Do you have a sick sense of humor? Can you laugh at almost anything? Actually, take away the almost, can you laugh at anything? Are you able to suspend reality and your near and dear beliefs for a few seconds to laugh at what a clear mother of year winner Casey Anthony is? Can you do that 50-60 more times for about an hour? How about allowing a young comedian to look you square in the face while he methodically delivers joke after joke about suicide, rape, racism, family, friends, sex, abortion, religion, and any other typically taboo topics? If you said yes to all these questions, we should hang out. And you should be studying the likes of Mr. Anthony Jeselnik. Now, I don’t have extensive knowledge on Anthony’s past, except that he’s from Pittsburg, he’s in his early 30’s, and when not bouncing from comedy club to festivals to colleges, he lives where many of the best comedians reside, New York City. Living up to my previously labeled “comedy nerd” status, I frequent the improv and open mic nights, I listen to mostly humor driven podcasts, and watch sitcoms, sketch shows and docu-comedies, and therefore I feel I’ve gleaned some insight into the minds and even hearts of my favorite humoredians (A Doug Benson word I love to rip off). While many geek out over Star Wars/Trek, comic books, indie films, indie music, fashion, and other bullshit, comedy is what gets me going, and stand-up requires the most amount of work and the largest set of balls. What I can tell about Anthony is he’s a surprisingly normal human being, with a twisted, brilliant sense of humor. And very big balls.
I came across his Comedy Central Presents initially, then found myself giggling with guilt over his performances on Jimmy Fallon (AJ worked for Late Night the first year and was the first stand-up to appear on his show), and other late night talk shows, but really fell in comedic love when I saw him roast Donald Trump in 2010. Donald’s balls are easy to bust. They’re rich, arrogant, with a ridiculous comb-over and high sensitivity to subjects pertaining their bank account. An interesting fact I learned while listening to Anthony on a recent podcast was Donald Trump’s only off-limits material, in which each comedian participating were forced to sign a contract and adhere to; no jokes about him having less money than he does. Really. Not his kids or his wives or godforbid some charity he’s involved in (there are none), but his fucking bank account. Don’t say I don’t have as much money as I do or I’ll cry and then take you to court for your measly stand-up earnings. Dick.
Anthony had the fortune of following a buffoon more embarrassing and more idiotic than Trump himself. Mike “the Situation” (what a god damn stupid nick name) Sorrentino. We all cringed with humiliation as this self-congratulating man, sure to have an IQ below 70, attempted to deliver jokes toward the roasters and the roasted, to the well-deserved reception of heckling and boos. Without taking the obvious route, Jeselnik followed with his usual cocky demeanor (utilized here ironically, there is a difference) to deliver the best performance of the night; taking measured, calculated jabs at the Situation, the panel and Trump himself, surprising many in the crowd and I bet even more at home, who were not yet privy to his genius, but who were now educated in the school of dark comedy.
During this same year Anthony’s stand-up album, Shakespeare, was named one of the best albums of the year by the Onion AV Club (I’ve been a loyal reader of the Onion for almost ten years, if you’re not aware of it, it’s similar to The Daily Show and the Colbert Report except the writers bust their balls for much less money to write incredibly smart, satirical articles on the current state of the world. Read it.) and Comedy Album of the Year by Punchline Magazine. If I had a child who was an aspiring comedian (and I hope I do someday, otherwise that kid’s being dropped off at a firehouse), I’d give him a short list of specials to study, and this would be one of them. If you have any comedic background, you’ll recognize the influences as he delivers these dry, acerbic, black as the night one-liners. I think of Stephen Wright (a legend as far as I’m concerned. Saw him open for Louie and he’s still got it), but darker, more sinister, and a bit more handsome; and Jack Handy, from Deep Thoughts on SNL. Deep Thoughts always left me laughing and then thinking about why I was laughing. Anthony’s stand-up is the same way; it inspires thought, makes you ask yourself why something’s funny, and then you congratulate yourself, feeling wicked clever having laughed at his jokes for the right reasons.
Below is an insightful take on Anthony's view as an artist. It's interesting to see when his jokes hit home and in particular when they do not. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nKtBwyFq384
Just recently, he killed again roasting Charlie Sheen.
He also utilizes Twitter in the right way, cherry picking eye-catching, jaw-dropping one-liners to inspire reaction and affect your day. No bullshit "I love New York in the fall" tweets. Check em out. He goes after hard targets, feeding his irreverence with searing intelligence, delivering unpredictable jokes with impossibly perfect timing. He’s made me laugh embarrassingly loud at jokes about suicide and murder. That’s fricken impressive. In order to truly appreciate his genius you must check your ego and morality at the door. When watching any roasts, I observe the comics sheer appreciation of a well written joke, despite and in spite of the subject matter, if it’s clever and evokes a reaction, then it’s probably born out of some difficult truths; and those facts, the cruel darkness that surrounds our world, can be lightened, their power diminished, just in the ability to laugh at it. You’re laughing, sometimes cringing, sometimes explaining the joke to others, and almost always amazed at the creativity and skill used in writing and performing these jokes.
I’d like to digress for a moment, like I usually do, but this time it’s intentional. I casually mentioned above the attractiveness of Mr. Jeselnik, so I’ll come out and proclaim my crush on him. Most men I crush on are funny. They have to be, I lose my lady boner (sorry, Dad) if a man is dumb or lacking a sense of humor. You cannot possibly be even of average intelligence and have a quality sense of humor. One feeds the other. And because Anthony’s humor very much resonates with my own, and I like men with a bit of ironic bravado, I came in with a 5 out of 10 on the crush scale. When he performed on Conan, that scale was soon crushed, so to speak. It’s the cheeky smile. So yes, my loins are almost as involved as my head here, and I may have some gross puns inspired by his last name, but I stand by it and wholeheartedly would recommend this unique brand of comedy to anyone with very limited sensitivity and high brain activity. That could be you!
I know from my apparent addiction to podcasts and watching comedy centered documentaries that most comedians have trepidation and a lack of trust toward even semi-decent looking comics. They feel they must not have had the dark past or been quite jaded enough in their upbringing to foster the skills necessary in being a successful comedian. We’ve seen through many stories riddled with tragedy, comedy often stems from some seriously fucked up history. And often that history and a comic’s self-deprecating nature will be the fuel that perpetuates their comedic fire. For some; however, they simply see the world through the lens of comedy and yearn to bring a new voice to that small stage. It’s not an easy world to attempt, certainly when you’re attractive and white you’re set up quite easily for other things. But comedy is something in your blood and if you have the stomach and work-ethic, you’ll put in a good ten years before any real success comes your way. Anthony is approaching 9 years in. Knowing his fortune in being attractive, white and male already caused comedy audiences to prejudge him, assuming he was an asshole, he carved out a genius stage presence based on that very notion; a task not easily mastered and he’s executed it incomparably. He’s earned his current level of success and I believe, because of his very quick, very smart voice, he’ll continue to garner tremendous success in this weird business.
My hope is the world does not try to Dane Cook him. Granted, he’s about a billion times more brilliant (and provocative) than Dane’s material ever was (and I did used to enjoy him in high school, so please don’t waste your breath sticking up for that cocky sell-out); he’s in New York, with Louie and Chappelle, so he’s in good company; and he genuinely seems like a grounded comic, with his priorities straight. To build a following on the stand-up circuit and respect amongst the Roast community, you have to pay your dues, take your shit from other comedians (the most common insult involves his lack of notoriety, some roasters claiming he’ll be working in Radio Shack in a few years. I think not.), and you have to be exceedingly and uniquely funny.
I’m not sure of Anthony’s potential trajectory. I’m unsure if someone in the business would want to capitalize on his irreverent nature and inherent hotness by morphing him into some version of Daniel Tosh’s success, but something tells me that’s not for him. There's wind of a Comedy Central show in the works. We shall see. As a geek and a fan, I just hope to continue to see him succeed and for more like-minded people to break into his world. It takes some big ass balls to head down this dark road, far away from light-hearted, broad comedy targeted at those enjoying the Blue Collar variety or the laugh-track sitcom sense of humor. There’s a strange irony in keeping your integrity in tact by telling the jokes the most are offended by because they don’t understand them, instead of softening your material to make more gain or acquire quicker, bigger results. Whatever additional success he earns will be from his hard work and with material he fine-tunes and develops to get the highest quality laughs.
I really enjoy dissecting someone’s approach to comedy, their timing and delivery, their personality on stage. There are two archetypes that I feel are the most successful and the two that resonate the most with me. I love me some creative genius weirdos like Tim Minchin and Reggie Watts, but typically the stand-up I remember and quote come out of regular folk telling jokes. There are brilliant self-effacing comics (Louie and Conan are two big examples), utilizing their very real, seemingly sincere insecurity that allows them to endear themselves to an audience which, in turn, buy into their story and brand of comedy. And then, perhaps the rarer of the two, there are those enforcing a persona of great bravado and inflated confidence; their act being so steeped in belief that we believe it too. It’s a harder sell, and therefore the work and talent required for success is admirable and extraordinary. Anthony is the latter.
While I can attest to his very natural funniness and quick wit off the cuff, the respect I have for joke-writing and ultimately performing catapults him to a short list of those I admire most. Many of my favorite comedians like Patrice O’Neal, Dave Attell, Dave Chappelle, and west coaster Marc Maron, seemingly walk on stage and just talk to the audience, tell stories, emote with their faces and bodies and make you feel like they’re not writing and telling jokes. They’re just observant, extraordinarily funny men reacting to their environment, even using the audience as triggers and bate. And while Anthony’s delivery is exceptional and perfected, you feel the work he put into it, pondering the method and steps taken in arriving at the punchline, and in doing so, you respect him even more. He’s imprinted you, like a mythological creature in novels for teens.
Now for a bit of nerdy bragging. I met him. And I didn’t wait in a long line, say hello, snap a photo and leave. I approached him in a bar like a stalker and made my move. I suppose I should provide context. I’m currently in Minneapolis visiting a great friend, pitching my own brand of weirdo comedy and writing, and for months I’ve had tickets to see Anthony here at the Acme Comedy club, a stand-up joint widely revered by comics, many of whom electing to skip my humor heavy town, Chicago, to spend a few days in the land of lakes and low temperatures. While my semi-serious, mostly humorous crush had been developing, I’d been joking with my brother and friends about seeing Jeselnik perform live and what a badass I thought he was, so leading up to September 24th, there was some mounting anticipation and excitement. I’ve had a great summer, but really it’s a fog of fun that created a cloudy journey to this weekend. And I’m so glad it’s here and it went down the way it did.
All the ass-kissing and promoting I did in the many words above were happily justified last night. Seeing him perform live was akin to seeing the Black Keys live last year. I’d been an avid fan for years, getting to know every nuance to each track, and when I finally saw them it was front row, in a small venue, and I was excited for each of my old favorites and thoroughly enjoyed the lesser known new records performed. With Anthony, this was no exception. I’ve gotten to know Shakespeare and his other material pretty damn well, so as he sharply set up his jokes, I smile and laugh early because I know the surprise ending that’s coming in the form of his punchline. He reminds me of Mitch Hedberg, which makes me happy and sad. His delivery and timing is unmatched and to deconstruct his material would be as daunting as dissecting a brain. You must be able to read and absorb and retain information to understand his jokes and laugh for the right reasons. He fed off the crowd, showing off his ability to be funny on the fly, delivered refreshing new material as funny as his classics, inducing loud laughter and applause breaks, and simultaneously made you laugh at his arrogant stage persona while also finding that same character charming and lovable.
He joked that he’d been selling his CD for $20 bucks and since it was the last show after many days here, he’d sold out. So now he’d welcome you to take photos or get an autograph, for that same 20 dollar bill. Sarcasm being my first and only language, I saddled up to him at the bar, telling him I only had $10, but I wasn’t interested in a picture or an autograph. He said sure, just give me the 10 and we’ll talk. We were off to a lovely start. My memory of our conversation is a bit convoluted, stemming from a 3 hour visit to Beer Fest earlier that evening, and also because of my excitement in meeting someone I respected and enjoyed. It was wonderfully bizarre from my end, but pleasantly normal from his. We talked about comedy of course, him giving a major debt of gratitude to Jack Handy and his Deep Thoughts, single handedly influencing a very effectual comedian in its own right. Suffice it to say we had a really nice, normal people conversation. I felt like I was talking to my husband, who is also super handsome with a cheeky smile, very likable and delicious, talented and confident, but salt of the earth. I don’t delude myself into thinking I made a mark on him, but I found his appreciation for his fans and his respect for comedy refreshing, and enjoyed getting to share in that enthusiasm.
I left that club elevated, for sure. I told Anthony I’m a travel/food/comedy writer and that he’d be on my show someday. He said he wanted to be a travel writer but it was too frustrating and there were too few jobs (no shit, he could have made that up), so he opted for the long-term slow death that is often comedy instead. Weird. And awesome. When an artist puts their stamp on me, I’m loyal for life. Barring sexual molestation or murder, I’m in this for the long-haul and I can only hope to watch his impending rise as I foster my own. I’ll bet our paths cross again someday and our peculiar careers will meet in an intersection of food and comedy, where I prefer to hover.
Go out there and support someone deserving like Anthony. And when you find yourself offended by a joke, ask yourself why. There’s a difference between a broad brush stroke and fine-tipped application of irony. Remember, ooohhh-ing is just laughter for pussies. Laugh. Out loud. You deserve it. And so do the comedians working for it. Comedy is art. Art is courage. Support the courageous and inhabit it yourself. Enjoy.
Laughgasms- this is pleasurable on many levels
He’s coming to the Chicago Improv November 17-20. His set is worth a lot more than the ticket price so take advantage!