Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Jim Jeffries: No angel

Australian comedian Jim Jeffries has made his name shocking audiences around the world. He explains to Matthew McCreary why he is more than prepared for whatever Belfast throws at him on his next tour.

Every job has its occupational hazards, it seems, and life is no different for stand-up comedians, be it courtesy of double-bookings, shoddy venues, or even the occasional heckler.

Every job has its occupational hazards, it seems, and life is no different for stand-up comedians, be it courtesy of double-bookings, shoddy venues, or even the occasional heckler.

For Jim Jeffries, though, they come in a slightly more extreme form, whether it is the incensed audience member who thumped him on stage in Manchester, or the outraged Christian groups who have labelled him ‘sick and repellent’.

But the laid back Aussie would seem to have a fairly phlegmatic approach to such intrusions, even if his act does stretch the parameters of taste and decency at times.

“All news is good news, but a bit of controversy never hurt anybody,” he drawls sleepily from his home in Los Angeles, during an early morning phone interview.

“Most of the time you have security there and the crowds are fairly self-policing. You never feel too much danger after the gig, I normally just keep my head down and leave the club. I get home as quickly as possible.”

His caution is perhaps understandable after the night he was attacked on stage at the Comedy Store in Manchester two years ago, while playing to a particularly raucous crowd.

The footage of him being clobbered by an irate fan was pure internet gold, and is still regularly accessed online.

It's a subject he is no doubt sick of talking about, but it was by no means the last time he would find himself in the firing line from audience members.

“I've had the Christian groups pitted against me,” he says.

“There was a guy recently in Miami who was sitting waiting with a placard for me to say something against religion and then stand up and say that Jesus loves me. I don't know who he thought he was going to convert.

“That's the thing, people are always trying to convert me back to religion. I'm not trying to convert people away from religion. I don't think after years and years of going to church, some drunken Australian bloke is going to change your mind.

“I'm just preaching to the choir, the people that already agree with me.”

The trail of outrageous subject matter and routines may have been blazed years ago by other notorious acts, such as Jerry Sadowitz. But it is a style of comedy which will never lose its shelf life, says Jeffries.

“Filth is like rock and roll, it always comes back and there's always a market for it,” he says.

“I hate the fact that people sometimes think that whenever a dirty comic comes along that we're doing something new and outrageous.

“We're doing the oldest kind of comedy you can do, stuff that dates back to Bernard Manning. When I was growing up it was people like Richard Pryor or Eddie Murphy.

“I don't know of many iconic surreal comics, but I know plenty of iconic dirty comics, such as Billy Connolly, George Carlin, Lenny Bruce, the list goes on.”

Since first making his bones on the UK stand-up circuit Jeffries has been raising groans from audiences with subjects as diverse as sex, smoking and unspeakable acts involving small animals. But are there any areas he wouldn't consider going with his act?

“It's very easy to say racism or paedophilia or rape, but it all depends on how you do the joke,” he says.

“There's certain things that you shouldn't talk about, but then you watch Bruno or Borat, two of the most successful comedies in modern times. There are rape jokes, incest jokes, and paedophilia jokes aplenty, so it can be done.”

There is of course the classic defence of those are prepared to shock and outrage, that if you don't like it, don't come.

“People know what they are getting out of me, or they should by now,” says Jeffries.

“When I started playing the Deep South in America, like Alabama, I was thinking ‘why they are putting me in these places?'.

“But I find that the more religious the town, the more they want you to talk about religion.”

With such a subject he will perhaps have met his match in Northern Ireland, where the ‘R’ word has a touchier resonance than in other cities in the UK or Ireland. To this end,|Jeffries has decided to give the Troubles a fairly wide berth.

“Have there been troubles? Don't tell me that!” he quips, faux-innocently.

“I vaguely know what went on and the ins and outs, but I'm not well educated enough to go in-depth about it.

“I think I know enough information to teach the Americans, but you guys have it covered, so it's better if I keep my fat Australian mouth shut.”

And the prospect of playing as part of the Belfast Festival is also enough to elicit an excited response, if only for the opportunity to meet with kindred spirits.

“A gig's a gig for me, but if I hear the word 'festival' that means some of my mates will be in town as well,” he says.

“Comics never get to see their friends because they're all in different cities. When you start out you could all be in cars together driving up and down the UK to little villages, and there is a real camaraderie there. But after you get off the circuit, it gets lonelier. The only time I get to hang out with my mates is at festivals, so I'm quite excited.”

He will have stiff competition when he plays at the Elmwood Hall, however, as the godfather — or rather fairy godmother — of rude humour, Julian Clary, will simultaneously be performing at the Ulster Hall.

“We'll probably have more cross-over fans than I wish to think ,” laugh Jeffries, before declaring boldly: “Make your decision Belfast. You'll be offended either way. I'll put less effort into my outfit!”

Jim Jeffries will be performing at the Elmwood Hall on Thursday, October 22. For tickets and booking details visit www.belfastfestival.com or call 028 9097 1197

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