A&E » Comedy

Interview: Anthony Jeselnik

A&E caught up with comedy's newest merchant of mean
Anthony Jeselnik will be performing at the Acme Comedy Club through Saturday.
  • Photo courtesy Anthony Jeselnik
September 22, 2011

What: Anthony Jeselnik

Where: Acme Comedy Club, 708 N. First St.

When: Thursday through Saturday

8 pm and 10:30 pm (except for Thursday)

Cost: $15

For Anthony Jeselnik, there is no line. And if there was one, he’d cross it immediately.

For almost a decade, the Pittsburgh native has carved out a niche for himself as comedy’s newest (and most talented) merchant of mean by establishing a stage persona that’s as clever as it is unabashedly offensive.

And his debut album “Shakespeare” is as good of an introduction as anything else. It’s a minor masterpiece of comedic shock art teeming with enough jokes about sex, misogyny and death that it’d have your grandparents cringing for weeks.

A&E caught up with Jeselnik to talk about roasts, his favorite villains and why he doesn’t care that you’re offended by his jokes.

When you were first asked to do the Donald Trump roast, did you feel intimidated?

No, because I had gotten to write for the David Hasslehoff roast the year before and got to see how it all worked. So I was really glad I had that experience and I knew how those roasts worked pretty much. It wasn’t too scary.

It seems like it’d be your bread and butter, too.

You know, I always thought so. I always thought my short mean jokes would be perfect for a roast. But you never know. So I was very happy that it went well and this one has been received well so far, too.

Your humor definitely has a mean streak to it, but you seem like a perfectly nice person. Where’s it come from?

I think it’s my sense of humor is just people doing mean things. All my jokes are make believe. I make up people and do mean things to them. So it’s not really me being mean. But I really think just, like, if somebody’s trying to eat a sandwich and someone else just slaps the sandwich out of their hand, that’s hilarious. And to do it to a stranger is dick, but if you do it to someone you know, like a friend, I think that’s just really funny.

You’ve said you were always into darker subject matter when you were younger. Did you have any favorite villains?

I loved the Joker from “Batman.” I was a huge Joker guy. I wasn’t a big comic book dude, but he was a big favorite of mine. And I always loved Shakespearian villains. They were just so evil. I remember Aaron the Moor from “Titus Andronicus.” They kill him in the end and his only regret in dying is that he can’t do more evil [expletive]. That just cracked me up. Also, bad guy wrestlers were always really funny to me. I loved Ravishing Rick Rude. He was just such a dick.

What other topics do you want to explore that you don’t think you’ve covered enough?

God, I don’t really know. I would love to just find new ways to attack everything. Cancer was a big one where people just get so turned off by the word being brought up. So to try and make a joke to get people to laugh at — that will be fascinating to me for quite some time.

Rape is also a big one because people get so upset about it. And I understand that but it’s an awful thing that happens and if it stops happening I’ll stop joking about it, but until then I feel like I should be allowed to. But it really turns people off, so trying to find a way to keep people on board while you’re bringing up that subject is something I’ll keep working on.

Why do you feel compelled to joke about it?

It’s almost a joke exercise. It’s something people don’t talk about. It’s very real. It happens all the time but people don’t even want to hear about it. And I think that’s part of what comedy should be is telling people what they don’t want to hear. So as a joke writer and someone who writes short jokes, I want to do the most difficult subjects possible. So those seemed to be the ones that people don’t want to laugh at. And that’s what’s fascinating to me is making people laugh at things they don’t want to laugh at.

What do you say to people who just tell you you’re being insensitive? Why don’t you feel like comics have a responsibility to them?

Because there’s so many different comics. It’s the same reason that Metallica doesn’t have a responsibility to country music fans when they make an album. You know, why should I answer to you? I’m doing exactly what I think is funny, and I have an audience for it. There are plenty of other comedians out there you can go enjoy. I don’t feel like I should change for someone’s random opinion. And the people who hate me for certain things, there are people who love me for those exact same things. So you just have to let that go and I don’t feel I need to respond to anyone’s question about it.

And they can say that’s bad, but that’s comedy. I think some people don’t understand comedy and don’t have a great sense of humor. It would be like if somebody’s playing cricket and you walk up and go watch the game, you can’t just start yelling at them and expect them to explain to you what you’re doing. It’s just entertainment and people have other options. It’s not that big of a deal. It’s just comedy. They’re just jokes.

I know when you entered college you wanted to be a novelist. Have you ever thought about writing a book?

Absolutely. I think that will just come with my writing. Every time I write a script or something I get so bored because I just want to be writing jokes, and I just need to get that out of my system before I can go onto anything else. But I think certainly in the next 10 years that’s something I’ll consider doing is working on a novel. I think in the near future I’ll write a book, but it will be more of a comedian book; funny stories about my life sort of thing, not a real novel.

If you could roast anyone who would it be?

(long pause) I got to say Casey Anthony. She’d be a great one.

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