Anthony Jeselnik carried a confident air about him long before he became a favorite for his hilarious appearances on the Comedy Central Roast of Donald Trump and Charlie Sheen. He has a gift of dishing out jabs that are cute with a devilish grin that lets you know, it's OK to laugh at anything; no matter how awful you are for doing it. This Thursday through Sunday, Anthony is headlining at the Irvine Improv so leave your uptight friends at home because nothing is off limits. Nothing. OK, you've been warned.
OC Weekly (Ali Lerman): I love the dry delivery you have with your jokes. Is that something you were born with?
Anthony Jeselnik: It's a little of both. You know my whole family actually talks like this a little bit, kind of with weird pauses where you shouldn't really have them. I always enjoyed it. I love the way Christopher Walken talks and he was an influence too. I just thought it was a cool way to do things and sounded cool. When I am on stage it helps to hide the punchline of the joke a little more. Instead of having to say things in straight sentences, I can break it up more. I think the more I do it the more natural my delivery gets.
Did you always know that you would be entertaining the masses?
It never occurred to me to be a comedian or be in entertainment because it didn't seem feasible. I was never into acting but my teachers would always tell me, “oh you're gonna be a comedian” because I couldn't keep my mouth shut in class. I wasn't always funny but I was always trying to say something without getting in trouble. It seemed like if I was being disruptive and then made someone laugh, then they couldn't really yell at me. After I got out of college and then I got into stand-up looking back it was like, of course I was going to be a comedian. I think I just lucked out by being able to do it.
Can you breakdown your comedy style in three words?
Dark is usually one of the words. Smart would be another. Iconoclastic would be the last one.
OK, please explain “iconoclastic” because I don't know that word…but I think I like it!
Basically, I go after kinda sacred targets. When people say you can't talk about this or that, I do that. And I am pretty sure that word means what I think it means. [Laughs.]
Gotcha. With your writing, do you come up with the punchline first and then work a story into it or is it the opposite way?
It's kind of the opposite way. Occasionally I'll build a joke backwards where I'll get the punchline and think, that could be something. Generally I think of the setup first and then think of all of the different ways it could turn out. You know, which way would be the funniest way in almost a cliché situation that anyone can relate to. Like John Moloney is a really funny stand-up and he won't watch me, he just watches the audience and then laughs his ass off. The audience kind of resets for each new joke. Like they'll laugh at a joke and then I'll right into, “So my grandfather…” It's as if I am not telling a joke, like it's a normal thing. So I like to figure out the setup and just lead them through with that.
I love to watch the audience's reaction, it's my actually favorite part.
That's so funny because I can never watch at the audience. I can't see anyone's face. Whenever I tell the end of a joke I am not looking at anyone. I look at people's faces but right when I hit the punchline, I am looking into the darkness or in between people.
Why is that?
There are a couple of reasons. I found that if I look at someone and say the punchline sometimes they get really nervous and it ruins the joke for that one person. They feel like they are being watched right at the moment where they're supposed to let go. And, if I look at someone and they don't laugh, it annoys me enough that I have to comment on it. I'd rather just think about everyone laughing and I don't have to worry about one person.
You seem like a pretty confident guy, has it ever been shook on stage?
I mean sure, in the beginning. When you first start out you just pretend you're not uncomfortable. When you are in that mode you are on stage terrified that someone is going to ruin your confidence. So if someone would say something and I didn't have an answer right away, it would become clear that I wasn't the beast I was pretending to be. That would hurt. Now at this point, I don't think there is anything that would happen to shatter my confidence.
Obviously you know that you killed on the Donald Trump and Charlie Sheen roasts. Which was more fun?
Oh, Trump for sure. It was my first one so just coming out of nowhere and rocking that thing was awesome. I got to use every roast joke I have ever thought of on that thing. The Sheen roast felt like a lot of pressure because it was my second one and I felt like I had to live up to the first one. It was fun but the Trump one was like heaven.
Do you know who is next and will you be a part of it?
Yeah, there is going to be one in like, mid-August and it should be out by September I would think. I don't know who it is yet because they keep a very tight lid on these things even though I'm on the fucking thing. They keep it very quiet but I think I'll find out who it is in another month or two.
Ohhh so excited! I love those roasts and love you on them. It's like you say something crazy and then you smile…but you don't laugh. It's brilliant.
Totally. I definitely want to smile but telling a roast and then when the roast audience goes “Ohhhhhh,” I love it. Some people laugh but I love the “Ohhhhhh.” Like when I get booed on a roast, I'm fucking on top of the world. I love that. It's very fun.
I hear you have a Comedy Central pilot in the works. What's that all about?
Yeah it's part of my big deal with the roasts where I get to do three roasts, an hour special which I will be taping in June, and then my own pilot which I shot in the beginning of March. So it's a long process to see whether they will pick it up or not. Everything has been very positive so far so we'll see.
Do you have a working title for it?
Right now I am calling it, “Midnight with Anthony Jeselnik” that will go on after Colbert, which will be awesome. We might have to change the name though because when it airs it won't be midnight everywhere. It's really like a dream gig that I would have never seen for myself. I've very excited about it. I hope it goes, it would be awesome.
Check out more from Anthony Jeselnik on his website www.anthonyjeselnik.com, get his CD “Shakespeare” on iTunes, and follow him on Twitter @AnthonyJeselnik. Get your tickets now to see him at the Irvine Improv this Thursday through Sunday (May 17th – 20th) by calling 949-854-5455 or by logging onto www.improv.com. The Improv is located at 71 Fortune Drive Irvine, CA 92618.
Ali Lerman knows much about comedy, basketball, and celebrating Wu-Tang Wednesday. She’s been writing for fifteen years and still calls her mom with grammatical questions.