About Time You Met: Anthony JeselnikBy Toby Leston
How to describe Anthony Jeselnik? In his own words, while describing an ill-advised support slot for Russell Howard, “if you didn’t come to see me, you don’t want to see me.” He’s well known in the states for a venomous combination of three things – his cancelled show on comedy central (aptly named The Jeselnik Offensive), regular appearances on “The Roast Of…” specials including Charlie Sheen’s and Donald Trump’s, and an unshakable habit of leaping into the deep end, specifically on the same day as national tragedies.
Example – on the day of the Boston Marathon bombings, Jeselnik tweeted: There are some lines that just shouldn’t be crossed today. Especially the finish line. That, as you might imagine, got him in trouble.
A week after a New Zealander was killed by a Great White Shark, The Jeselnik Offensive put on an apparently celebratory skit called ‘Shark Party’. Jeselnik and his family received death threats, and widespread castigation from the media in both America and New Zealand.
At a recent set at the Soho Theatre the whole crowd had certainly come to see him (notably including Jimmy Carr – who’s famous laugh got laughs of it’s own throughout the evening). And given the above, none were surprised by the tone of the first half of his set. From his grandmother’s autopsy to serial killers Jeselnik doesn’t shy away from the trickier topics, as he deals out jabs with an assured calm.
But the barrage is not constant. Though Jeselnik is wryly self-referential enough to quip after 1 of several dead baby gags that his whole set would be on the same topic, it’s actually not. Sure, it never reaches a pre-watershed level, but there are highlights based on the lighter subject matter, as well on the darker stuff. Us Brits are quite well versed in controversial comics (we have our share in Frankie Boyle and Jeselnik’s fan Carr, and London was also blessed with Australia’s Jim Jefferies during Jeselnik’s run), and some can make their decisions early on comics like that. You shouldn’t with this particular comedian; Jeselnik is just that little bit smarter, and just that little bit smoother.
It’s the second half that surprises. After a string of stand-alone jokes, leading you to conclusions then hurling you into punchlines, Jeselnik segues into an engaging account of what it’s like to be the guy everyone hates for telling that joke, to dish out the lowest of blows. He discusses the Boston Bombing tweet, and Shark Party, and stresses that there’s nothing funny about tragedy. His target is actually Facebook’s empty empathisers, who comment on these events out of what is essentially vanity, and are simultaneously the ones that turn on someone like him.
Convincing or not, knowing that Jeselnik thinks that way makes him more of a pensive assassin than an excitable arsehole (which so many of these rent-a-controversy comedians can seem to be). If you do get a chance to see Anthony Jeselnik – do. While he would say stumbling on his live act is something you don’t want to do, seeking it out is something About Time would definitely recommend.
About Time You Also Saw: Dave Hughes
Following Jeselnik at the Soho theatre was another Australian comedian, Dave Hughes. Very well known down under, he’s just started his run ‘Pointless’ which you can catch until this Saturday (more information here). You are almost lulled into a sense of security through his likeability and jokes about family life. But don’t be fooled, this sharp comic mind’s set is littered with good quality gags. Good on yer, for checkin’ it out.