Originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Jeselnik was named one of Variety’s 10 Comics to Watch in 2008 and one of Comedy Central’s Hot Comics in 2009. In 2010, he released his debut comedy album Shakespeare – and since then he's been hot property indeed.
Having recently been commissioned by Comedy Central to host his own weekly topical show, this tour may be the only opportunity Australian audiences get to see Anthony Jeselnik live for some time.
Anthony, are you surprised that your profile extends down to Australia or is your appeal getting a bit of recognition worldwide now?
You know, I've gotten some emails from fans over in Australia, people have emailed me things and I've always felt like Australia would like my sort of comedy. You guys are huge comedy fans and I think you like the dark stuff. I can't wait for the chance to get down there.
Do you find different audiences around the world react differently or is it universal?
Different audiences around the world do act differently, I feel like in America people can be a little more PC and they don't understand comedy so much, they see comedy on TV and they think, "Oh it's going to be pleasing for everybody" and they kind of get used to certain jokes in comedy. In Australia and in Europe they enjoy comedy and enjoy stuff a little bit darker and a bit more challenging.
Do you have to be aware of that when you're in the US, knowing they're not as understanding of comedy or do you go out and just do what you do and let the audience deal with it?
I think a lot of people have to be aware of it but I'm certainly not one of them, I like to ruffle some feathers and if there’s people that don't understand comedy in the way that other people do, then I don't feel bad for offending them.
For people who may be unfamiliar with you, how would you describe your on-stage persona?
I would say I'm the biggest jerk in the world, I'm pretty much an arrogant jerk who has confidence in what he's doing.
You’ve been on the Donald Trump and Charlie Sheen Comedy Central 'roasts' and you've got the Rosanne Barr roast coming up, what's the process like writing for them?
It's fun, but it's a challenge. You have limited resources in which to make a joke, you have to find something that no one has really made fun of them for before. You've got to have that reference and it's got to be original, and it can't be something the audience doesn't know about. For Charlie Sheen, I researched him and he actually shot his girlfriend in the arm once accidentally – an actress named Kelly Preston. He shot her and they broke up over it. Understandably [laughs]. And I tried to make jokes about it but the audience didn't remember that and they didn't really believe it so you just couldn't say it, the jokes just didn't work. It's more the challenge to see what the audience know so they can make a connection to the jokes.
Is it frustrating at all that those jokes are so disposable or is that kind of exciting?
It's exciting, that's a great question, it's exciting because you know you can only use them once so there's kind of more pressure on them so you don't get the chance like you do with your act to hone jokes and come up with new bits. You just have to find that joke and really commit to it because you only get to tell it once and if it doesn't go well then you've really blown your opportunity.
They used to call Late Night with Johnny Carson "the Superbowl of comedy", and that Superbowl idea doesn't really exist in that sense now. Was the Donald Trump roast kind of that moment for you?
Absolutely. I would definitely call the roast "the Superbowl of comedy" – it's the one comedy thing, especially in America, that almost everybody watches. If you're a comedy fan you'll definitely see that, whereas if I do an hour special and it's on a Saturday night then most people won't be able to see that. But the roast, they kind of live for 10 years, they'll be re-run, and people really tune in and there's only two or three comics on them, maybe four, so you really stand out if you do well on them, the first roast changed my life.
It was career-making for you?
Absolutely, yeah, absolutely. It was a shortcut. You can be on the road for years and years and hope to get a sitcom or a TV show but being on a roast you can do what you want to do and luckily for me my comedy is very similar to the roast style. I tell smart, mean jokes so people who like me on the roast can come out and see a show and enjoy it just as much as they enjoy the roast, whereas some people who might be nice people on stage can be mean for a roast but it doesn't really translate well. But it was perfect for me.
Your comedy explores some dark areas, and you've said that comedy is telling people what they don't want to hear… what do you mean by that?
I think there are certain buzz words that people don't want to hear. I think that death and the awful atrocities that happen in life, they happen to everybody and everybody is touched by them in some way so you can joke about them and everyone knows what you're talking about. But some people just don't like to hear it, they don't enjoy their comedy with a slice of dead babies on the side. But there's other comedians for those people and some people really do enjoy that, and to me it's a challenge. It's a challenge to get someone to laugh at suicide and it also amps the tension up on a joke that I think I get a bigger laugh by introducing these things. The joke isn't always about rape or suicide or death, but those are elements about the joke which make the laugh sound a lot bigger.
Is there more to it than just the laugh for you though? Are you hoping people leave your shows realising that comedy can come from places they didn't know it could?
That's certainly great if they do but I just want everyone to have fun and laugh a lot. I don't really care too much what they take away from it but I think it's nice for people to watch comedy and see there are different ways to look at things.
There’s been a bit of controversy recently of comedians’ jokes being taken out of context and criticised online, does it frustrate or excite you that that reaction is still out there. You seem to get off on reactions.
[Laughs] Yeah it's exciting to me. I feel like if I'm at a comedy show and someone says something offensive and people around me are upset but I think it's funny, then I enjoy it that much more. So I'll feel very proud if I see one out of four people being upset at a joke but the other three are going crazy laughing. I think they appreciate it that I'm not worried about that. I'm not going to not tell a joke that 10 people might laugh at because three people might get upset. And there are certainly shows I do where the whole crowd isn't behind a joke but I'm so consistent with telling these kind of evil jokes that if you don't like one, then you can get onboard the next. It's not like I'm talking about the difference between men and women for 20 minutes and then I tell a rape joke. I'm very consistent and I'm very straightforward and upfront about what I do. If people get offended at this point, it's on them.
Who were the biggest influence on you comedically?
The biggest one for me wasn't a stand-up comedian, it was a guy named Jack Handey.
Yeah and his stuff on Saturday Night Live. Those were my favourite things in the world so when I started writing my own jokes he was one of my favourites and luckily for me he wasn't a stand-up so it wasn't an influence I could readily copy. You see someone who is hugely influenced by Mitch Hedberg and you know as soon as they tell two jokes that their influence is Mitch Hedberg, and you're just going to think about Mitch the whole time, but I was lucky to have an influence that wasn't that apparent. He was the big one for me.
Do you have a favourite one-liner of his?
I love this joke, and this one has been a huge influence on me, it was: "I'm afraid of clowns. I don't know why that is. Maybe it goes back to the time I went to the circus and the clown killed my father." That killed me so hard. His jokes were just: "How did he think of that?" You will laugh but then think, "How?" It just seemed so smart and that's what I wanted, I wanted to be brilliant, I literally wanted to try and be absolutely brilliant and if you set that bar high enough for yourself you kind of have to clear it.
And you've got a pilot at the moment, what's that about?
I filmed a pilot in March and we're going to air at the end of January right. We're doing 10 episodes then hopefully 20, 30, 40 and so on but right now it's a standard production order but the hard part is over. I've gotten picked up and I'm going to be on TV. I won't go into it but I'm just trying to put a show together that's in my voice, I'm not going to change myself or what I do to appeal to a wider audience. I want people to be aware of what I do.
Anything else in the works?
Just getting ready for the roast of Roseanne Barr. I'm currently fighting with standards and practices about some of my jokes on there but that's always a challenge. And then I go on tour right after that with all new material. I recorded an hour special in June so I'm trying to turn a lot of that over, so in Australia it will be a lot of that hour plus a lot of new stuff. I like to keep it fresh for myself so I'm always working on new jokes, I’m just really excited to get down to Australia.