Anthony Jeselnik Is Killing Me
Anthony Jeselnik is my ultimate dream crush. In fact, I'm going to have to type this entire article with just one hand. Most famous for the roasts of Charlie Sheen, Donald Trump, and, as of yesterday, Rosanne Barr, Anthony is making a name for himself as the new bad boy of comedy. (Has anyone actually called him that? I don’t know.) Conducting an interview with him was one of the most excruciating things I’ve ever had to endure, because not only was he incredibly handsome, sharp, and unexpectedly kind, but he was also peering into my soul and conceptually dangling his balls in front of my face. See for yourself!
I’ll start by giving you a compliment: I like your jokes because they are so well written. Do they just come to you or do you—
Or do I have to just like grind on them to get them good? It’s a little bit of both. You know, I’ll say, “I have to sit down and write ten jokes today.” Or 50 jokes this week. So it’s a little bit of a numbers game. But when you do that work, things will just come to you.
What’s one of your favorite jokes that you’ve written?
My new favorite right now is—you heard it—the one that goes: My mother actually should have been on one of the planes on September 11th—
So simple, and so hilarious.
Yes, even with the interruption.
You stopped me in the middle of the joke.
I didn’t want you to spoil it for the readers! Would you like to say it again?
I’m so sorry Anthony Jeselnik.
It’s OK. It still works.
I feel like you take a very scholarly approach to comedy.
Yeah, a lot of comedians don’t have that discipline, but I feel like I’m more of a writer than a comedian.
Yeah, that definitely comes through. Like, you’re a college graduate.
I am. I graduated from Tulane University in 2001.
Was it fun?
Yeah, going to college in New Orleans was completely insane. Bars don’t close. I moved to LA right after New Orleans and it was like 1:45 and they go “last call,” and I said, “What does that mean?” And then I tried to take my beer in a to-go cup and they were like, “Whoa, what are you doing?” and I was like, “Oh, you can’t do that here either?”
In Montreal it’s all game.
Is it? Can you take beers outside?
Yeah, anywhere. Any time. Even after this interview. With me.
I can see that.
You took English.
Yeah, I was an English lit. major. I wanted to major in creative writing, but they didn’t have that.
What is your favorite literary death scene?
Oooooo, literary death scene… I would have to say, the final chapter of a book called Glamorama. Have you read it?
No, but I knew you’d say Bret Easton Ellis.
The final scene, he’s looking at a painting and you know the guy’s there to kill him, and he’s just looking at this painting, and he just kind of like goes into the painting almost, and you know he’s dead but it’s hard to tell. The more I read it, the more sense it made. His consciousness just goes into the painting and he’s gone. I love that. Another good one is from a book called The Art of Fielding. A guy has a heart attack and dies in his sleep but he dreams of when he was a kid and just remembering the trees and remembering something from his childhood and he just fades out. I thought that that was really good.
That was such a deep answer.
I mean it’s a pretty deep question. Is it hot in here? I’m fucking sweating.
Yes, it is. Anthony, you are a very physically attractive man.
And here I’m the one who’s sweating. That’s weird.
Do you ever think about how appearance might play into your work? A lot of comics will use their appearance as a punch line.
Yeah, a lot of comics will be self-deprecating, which is something that I didn’t want to do. But I would say that the graveyard of failed comedians is filled with much prettier corpses than mine.
When people ask me, “Would your act work if you didn’t look the way you do?” I have no idea. Like, my birthday is three days before Christmas and people would always say, “Do you get screwed over, does that suck?” And I have no idea. Because I’ve never had a birthday in June. You know what I mean? I just went up and started doing this and it sort of worked organically for me.
That’s such a Capricorn thing to say.
I am just barely on the cusp. Which doesn’t mean anything to me.
I was just trying to be creepy.
You nailed it.
I feel like part of your appeal is not trying to appeal to the audience.
Well, a lot of comedians get the audience to laugh at them, so that they’re the joke the entire time. But I’m never the joke in my act. I’m mostly very aggressive and I’m giving it to them, or the victims are other people. I think people are not as comfortable laughing at that, you know, they’d rather just laugh at somebody. I don’t want people laughing at me. [Anthony Jeselnik flashes a beautiful smile towards me and I cream myself.]
You’ve been called Satanic. A bad man.
How do you feel about morals?
I’m a moralistic person. I’m a nice guy. But on stage: why? There’s nothing funny about your morals. And if you have no morals then you can kind of get away with anything. If half my act was like, “You should be like this and everyone should be like this,” and then the rest of it was being evil, it would seem way worse. But everything is across the board vicious and cruel.
Since you became well known, do you feel like you still have to earn your laughs?
Absolutely. I always feel like I’m trying to evolve with the audience and stay one step ahead. It’s all out of fear that it’s all going to go away or that I’ll never write a funny joke again.
How successful do you feel right now?
How successful do I feel? It’s strange, I have to look back and check myself to see where I was at two years ago. I know I’ve got a lot of work to do and things will keep on changing… I feel perfect, how’s that?
You are perfect, Anthony. I was, um, hoping that you could fulfill a fantasy of mine.
It’s just word association thing.
OK, I’m going to say a bunch of words and take your time—
You’re not supposed to take your time.
How did Jung do it, where he timed the answers?
He’s dead. Just do it.
Abercrombie and Fitch.
Hell on Earth... I used to work there.
[laughs] It was awful.
I bet. Rohypnol.
Prodigy is a band that had a song about Rohypnol.
Oh, I thought you meant like a prodigy, like someone who’s really good at giving people roofies.
I could have. I could have.
Oh, cuuute! What a perfect way to end it.
That’s perfect. I was just waiting to build up to that.
Thank you so much for talking to me.
Thank you for coming to my hotel room. [The most awkward handshake in human history. I have not washed my hand since.]
Keep an eye out for Anthony’s new show, as well as his hour-long special entitled “Caligula,” both premiering on Comedy Central in January. Now excuse me while I go SQUIRT EVERYWHERRREEEEE.