Interview: Jim Jefferies, comedian

Comedian Jim Jefferies. Picture: Colin Hattersley
Comedian Jim Jefferies. Picture: Colin Hattersley
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IMPENDING fatherhood has little impact on Australian comic Jim Jefferies. Lee Randall finds him just as irreverent

‘He’s got little Converse trainers and AC/DC T-shirts – we’re already trying to turn him into me! The nursery is great. It’s done with a Winnie-the-Pooh decal and a white leather couch. And there’s a chandelier! I don’t know what’s gayer, having a chandelier in his room, or having a father that doesn’t know how to take down the chandelier in your room! I’ve looked at it for hours and can’t figure out how to detach this thing from the roof.”

No, we haven’t mucked up the running order. This is a conversation with Australian comic Jim Jefferies, who made his name mining the comedic motherlode of his passions for drinking, drugs, and pornography. Don’t worry – Jefferies is as filthy, irreverent, and charming as ever. The row of pints stage left won’t be there – he no longer drinks before or during gigs – but the line of chat is as sharp, scathing, and scatological as always. Pressed for spoilers, he promises that Fully Functional contains a 20-minute rape threesome routine, a “smashing” routine about aeroplanes, “and a very good routine about God turning up to a party”.

Off stage, however, life’s very different. Jefferies moved to Los Angeles four years ago, and hasn’t stopped working, not just gigging, but writing three movie scripts, and getting a sitcom, Legit, commissioned by FX. That’s why here, in the private dining room at Howies, we’re joined by his girlfriend, Kate Luyben – a leggy blonde with a megawatt smile – who’s due to give birth to a son they’ve named Hank Lennon Jefferies, at the start of November.

Jefferies says: “The pilot episode, which we shot last October, is about taking my friend’s brother, who has muscular dystrophy, to a prostitute. It’s the story I used to tell in my show. Kate played the prostitute. I’ll always get to tell our son that I employed his mum as a prostitute when we met, and it’ll be factual. She was the sweetest girl ever on set, but she didn’t know that I’d written the show or was an executive producer. Halfway through takes I’d tell everyone to stop, and I’d go, ‘You say this, and you say that,’ and I’d go whisper in the director’s ear, because he’s the co-creator with me. She thought, ‘Gee, Jim’s an arrogant actor.’”

Before the interview began, Luyben told me that Jefferies wanted children very much. I’ve always admired his soft centre, but this comes as news. “I like kids. Kids like me,” he says. Then, laughing, adds, “But we’ll see, I won’t be there much. It’s not like I’m going to be helping out or anything. I’m just going to be throwing money at it … No! I’m going to be a great dad. I’m very excited. So many people have given me this horror idea of, ‘You’ll never sleep, you’ll never this or that.’ But I used to be coming down off drugs for many years, and not sleeping. I used to wake up with hangovers. I think this will be way easier than my life used to be.”

Yeah, but has he ever seen what falls out of a nappy? “Ha! You should see what falls out of me!”

He’d be a househusband in a “f***ing heartbeat” he says. “Just baking bread and wiping asses. I do know how; I can cook. Watching kids giggle and running around on the floor, I could do that all day. I’ve got a puppet in the house just for when kids come over. We don’t even have kids yet, and I bought a Muppet … OK, it was an impulse buy.”

Like many an expectant dad, he’s worried about raising his son right. “The kid’s got a bigger room than I’ve ever lived in until now. The big thing in my head is how am I going to punish this child for us having a good life? How do you keep it from being a f***wit?”

No point sending him to his room when his room is fabulous. And has a chandelier. “Exactly. You can do little things, like make them get an after-school job and do chores, but there are problems that I can’t really get around. When me and my family went on holidays, we went on shit holidays. We were in a caravan where me and my brother had to sleep on the kitchenette table, head-to-toe and Mum and Dad snoring four metres away. I don’t want to go on shitty holidays just to give the kid moral fibre. In an ideal world, I’d like to send the child on shitty holidays and me and Kate could have nice ones.” Why not send Hank to his parents? “Yeah! There’s a good idea!

“I am very nervous about this. And both of us have shitty occupations – comedian and actress. We’re in jobs where we’ve lucked out in many ways. I do believe that I am a very hard worker and deserve what I’ve got, but I’m also thinking that it’s very hard for me to look that child in the eye and say, ‘You’ve got to put in the hours, go put a suit on, and you’ve got to finish university – if you don’t finish university you’ve got nothing!’ Then there’s me, who’s made a living out of telling sex jokes and talking about taking drugs. It’s going to be a very hard moralistic line. What’ll I say? ‘Well, I was lucky, but you might not be.’”

All kidding aside, he has put his nose to the grindstone. In addition to his usual regimen of performing one or two hour sets, five or six nights a week, writing those films, and recording a DVD, he and two co-writers have been crafting 13 episodes of Legit, which starts filming when he returns to the US. Jefferies plays himself, but five years ago, before he moved to the US and filmed a phenomenally successful HBO special that enabled him to crack the American market.

“It’s going to be single camera, all locations, no live audience. There are going to be two takes, the swearing take and the non-swearing take. In the show I’m living with a guy who is based on the bloke that I lived with at university. We’ve got Mindy Sterling, who played Dr Evil’s wife in Austin Powers. DJ Qualls plays the guy with muscular dystrophy. We wanted to cast a person with muscular dystrophy, but the rules were that they could only work two or three hours a day, and the insurance we’d have to pay out – we didn’t have that kind of budget.

“But one of the main recurring characters has Down’s syndrome, and we are casting someone with Down’s. The muscular dystrophy character wasn’t supposed to be in every episode, but he tested so well that the FX people said they love him. Obviously he lives in a home, so [things] snowballed. I’m proud of the fact that we’ve completed all the scripts, and I don’t think there are any gratuitous, mean jokes about disabled people.”

He always used to boast that his act was “spaz approved”, I remind him. “Oh yeah! I forgot that joke. Look, I’m of the opinion that there’s no subject matter you can’t joke about. There are no inappropriate jokes, just shit jokes. If you make them funny, you can say whatever you want. But it’s got to be really funny, and the more delicate the subject matter, the funnier it has to be – the ratio has to be just right.”

Jefferies definitely doesn’t believe in sacred cows, though that’s an indelicate choice of words, because one of my favourite old routines revolves around his mother being overweight. Will he re­configure that into an episode? “That’ll be season two. I rang my mother up [to tell her about the show]. She said, ‘What’s the name?’ I say it’s called Legit, and she goes, ‘How can you call your TV show legit when your child is illegitimate?’

“The two biggest bits of news in my life ever, my mum squished and smashed to bits in one second. Now I kind of don’t want to get married, just to piss her off. My mother [also] doesn’t like the name Hank – we’re naming him after Kate’s father – because she just doesn’t like anything. My brothers have already started stirring her up. She rings me up saying, ‘Your brothers have told me that you cast a morbidly obese woman to play me in your sitcom.’ I said, ‘Mom, you’re not even in the sitcom. You don’t come in till season two … Then we’ll cast a morbidly obese woman. So you’d better hope season one doesn’t do too well.’”

Larger ladies, form an orderly queue. Legit, like everything Jefferies touches, is already giving off the sweet smell of success.

• Jim Jefferies: Fully Functional, Assembly Hall, until 26 August. Today, 9pm. Jim Jefferies plays the Scotsman Best of the Fest show at Assembly George Square today, with Nina Conti, Mark Thomas, Kieran Hurley, Fascinating Aïda and Felicity Ward.