Jim Jefferies Takes On the World

The Aussie outlaw comedian loses the leather jacket but keeps the foul mouth as he leans back on his new seat at the late-night comedy table.
Film + TV
Jim Jefferies Takes On the World

The Aussie outlaw comedian loses the leather jacket but keeps the foul mouth as he leans back on his new seat at the late-night comedy table.

Words: Eric Stolze

photo by Art Streiber

June 06, 2017

photo by Art Streiber

Guns changed Jim Jefferies’s life forever.

Or, more specifically, his stance on them.

After fifteen years of standup, Jefferies had pretty well cemented his persona as an outlaw comic by 2014. His widow’s peak and leather jacket struck a rebellious picture onstage, and his Australian immigrant status and accent painted him as even more of an outsider in America’s comedy clique. Both seasons of his FX show Legit showcased his exasperation with society and reenacted his politically incorrect anecdotes. His obscenities, masculine grandstanding, and tales of sexual misadventures cast him as something of an Aussie Dice Clay.

Then, in his 2014 Netflix special Bare, after waxing familiar about Vegas partying, Jefferies entered into a bit destined for viral greatness, in which he leverages his Australian background to compare his homeland’s gun reform following the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre to America’s stubborn refusal to legislate assault rifles despite our perpetual gun violence.

“There is one argument and one argument alone for having guns,” he says. “Here’s the argument: ‘Fuck off! I like guns!’” What follows is a tight fifteen minutes of material that expertly, hilariously contradicts defenses of the Second Amendment, culminating in a climactic comparison to America’s original sin in which he imagines a similar defense in the 1800s: “I’m a responsible slave owner. Just because that guy mistreated his slaves doesn’t mean my right should be taken away from me.”

And so, Jefferies’s swagger became socially conscious—and he entered society’s consciousness on a whole new scale. As of this writing, the bit on America’s gun addiction has reached 4.6 million views on YouTube. It resurfaces on social media like clockwork whenever gun violence reenters the news cycle conversation, along with tragically on-point Onion headlines like “‘No Way to Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens” (also from 2014). It guaranteed him thousands of pieces of hate mail. And, as Jefferies marvels in his 2016 follow-up, Freedumb, it threw audience expectations into a tailspin. “You’re hoping I’ll do political satire… And how disappointing this evening’s performance must be!” he grins. “I just did twenty-five minutes on poo-ing!”

To him, it was a logical result of changing his routines both onstage and off. “As a comedian, you’re not gonna be talking about taking drugs and having one night stands for the rest of your life,” Jefferies says over the phone. “It’s just not who I am anymore, y’know? And I also used to talk about my childhood, and tell these stories, and what happened was: I ran out of stories! My childhood can’t happen again. Now I’m more interested in having something to say.”

“Every country’s got its fucked-up quirks. And if I was living in a different country, I’d be ripping into that. I’m only talking about the environment around me.”

Navigating a new fanbase while addressing his longtime audience doesn’t concern him.  “I get a lot of people writing to me that say I used to be funny. And then I get a lot of people who write me saying, ‘I never used to like you until this routine,’” he laughs. “You can’t please everyone. People grow up along with you. All my fan base from before, they’re the same age as me now. And they’re going through their own shit as well. But there has to be an evolution as an artist. If you’re not moving, people aren’t gonna move with you.”

Jefferies calls in from the offices of his new Comedy Central gig, The Jim Jefferies Show. It’s been a long week of press for him as he markets his upcoming contribution to the late-night comedy circuit, all while hurrying to get final pieces in place for his June 6 premiere, but if there’s one thing Jefferies can do in his sleep—or, perhaps more accurately in this case, on little-to-no sleep—it’s talk.

“A lot of people rip into me saying I’m anti-American because I bag on America, and I wanted to show that I love America!” he stresses. “But every country’s got its fucked-up quirks. And if I was living in a different country, I’d be ripping into that. I’m only talking about the environment around me. This whole ‘America’s doing everything wrong’ mentality… I wanted to do field pieces that show that no one’s doing anything right. We’re all just doing our best.”

And so, Jefferies sold Comedy Central on a show that uses his breakout routine’s comparison of Australian and American policies as a jumping-off point. The Jim Jefferies Show comments on American news by taking an international perspective. In a segment from the pilot, Jefferies contrasts violent US cop mentality with the effectiveness of unarmed cops in Europe. In a taped field piece, he examines the decidedly-non-PC tradition of dressing in blackface in the Netherlands to celebrate their holiday figure “Black Pete.” “He’s a harmless chap who looks nothing like a super-offensive minstrel character,” Jefferies states with chipper sarcasm.

It’s a God’s-eye-view of global foibles that requires plenty of research and preparation from the comic and his team. Act One of every episode focuses on current events from the previous week. “We won’t even attempt that material until four working days before, to keep it fresh,” he says. “The Daily Show does it every day. Fuck me! That’s a hell of a grind. They must have fifty fucking writers over there.”

After Jefferies agrees on his writing team’s angles, they gather pages upon pages of research and jokes, and he rewrites the week’s script with his voice and ideas. He takes a unique approach leading up to the taping: “I’m dyslexic, so I don’t like reading the autocue. So I sit in my office, and I just practice like a madman.”

It’s a fitting approach to the material for a seasoned standup, but Jefferies clarifies, “Standup sits in your head a little differently. This has statistics, numbers… I have to remember people’s names. It’s like, I always felt good with auditions if I understood what the character was doing. But if I had to go for a science fiction audition, or one with a doctor talking about hemoglobin or something, I was always fuckin’ shit at it.”

This concern recalls his tongue-in-cheek self-correcting in Freedumb about his gun control routine: “I made some of the statistics up. ‘If you have a gun, you’re 80 percent more like to be shot by a gun.’ I dunno, maybe! Sounds like a thing, doesn’t it?” Jefferies laughs at the mention of this admission. “I can’t fudge facts anymore! Before, I always could, because it was like, ‘Who’s gonna check on me?’” This newfound responsibility lying between his off-the-cuff style and his recent passions for social commentary extends even to his appearance in the show, where he eschews his trademark leather jacket. He looked a bit too out of place in a suit, so he’s settled on a middle ground that he calls simply “a nice shirt.”

As he enters into the landscape of late night, Jefferies is ready to reinforce his statements with a blend of old and new, his established fuck-off attitude blending with his new outlooks. “It’s up to a comedian to point out the faults. Because that’s what’s funny. Not because I’m here to save the fucking day or something. If a nuclear bomb is dropped somewhere in the world, the only thing we get out of it is fucking jokes.”

Until then, Jefferies hopes the biggest impacts will come from his show and his fellow late-night warriors. True, he’s buttoned up his collar and now sits behind a desk, but all the better to take aim at his all-time, long-standing favorite target: everyone. FL