As Interviewed By Brian McGuinness
Conducted June 4, 2008 - Published June 17, 2008
Everyone loves a good prank call, which is why comic Jim Florentine's "Special Ed" character on Comedy Central's Crank Yankers made Jim a household name. I gave the him a call at his home...at my own risk.
Brian: How do you feel your stand-up has changed over the years and when did you get started?
Jim: I've been doing it since the early 90's, so like fifteen years. I guess as you develop as a comic, you start personalizing your stuff more once you get more comfortable on stage. In the beginning, I was just writing jokes, not necessarily stuff that was true or anything like that, just to get laughs. But then you start coming into your own, you just talk about your life, your past, your childhood. That's how it's really developed. Just starting to be real on stage, talking about my life. Probably about four or five years ago is when I really came into my own.
Brian: Is there anything off limits for you that you won't touch?
Jim: No, not at all. I talk about when I got molested as a kid.
Brian: What or who makes you laugh?
Jim: I guess guys that are edgy. Guys you can tell that just go up there and don't give a fuck if they offend somebody or whatever. Not that offensive comedy is the only stuff that makes me laugh, but I like guys like Nick DiPaolo, Jim Norton, Rich Vos, [Doug] Stanhope. Guys like that are just brutal up there. It always makes me laugh.
Brian: What do you think the difference is between guys who do stuff like that, the super honest guys, and guys that are maybe too scared to take a chance up there?
Jim: I think that [taking a chance] is what brought those guys to another level. They took that chance and just brought it out there. I think it's refreshing to the audience that they can finally do that. They don't see that that often. They get a nice hardcore audience. Then again, you do a regular comedy club and no one knows you - you're just a guy going up there. And if you do an act like that, half the room or three-quarters of the room is going to go, "What the fuck? What is this?" So you have a tough time, but once you get to the spot where you can headline and be the main guy, you can pretty much do whatever the fuck you want. I think that's when you really grow as a comic. There are a lot of restrictions when you're the opening act or the feature act, between the club or the headliner telling you this and that, but once you get to your headline spot you can pretty much unleash. I think that's what made those guys get to the next level, just doing that.
Brian: What makes you roll your eyes?
Jim: Nothing really does. I don't really pay attention. Anyone that can get up on stage and do it, for me, has balls. Whatever they're doing up there is fine. I don't really care. I don't pay attention that much. I don't get involved with that stuff. It winds up bringing you down as a comic and then you're worried about what other people are doing on stage so I never really did. It's just being negative like, "Oh, I can't believe that fucking guy. How could he be doing that material?" I never worry about that shit.
Brian: A big chunk of what you're known for is your work on Crank Yankers. Do you remember the first prank call you made?
Jim: I was always making prank calls as a kid. I went to Catholic School and I was always getting in trouble and fucking up, so I'd be home and I'd have nothing better to do. So if a telemarketer called or I'd just make my own prank calls. I was always just fucking around. One of the best ones I remember, me and my friend Tony were calling people up and saying, "How big are your tits?" if we got a girl or a woman on the phone. It was stupid, but whatever. I think back then, you had to dial the phone, then when it started ringing someone else in the house could pick up on the other end. I remember, I was dialing downstairs at his house, then he would pick up upstairs. I see a note on his counter, "Mom's Work Number", and he didn't know so I called his mom's work number. And it was his turn to yell it so his mom picks up at work and he goes, "How big are your tits!?" and his mom goes, "Is this Tony? Tony??" and he fucking hung up and chased me down the street. I'll never forget that. He had no clue. He didn't know I was going to call his mom.
Brian: That's fucking great.
Jim: Yeah it was. I was evil from the age of seven on.
Brian: That's so funny. We talked a little bit about this when you did my show at Gotham a few weeks ago. You're on Howard Stern a lot. You're good friend, Jim Norton, is on Opie & Anthony, and you've done some work with them and him, do you feel like the wall between the two shows is starting to crumble hopefully?
Jim: It seems like it. I'm hoping it does, once the merger goes through. It seems like it's starting to. People are like, "You know what, who gives a shit. It's just stupid. Move on from this already." I see those guys out, I see Norton all the time. For comics, I hope it does so they can go on both shows and promote their stuff to two different audiences.
Brian: How'd the new taping with Norton go on HBO?
Jim: It went great. We taped it in Jersey. I think it's going to air in September. "Jim Norton's Down & Dirty Comics" it's called. So yeah, I'm psyched.
Brian: And you were also a frequent guest on the Kid Chris Show. Any contact with him since he's been kicked off the air?
Jim: Yeah, he's fucking really bummed out. We've been texting back and forth. He's like, "I got a really fucking raw deal, man. It's bullshit." It's unbelievable. They put a song parody on the air and get kicked off the air.
Brian: Yeah, did like one person complain and they freaked out?
Jim: I guess that's how it is. That's why I love just going up on stage and doing what I want. I don't have to worry about that at any club. "Don't say that" or "you can't say this" or "reword this". None of that crap. The freedom I have going up there doing it and not listening to some fucking asshole that has no idea what he's talking about. That's like if a club owner, in between your shows on a Friday or Saturday night, goes, "Look the second show, don't say dick. Say Johnson or my member because that's funny too. Say it that way." It just takes away from the joke and that's what those guys have to do in radio, deal with that stuff. People that are unfunny that don't know, and lawyers getting involved and trying to reword stuff that makes it fucking not funny at all. Sometimes the word 'dick' is just funny and it's needed for a joke. You can't go in front of drunk people on a Saturday night and go, "My Johnson..." And I know that's what those [radio] guys have to deal with. It must suck. That's why I just like to get up there and do it every night.
Brian: Was there a moment you decided you were quitting the day job and becoming a stand-up?
Jim: It kind of just came gradually. I was working full time, then part time. I was making a living pretty early on, about two or three years in. I wasn't making much, but I was still living at home. And there was a bunch of headliners out there, like Rich Vos, Bob Levy and a couple of other dudes that were already established and took a liking to me and took me on the road to open for them. I didn't make that much money but I was working five or six nights a week. So it was great. I didn't have any bills. I had a piece of shit car with no car payments, so I was pretty much doing it from the beginning.
Brian: And plus you got to see these pros...
Jim: Absolutely. It was great to see these guys. I've never seen people work a crowd and just get an audience, lose them, and get them right back like Rich Vos and Bob Levy. The balls those guys have on stage and the chance they take. Knowing the crowd, and doing that edgy, dirty material. I learned a ton from those guys.
Brian: That's interesting because there are so many comics that have been doing open-mics in the city forever and they never had a paying gig ever because all they do is the same open mic jokes in front of the same open mic comics forever, but they never go out and see these pros. Would you say that [learning from the pros] is a really important thing and one of the main things that helped you, like trying to be as funny as those guys or at least learn how to write great material like those guys did?
Jim: Absolutely. It helped me out. You got to watch them and try to open for someone and really learn. If you're sitting in New York at a comedy club and watching ten or fifteen minute sets of guys that are either open micers or even established guys, you're not really learning. You need to watch somebody kill for 45 minutes and deal with everything. Like when the waitresses bring out the check three quarters of the way into a guys act and all of a sudden nobody's paying attention to the stage. There's a lot of shit you need to learn.
Brian: Where'd you get your start and how was your first time on stage?
Jim: It was in Jersey. There was a comedy night on Tuesday nights and they had an open mic before the show. I went up. It took me about six to nine months to finally get the balls to get up on stage because I was petrified getting up in front of people. But I was like, "This is what I want to do." Even though I bombed. Most comics say, "Oh I did pretty good or great the first time." No you didn't. Every fucking comic bombs. I don't care what they say. You know when you first start, you think you had a great set you're like, "Brian, that set was amazing!" Then you listen to it a couple years later if you have it on tape and you're like, "Man I sucked. That was terrible. I thought I was fucking killing up there."
Brian: Like you said, you do a lot of personal material and more honest stuff up there now, how do you decide what's going to become an actual joke for you?
Jim: You know, I don't know. I just go up there and do it and see if it works. I usually try it a few times before I throw it away. I'll just always have it in a notebook, and maybe I'll think it's not right to go up on stage yet, maybe it needs some time. And then I'll go back to it in six months or a year thinking I can now make it work. You never know until you get up there. But I just say, "Hey I got an idea" and go up there and try to see if I can get some laughs from it. That's how I pretty much do it.
Brian: You've done a lot of stuff - Crank Yankers, Meet the Creeps, etc. - do you feel you'll be doing stand-up for life?
Jim: I want to do other stuff, but I still want to always do stand-up to fall back on. I'd like to get into some TV stuff or film, get a name for myself and still do stand-up and still play clubs or do little theaters. But yeah, I still want to be doing comedy when I'm seventy.
Brian: Were there any crazy things that stuck out during the filming of some of the Meet The Creeps? Maybe behind the scenes?
Jim: We had the cops called on us a few times. We have a hidden camera, so people don't know we're filming or fucking with them. We went to see this house with a real estate agent. The house was empty and the guy was showing us around - me, Don [Jamieson] and somebody else - and I went in the bathroom and started taking a shower. And he's showing Don a room and all of a sudden goes, "Is he taking a shower in there?" And Don says, "Yeah, he's probably just trying to rinse off." And he goes, "He can't take a shower!" and he pounded on the door. So I open the door, I'm in a towel and say, "What's going on?" He says, "You got to get out of there!" I say, "I just wanted to take a shower real quick." "You can't do it. Get out before I call the cops!" He's going on and on. Finally I get out of there and when he dragged me out, Don's in another room pretending he's getting a blowjob from the girl he's with. He walks in, she's on her knees, they're both moaning. He's like, "That's it!" and he fucking called the cops on us. So the cops came because they have to answer every call and we told them it was a joke. We didn't think he was going to really do it. The cops thought it was fucking hilarious. They were like, "This is really funny."
Brian: How come that didn't get put on the DVD?
Jim: It was on Comedy Central's 'Motherload', the broadband channel. House-hunting.
Brian: Where do those ideas come from? Is that just you and Don fucking around?
Jim: Yeah, we just think of something. My one friend was like, "I'm a real estate broker. I can hook you guys up if you want to do something and mess with a real estate agent." So we look at a house and think of what we can do. We usually find out who we can mess with first. Some guy told us he has a shop where he sells papers and bongs. He's like, "Dude, it's my shop. I'd love for you to do a Meet The Creeps bit here." We haven't done anything yet, but once we get the location, we're like, "Okay, let's think of something around the location we can do." It's a lot easier if the owner is in on it, but none of the customers are. The owner isn't going to call the cops on us.
Brian: My favorite thing on those DVDs is when you throw stuff in people's carts in the supermarkets...
Jim: Oh yeah, we still do that all the time. Even without cameras. We just chuck shit in there for no reason.
Brian: That's the best, that you still do that for no reason. It's hysterical.
Jim: Yeah, for hours we'll do it.
Brian: You're on the road a lot, how do you think the state of New York City comedy is and maybe just comedy in general?
Jim: I think it's doing pretty good. A lot of guys are doing great. Dane Cook's selling out Madison Square Garden. You got stuff like that, Norton's doing great. Lewis Black is doing theaters. It's awesome. I think it's a good time. Comics are all of a sudden like rock stars now. I think it's a great time for comedy.
Brian: I hear that a lot, the new 'rock star' comparison. It's pretty cool, only a few guys back in the day were doing theaters, like Cosby and Steve Martin, but now you have a bunch of guys out there that can sell out an arena and make some serious money.
Jim: Yeah and the power of radio does that too. Between the Stern show and Opie & Anthony, even those guys in the mid-west, Bob & Tom, there are a bunch of comics out there that sell out theaters that you've never heard of but it's great for them.
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