Jim Jefferies Hated Going to School with His Mother

The Sydney-raised comedian talks about working at McDonald's, Eddie Murphy, and what's funny around the world.
June 21, 2017, 5:55pm
Art Streiber/Comedy Central

In Early Works, we talk to artists young and old about the jobs and life experiences that led them to their current moment. Today, it's comedian Jim Jefferies, whose Comedy Central show The Jim Jefferies Show airs Tuesdays at 10:30.

I grew up in Sydney. My father was a cabinetmaker until the recession in Australia—his business went under, so he worked as a maintenance guy at a high school from when I was ten years old until he retired. My mother was a substitute teacher at my school, which was horrible. She was a very intimidating lady who yelled a lot, so she wasn't the most popular teacher with the students, and I got bullied a lot for it.

But I grew up in a very nice suburb. My parents weren't very wealthy, but they bought a house there in the 1960s, and the suburb grew around them and became a very affluent part of Sydney. So I actually grew up around a lot of rich people, but I was poor myself. My childhood was alright—I had two older brothers, and we did a lot of bike riding and going to the dumpster behind the 7-Eleven and trying to get old Playboys out of the bins. Australia's a pretty easy place to grow up in. I don't ever remember feeling in any danger.


My brother was always considered the funny one in the family, and I wasn't. The only thing I liked doing in school was the musical every year. I always got the funny role, but I wasn't a class clown, and I didn't have a huge group of friends or anything. I was a much quieter kid than I am now. It wasn't until I went to college that I realized I could meet girls through being funny—in high school, I was too shy to even talk to a girl. When I was 18, I started to get my confidence up.

I loved watching rugby and comedy. I really liked sketch comedy—Monty Python and all that type of stuff—and I was mad about the Beatles as a teenager. Around that time in Australia, if I was to see a comedian, it would be some guy from America or Britain who came on one of our late-night shows and did four minutes. My parents had no interest in comedy, so there was no place for me to see someone talk for an hour. But I used to see all these people do four minute sets and think, I reckon I could do that. Even as a kid, I could tell stories very well. I could hold everyone's attention at a party.

Eddie Murphy's Delirious was a pivotal moment in my childhood. I watched that when I was ten years old. He was doing routines about him and his brother being in the bathtub and his auntie falling down the stairs. He was talking about me at that stage of my life, and Eddie Murphy was 21 when he recorded it—he didn't even have that much life experience, so he just talked about his life as a kid. That spoke to me a lot more than any other comedy that would've been considered "age-appropriate."

My first job was delivering papers, and then McDonald's. I learned from working at McDonald's while going to school is that you have to work hard. I meet so many actresses and actors in Hollywood that are all waiting for their break—I'm working for mine, and that's a big difference. There was no faking it for me. If I failed, my parents weren't going to save me, you know? I think sometimes, "Will my son have the same level of drive that I had?" Probably not. I hope he does. But if I was my son, I couldn't see why he would. There's something about being so painfully working class where you're always thinking you've got something to prove.

When I was in college in Perth, it was a city that had fewer than a million people in it—the most isolated city on Earth, a five-hour drive to any other bit of civilization. There was one bar that had a comedy night on a Wednesday, and so there was a waiting list to get up and do it and three people in town that did it somewhat professionally. I did one set, and it went OK, and then I did another set and it went badly.

Eventually I opened up my own night in another part of town above a bar—a little room that only 80 people could jam into. Because I was at college, I roped all my friends to come in for free, and the place was just happy to have 80 people in it on a Tuesday. That's how I got into stand-up. I was pretty raw and hacky and not very good, but that's how everyone is to begin with. Then, I got better. I moved to Sydney and quit university to focus full-time on stand-up. Then I had to move as quick as possible to the United Kingdom, because there was nowhere to make any money as an artist in Australia.

There's this myth that there's a British sense of humor, an Aussie sense of humor, and an American sense of humor—and it's all a load of complete and utter rubbish. Funny's funny, no matter where you go. This whole idea that British people are meant to be more dry and Australian people are meant to be more outlandish is a load of fucking crap. I've never had to change up my show for a different country. I just went to Israel, and I didn't change up the way I perform. It makes no difference. Some comedians go, "Do you call it sidewalk or pavement?" In this day and age, everyone knows. If I say I shagged some bird, you know what I mean by that sentence. If I say I bummed a fag, you know I was talking about a cigarette. I understand that I think a fanny is a vagina, and you think a fanny is an ass. I get it.

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