.

It happens. People get older and grow up, unfortunately for comedians, they get do it rather more conspicuously than us lot.

The context to that 2010 interview was that he'd recently moved to LA and was still finding his feet, but was bang into the lifestyle. As it happened, it was only a few months later, after the 2010 Fringe, that Jim's health tipped over the edge. A post-Fringe MOT showed that he had an enlarged liver, and that was when he decided enough was enough, it was time to quit. Since then he's been on and off the wagon periodically, but he now says his drinking is under control for the first time in 15 years.

This isn't necessarily a "booze hound goes soft" article (even if the booze hound in question kind of has his tails between his legs), because Jim has always been a comic of contradictions, and besides, it seems his new show, Fully Functional, will be business as usual.

He describes the show (whose title is a reference to his new-found sobriety) as more of the same "storytelling and talking about religion, sex and observations on life". Here are some other ways EiF would describe Jim and his shows: a testoserone-fuelled stand-up bulldozing through what the middle classes tip-toe around; a foul-mouthed and fearless Aussie, but one who craves the love of an audience; an angry iconoclast, but one that strays into misogyny and outright offensiveness; an unapologetic alpha male, although one aware of his own beta-ish qualities and vulnerabilities.

The difference with this show might be that the man onstage is more contented (and sober) than previously.

It's a big deal that Jim's off the sauce, because it's such a big part of his act. For years he has drunk heavily onstage, and it's partly why he can be such a brilliant, zero-bullshit stand-up. It's also partly why he is capable of careering into charmless loudmouth territory and ruining a gig. His boozy lifestyle has also been impossible detach from many of his routines over the years.

Other than a fat liver, there have been two other catalysts towards Jim's change in lifestyle. Firstly he and his girlfriend Kate Luyben are expecting a baby in October (as revealed exclusively by London is Funny in June,) and secondly he's scored a sitcom on FX channel (home of Russell Brand and Louis CK) called Legit, meaning he's working too hard to be able to booze like before. Jim plays himself, and is co-writing and executive producing the show, which takes over the Charlie Sheen slot in the off-season. Jim starts filming the day he gets back from his short UK tour in September (London dates and booking here).

Here are the best bits of the conversation. Jim is always a fascinating interviewee because he doesn't give a fuck what people think of him, essentially; and this time was no exception.

Jim Jefferies

Tell us a bit about Legit
"It picks up from the story at the end of my last live show [Alcoholocaust] where we take a guy with muscular dystrophy to a prostitute as his dying wish. That's the kind of pilot episode. It turned into an ensemble piece; I play myself, there's DJ Qualls [Road Trip, Breaking Bad] who's a funny actor and he's in every episode, there's Mindy Sterling [the German villain in Austin Powers] – I'm the only guy in the cast who can't act. I've done what Jerry Seinfeld did."

Did it make you feel reassured or insecure to have people like that around you?
"It was reassuring, but I'm more insecure with acting than I am with stand-up, as that's become second nature. This was always the end game for me – to get into movies or TV. Any comedian who says they don't want that is either lying or wants to be a TV presenter. Not that I'm not giving up stand-up any day soon, there'll be gigs in my diary when I die. It's the only way I know how to make money just by making a phone call. My first love was stand-up and that 's what I was into as a kid. I was never an actor kid, but you have to test yourself."

Do you feel settled in the US?
"Yeah I've just bought a house so I'm feeling settled now, I live with my girlfriend up in the [Hollywood] hills and it's very pleasant compared to where I was before [Venice Beach] which was pretty rowdy. I don't want to move again, I've moved enough, from Australia to London to Manchester to London ot LA … this has been the happiest year of my life and I'm sure there are happy ones to come. I defend London to anyone who slags it off though."

You seem pretty contented at the moment.
"Yeah I'm probably more content that I've ever been, but with the show comes a lot of stress. Success has its own levels of worry but they're all good worries. It's also balanced by the level of failure you can achieve. There's never been an Australian comedian given their own show in American, so I could be the one to fuck it up or I could open a few doorways for others, you never know."

When do you find it hardest not to have a drink?
"I think this UK trip will be really hard. Being on the road has been the hardest so far; I was doing a show in Kansas, staying in the outskirts next to a field, I'm not a good sleeper as it is, and the alcohol used to regulate when I went to bed and when I woke up. Now I still go to sleep really late but my girlfriend wakes me up in the morning. The road can get lonely, but for the most parts its a hell lot more fun than most jobs. I'm doing the 9-5 now writing these scripts – I'd forgotten what it was like to look forward to lunch."

Were you a big drinker back when you were a teenager?
"I think I grew up similar to UK kids, getting drunk in the park hoping finger some chick behind a tree – that was a good night out, and my brothers and father are still the same, but I don't spend much time with my dad any more so I don't know what he does. The difference between me now and me 2 years ago is the shame. I used to wake up after getting drunk and think I was a rock star, now I think I'm a fucking idiot, my mouth's all dry and I've got a headache. I would remember being in bar and getting dick out, think I was some awesome guy, now if I've got really drunk the first thing I do is ring people up to apologise. I had no shame at all.

"For a bit it's like 'oh he's young', people were more forgiving, but people stop forgiving you. I used to fuck up gigs but it didn't matter – I was doing Jongleurs and they didn't know who I was, I was getting £170 and I fucked it up, so long as I did the next few shows well it was alright. Now if I fuck up a show, people are spending a lot of money on me so it's not fair for me to act like that."

So is that it? Are your wild days officially behind you?
"I would never say that, I still want to be getting up to adventures, I pick my moments a lot better now. My girlfriend is pregnant, this is the really big thing for me right now. I've always wanted to be a father so I'm really excited about the prospect. We painted the nursery blue and when I walk past it I just smile. I can't walk past a children's shop without buying something for my kid, silly things like that.

"People might think this sounds funny but I've always really liked kids. If I'm round someone's house I'm always going to the back yard and playing with the child, or things like pulling goofy faces at them, I always like having kids around. I dote on my nephews and nieces when I see them.

"I can't be that same character going out drinking and all that, and be a dad. I know people who do that, but I don't think I want to do that."

What sort of dad do you think you'll be?"
"I'll probably be stingy as fuck, as I don't want them having too much money and thinking they can just have stuff. I see a lot of inherited kids in this town, kids of people I work with, they don't know what to do with themselves as they've had it all. My parents really gave us nothing, not really by design, but we've all done well for ourselves."

Do you have a name for the baby?
"It's a boy and we're gonna call it Hank. It's a good old American name. Kate's father is named Hank, I like it, it's a good solid name, a man's name. Hank's a guy who's got a big dick and can fix things. It's the sort of name you hear on TV a lot but never in real life."

• Jim Jefferies – Fully Functional is on at 9pm at the Assembly Hall

• Buy tickets for Fully Functional London dates in September


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