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MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: Offending Anthony Jeselnik


Photo by NATALIE BRASINGTON

BY JONATHAN VALANIA There are three things that make Anthony Jeselnik awesome and the fact that he’s from Pittsburgh isn’t one of them. Nor that he’s really funny — lots of people are funny. Or that he finds the funny in the darkness of humanity. Ditto. Or that he’s really smart and intense. Lots of people are really smart and intense. No, the three things that make Anthony Jeselnik awesome are: He always tells the truth, even when he’s lying. He never flinches. He ends every episode of Comedy Central’s  The Jeselnik Offensive — part tar-black  stand up comedy and gallows humor, part Q&R (Question & Riff) interrogation of a revolving panel of his bestest stand-up comic buddies —  with the words READ A BOOK. Nobody on television does that. Not now, not, to the best of my knowledge, EVER. And that’s pretty awesome, because reading books may be the only thing that can save us. Look into it. Anyway, Jeselnik will be performing at The Merriam on September 14th so we got him on the phone last week to find out if he is still banging Amy Schumer and if not WTF is his problem? where he draws the line he won’t cross. Hint: There is no line. DISCUSSED: William Burroughs, Philadelphia, David Lynch, Pittsburgh, Antonin Artaud, Jim Jarmusch, Courtney Love, Jim Morrison, Friedrich Nietzsche, the Theater of Cruelty, Santa Claus, cancer, 9/11 and his mother. Funny, funny stuff, I promise you.

PHAWKER: We are rolling, this is an interview with Anthony Jeselnik, it is 4 pm August 19th 2013, can you identify yourself so I can get a level please?

ANTHONY JESELNIK: My name is Anthony Jeselnik, it is 4 o’ Clock.

PHAWKER: Don’t mock me. I have to be very specific about these things, I could turn out to be a very important man one day and once I die future historians will be very happy that I was so specific. So I am calling you from Philadelphia and you are from Pittsburgh — yo, Pennsyltucky, represent! I’m giving you a virtual fist bumps here can you…don’t leave me hanging, can you hit me back?

ANTHONY JESELNIK: You got it.

PHAWKER: Cool, finish this sentence: The only thing keeping Pittsburgh from completely sucking is…

ANTHONY JESELNIK: Philadelphia.

PHAWKER: Touche. I love Amy Schumer. I’m confused as to whether you two are still an item I’ve seen conflicting reports. Without getting too much into your personal life, can you set the record straight?

ANTHONY JESELNIK: I don’t talk about Amy.

PHAWKER: I’m gonna take that as a definite ‘maybe.’ Where do you draw the line that you won’t cross? Assuming there is a line…

ANTHONY JESELNIK: Everyone talks about a line in comedy. There is no line in comedy, everyone has their own personal line for whatever reasons. I don’t really care about other peoples lines, I want to operate as if there is no line whatsoever. I think it is a freeing place to come from and most people understand that. Some people don’t but a lot of people don’t understand comedy either so that doesn’t bother me. If I felt uncomfortable about a topic I would try to make a joke about it. There are different ways to attack topics, even just bringing it up in the set up, disregarding the punchline, you still get that tension and I think there is release there that I go for.

PHAWKER: Fair enough. I read an interview with you in Vice and the writer cut you off before you delivered the punchline with the following set up: My mother should have been on one of the planes on September 11th…I wanted to give you a chance to finish the joke. Please proceed.

ANTHONY JESELNIK: My mom should have been on one of the planes that crashed on 9/11, I think.

PHAWKER: Ouch, babe. A regular feature on your show, for those who haven’t seen it, is called Defend Your Tweet in which you recite off the wall tweets from your comedian guests and ask them to explain/defend what they wrote. I want to turn the tables on you. On June 1st you tweeted at Courtney Love — or the person that gets paid to portray her on Twitter — “Courtney, you are the most rock and roll cunt of all time.” Discuss.

ANTHONY JESELNIK: I think she is them most rock n roll cunt of all time, when you look at her…whatever you think about Courtney Love, she is like pure rock and roll, she is like Nancy Spungen survived, she would be Nancy Spungen who plays the guitar, she is such a polarizing figure but rock n roll is polarizing, I think she really is the most rock and roll cunt of all time. I think it’s unquestionable.

PHAWKER: Because you seem like a cool guy, I assume you’re down with Nietzsche when he said “Without music, life would be a mistake.” What are you listening to lately that’s currently blowing your mind?

ANTHONY JESELNIK: The last album I bought was Portugal the Man. What have I been listening to? I know I hate that “Blurred Lines” song.

PHAWKER: How can you hate that “Blurred Lines” song? That’s like hating Santa Claus but I guess if anyone would do it, you would be the one to hate Santa Claus.

ANTHONY JESELNIK: You live in the city that booed Santa Claus.

PHAWKER: Santa Claus had it coming.

ANTHONY JESELNIK: Absolutely.

PHAWKER: The other night I watched your show and Eric Andre, one of you panelists, set off fireworks during the taping, you look surprised and/or pissed, where you or where you in on the joke?

ANTHONY JESELNIK: No one had any idea that Eric Andre was going to set off fireworks besides Eric Andre. I was a little surprised at first, I mean, if someone sets off a firework next to you, that’s surprising. I realized immediately what it was, I knew it was Eric, I knew it was fireworks and I was just sitting there waiting. I had a joke in my head I was waiting to say. They just kept on going and going and then the stage manager ran out and I thought, ‘Oh, is this cut?’ I think they threw him off the set, it is very illegal to do that, a lot of people were mad at him but I was not one of them. I thought it was great TV but yeah, crazy.

PHAWKER: I thought it was great. Anarchy, TV could use more of it.

ANTHONY JESELNIK: Agreed, it was a very unpredictable moment.

PHAWKER: The ability  to make people laugh is an amazing power. To be able to trigger involuntary response, and that’s what laughter is, in the minds of not just one stranger but a room full of strangers at the same time, that’s pretty amazing, but when you get to the bottom of that, is that not mind control?  Discuss.

ANTHONY JESELNIK: Mind control might be the wrong word but it is certainly pure manipulating thoughts because you are kind of…the punchline is a surprise so you kind of have to lull them into going down a path in a way that their confident in the path they are going down and then you have to switch it out. Especially for me because all of my jokes go the same way. It is like, setup, okay, setup, okay, boom boom, punchline. So to get people to, to lull people into going down my path is even harder but somehow I’m able to do it. It’s a little like mind control, its a weird thing to get people to not be like, ‘oh I get what he’s doing.’

PHAWKER: That’s an incredible power I think, I salute you.

ANTHONY JESELNIK: Thank you, thank you very much.

PHAWKER: True or false: Anthony Jeselnik is the William Burroughs of stand up comedy.

ANTHONY JESELNIK: I would say false.

PHAWKER: Wrong, the correct answer was ‘true.’ True or false: Anthony Jeselnik is the Jim Jarmusch of stand up comedy.

ANTHONY JESELNIK: Again, I’m going to have to say false.

PHAWKER: Maybe it’s the hair that threw me off on that.

ANTHONY JESELNIK: Hair a little bit, I would have gone David Lynch. Similar hair.

PHAWKER: Last true or false: Your act is the comedy analog to Antonin Artaud’s The Theatre Of Cruelty. True or false?

ANTHONY JESELNIK: I don’t even know what that is.

PHAWKER: Didn’t you read No One Here Gets Out Alive, the Jim Morrison Bio? If you did you would know. Jim Morrison was a deep guy. Jim was a visionary, man. That’s my Ray Manzarek impression.

ANTHONY JESELNIK: I did read that actually, a long time ago.

PHAWKER: The Theater Of Cruelty is about forcing an audience to confront a truth they do not wish to see. Do you not think that’s your act?

ANTHONY JESELNIK: True, true then.

PHAWKER: Okay, good. I just have a couple more questions, are you trying to make any larger point other than making us laugh? If so, why? What is that point?

ANTHONY JESELNIK: Yeah, I would say that life is this amazing gift and everyone here is checking out at some point, no one here gets out alive, so why not laugh at it? Laughter is such a powerful thing so why not turn it toward the enemy of everyone — things that make you uncomfortable or things that make you upset or hurt you. If you can laugh at those things you are pretty much bullet proof. I think it is very therapeutic to laugh at these things, people will come up to me after shows and be like, ‘I have cancer, thank you for making jokes about cancer, most people try to avoid that.’ Some people get mad at me, like, ‘I have a friend with cancer!’ and get upset. I’m kind of going at the heart of matters and big issues that I think should not be ignored and it annoys me that they are ignored.

PHAWKER: Final question, Edward Snowden, hero or villain?

ANTHONY JESELNIK: God, I don’t know. If it’s between those two I would have to say hero. I would have to say hero. I can’t quite call the guy a villain but he just seems like a bad employee.

PHAWKER: Maybe the company he works for is bad. That’s the question we should be asking. I think that’s all I’ve got, thank you for taking the time, love the show, look forward to seeing you when you come to Philly.

ANTHONY JESELNIK: Thanks man, appreciate it.


ANTHONY JESELNIK PERFORMS @ THE MERRIAM THEATER ON SEPT. 14TH 

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