Jefferies said in a recent Q & A that he’s learned a lot from the first season. He’d never written a sitcom before and the whole things was a “little bit more fly by the seat of your pants,” he said. This season, he’s written a lot more for the actors because now, he knows what their strengths and weaknesses are.
In the interview, he talks about season two, writing for the show, stand-up and killing sacred cows.
Legit airs at 10pm on Wednesdays on FXX
What first season mistakes did you learned and how are you approaching season two going into it?
Jim Jefferies: In the first season, honestly I hadn’t written a sitcom before and it was a little bit more fly by the seat of your pants in the sense that the first season is based, …eight of the episodes were based directly from my standup. This season there’s actually one episode based on a standup routine. The rest of it is a full linear story this year that we’ve organically come up with. I’ve just now watched all Season 2. Season 1 had, to be honest with you, maybe three or four episodes that I wasn’t super proud of at the end of it, but you never make an episode going “I’m going to make a … one.” You know what I mean? You want them all to be good, but there were little tricks and little things that I maybe was slightly naïve about in the first season, so there are three or four of them I wasn’t super happy with. Now this year I’ve watched…. I think it’s substantially better than Season 1 and this season there’s one episode I’m not completely happy with; and I won’t tell you which one, because maybe you’ll like it.
Also when you’re writing the first season, you haven’t even cast the actors yet. You don’t know what their strengths and what their weaknesses are. You don’t know where they’ll take the character themselves. But now like for instance the character “Steve” is very well defined now, what Dan Bakkedahl does really good on…, so with this season he’s very good at playing big, so this season he becomes a full blown alcoholic, which progressively gets worse throughout the whole season. And not like a comedy alcoholic like from the movie Arthur, but like a real tragic figure, a guy who’s actually falling down the rabbit hole and he’s losing everything in his life. I think that’s a very interesting thing to put into a comedy, because often what you deal with addiction in comedy it is sort of a funny sort of like “here’s junky “Phil” who lives down the hallway;” but this one is the raw side of that. It’s still funny.
With the schedule of the show, are we going to be able to see you in the States, just you doing your standup?
Jim Jefferies: I am on tour at this very moment. I just got back from doing—I was just at a gig on Saturday in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia on Friday. I did Atlanta last week. If you go on my website, I’ve got dates for the next three months and I had planned on recording a brand new special in Boston in two months’ time. I have a deal with a network, with a channel to release that, but I can’t tell you which channel yet.
Now that you had the first season under your belt, are you finding are people recognizing you more? Are you getting more fan feedback about the show?
Jim Jefferies: Yes, I wouldn’t say I’m getting recognized more or that I’m more famous. I was already recognized a fair amount because of my standup, but I’m getting different demographics of people recognizing me. I’m getting more all ages. It used to be that people that came to my standup were just sort of men in their mid-20s used to come and watch me perform standup; but now I’m getting noticed by the opposite sex and … couples will come up to me in a restaurant and say we just love your show. It’s never couples that enjoyed me. It was always just the guy with his friends who enjoyed me. I kind of think that the show—I think people thought when I was going to make a sitcom that it would just dirty or it would just be whatever, you know and it is. It is dirty at times, it’s very similar what I do in standup, but it’s also I think it sounds sweet, almost sickly sweet at times.
I get slightly offended when people go obviously Jim Jefferies: Jefferies is playing an exaggerated version of himself where this guy is a ruthless … or something like that. And then I’m like I’m playing, I’m playing—it’s not that exaggerated. It’s pretty close to me and I don’t think I’m an …. I think even when I watch it, I think the character on the show is a pretty decent guy all in all. I think for the most part he’s not evil or anything like that. He’s an idiot, but I think the nice things he does outweighs the bad. I don’t think anyone in society is completely nice or completely bad. I think that all of us are two sides of the coin.
I just hope that it’s a fair representation of guys like me. I hope I empower other sleaze bags and … that they can be good people as well.
The idea of comics shattering sacred cows goes back decades, beyond George Carlin to the origins of comedy itself, whether we’re talking standup or your films, HBO specials, or the series itself. You seem to really wear that mantle well. Do you embrace that? Do you really see what your comic writing is and your storytelling, is it about shattering sacred cows and is there one sacred cow joke that maybe you would never tell on the show or in a concert hall?
Jim Jefferies: No, I’ve never made conscious effort to—I think I’m known for my standup providing a lot of maybe atheist related anti-religion stuff. I’ve only ever done it because I thought it was funny and also because I’m heavily influenced by George Carlin. Is there a topic I wouldn’t talk about? No, as long as it’s funny, I sometimes to the level of things that you’re making the level of funny has to come up as well. I know comics that aren’t as …, but when you watch them, you’re more offended because they think it’s just all dirty words or just saying the words right or talking about pedophilia or something. Those subjects you can’t talk about. You got to try or at least attempt to be insightful or to have some type of reference that makes sense.
As for sacred cows in the TV show, the only reason we had the character of “Billy” as a muscular dystrophy character is because I grew up with a guy with muscular dystrophy, and I took a guy with muscular dystrophy to a brothel before he was going to die. He was one of my best friends and he’s still alive, mind you, so that all really happened. Then when you have a character like “Billy” in the show, he has to have come from a home, and so you have to populate that world and so then you have to bring other disabled actors, and so I think people could watch the show and say that we have a hard on for having disabled characters in that show, but that’s just not the case. It’s just organically where the story from my actual life started and where it built.
I like to think that especially with the character of “Rodney” that we’re not doing anything—we have a mentally challenged actor, who performs regularly on our show. But I don’t think we ever do anything gratuitous or—we try to treat him like any other character on the show as one of the guys; but we also don’t make him like a sickly sorry character where you have to be sorry for him like a Hallmark movie. I don’t know if that answers your question, but those are things I’m happy to say.
The second season isn’t going to be so heavily based off of your standup, but has working with your standup in the form of putting it into the sitcom made you more focused on the standup somehow, or like have they affected each other?
Jim Jefferies: It made me focus on the standup in the extent that if I put all my stories into the sitcom, then I can’t perform it on stage, so it makes me write standup to do; but also I think writing a TV show, having that discipline where I have to go into an office every day for a few months until it was done maybe helped with the discipline of writing a standup as well. I used to never write my standup down. I still don’t write my standup on paper or anything; but I used to just organically do it on stage, have an idea, chatted it up a little bit. Now I’m keeping notes. I’m trying to keep up with the … of this world and try to bring out a special every year.
But this new season, as I said, is not really based on the standup. I had a few fans that enjoyed the show, but they were a bit pissy that it wasn’t all new material for the sitcom, so now hopefully we’ll be pleasing them as well.
By playing a comedian on the show, you get to show how people both in the business and people just outside of show business feel about standup comedians in general. Have you noticed a difference in approaching Season 2 how outsiders feel about standup comedians?
Jim Jefferies: I noticed it not from the general public, but I sort of noticed it from the actors we have on. With the actors there are two types of actors. There’s the actors who can acknowledge that they could never do standup comedy. Then there’s the pretentious ones, who believe that acting is harder than standup comedy. I definitely don’t think it is. I also think making a comedy is substantially harder than making a drama. Maybe that’s arrogant of me to say that, but if I ask you right now what’s your ten favorite dramas of the last five years, you’d able to rattle them off easy. There are five of them on the air right now.
I was watching True Detectives … The Americans are coming out. Brilliant, right? But if I ask you to give your top ten sitcoms over the last five years, you’d be struggling to even find at least ten that you like. There’s as many sitcoms or half hour comedies coming out as there is dramas, so this is my argument. You put more actors and more comedy actors in a drama, we do a better job than if all those dramatic actors came over and tried to do our comedy. There are actors everywhere who is going to read this and hate me for saying that.
I’m seeing so many other show pitches and treatments that revolve around standup comedy as a plot device.
Jim Jefferies: Yes, I think standup comedy in its heyday, in my mind I think went through one in the ‘80s and I think it’s back again as popular as it’s ever been. But I find it weird that people go Louie … himself in a standup show, so this show is similar to Louie because Jim Jefferies: ’s playing himself. My argument is no, no, no, Louie’s show was similar to Seinfeld and Seinfeld’s show was doing something similar to any other comic …. We use to give comics these fake occupations in sitcoms. We’ll make a show. We’ll call it the Bob Newhart Show, but we’ll give him a different job.
What’s the second point? Let the guy play himself and in a job that he knows being funny and that sort of stuff. There’s a run of these shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm, Seinfeld, Louie, Legit where it is a kind of a genre in its own right and I think it’s … great genre. I think it’s the best I do. What better way to showcase a person’s talent than to showcase their actual talent?
When you’re basing a show on somebody in real life, do you have to like get your old girlfriend’s permission to use her character, or you just hope she doesn’t see it or how does that work?
Jim Jefferies: I didn’t use her name. Actually the name of that character is called “Katie Knox,” which is the name of the girl that my brother lost his virginity to. I don’t know how to get in contact with her or she probably won’t even know who I am, because I’ve changed my last name and my brother is a fairly forgettable guy. Hopefully we won’t get sued by her.
When you’re basing stuff off of your real life, is there any point when you’re in the writing process where you feel like I’m just going to exorcise this out and kind of play it out as it did in real life, or do you want to change it up or kind of put it into a fantasy point where you kind of idealize the moment?
Jim Jefferies: No, I normally play it out pretty much exactly as it happened. If I can add a little bit of funny to it that didn’t happen, then I will. Sometimes you’re doing things directly from your own life, especially if they’re sad things, it’s very cathartic to actually make them into comedy, you know? But the only time I worry about it is if I’m hurting other people in my personal life. Normally I can change the name or I can change the location to say these things happened in America; they didn’t happen in Australia. There’s always enough change in it that people can even lie to themselves and go maybe he’s a talking about a different girl or different friend or a different thing.
Except for when it came to doing a storyline involving my parents and I’m using the exact dialog from what both of them have said to me in my life and some of it is a little bit harsh. My mother I know gets very upset by the whole thing because she thinks I only remember the bad bits of my childhood. I try to explain to her the bad bits are the funny bits and no one wants to watch a show about my good childhood or good things that happened to me with me and my parents. My parents have not seen the show. They’ll see it when it airs in Australia. I’m very nervous about them watching the episode that involved them, because I’m displaying a lot of their dirty laundry and maybe that’s not fair on them, but I’ve got to write a TV show.