Anthony Jeselnik: Comedy’s Heel
“People who get offended by jokes … are fucking stupid,” says Anthony Jeselnik about five minutes into his comedy album, Shakespeare, as what basically seems to be his mantra. Jeselnik is a comedian of the darkest kind. His only limits are what he can think up. AIDS, rape, race, retardation, death—it doesn’t matter—if Jeselnik can make a joke about it, he will. “There’s nothing that I won’t joke about,” Jeselnik says in an interview with SLUG. “If there was something that made me feel uncomfortable, I would take that as a direct challenge and try to make a joke about it.”
That mantra of Jeselnik’s—people that get offended by jokes are stupid—comes after he tells a story about trying to get an Asian joke past a standards and practices person at Late Night at Jimmy Fallon. In the stand-up comedy world, quite often these late night shows can launch someone’s career to new heights. The catch is, you often need a tight, TV-ready five-minute set. Something that, with his flavor of comedy, Jeselnik might have found to be difficult. “I never really tried to get on TV,” Jeselnik says. “I knew my material was edgy and that it would keep me off of certain shows, but I didn’t compromise and it gained me the respect of my peers.”
Over the phone, Jeselnik comes off as a cool guy. When he steps on stage, something flips. He turns into something of a joke-a-second sociopath. A persona that finds itself somewhere between Mitch Hedberg and Patrick Bateman. A persona that Jeselnik says evolved over time. “In the beginning, people would see this dumb, 23-year-old white kid and they didn’t want to hear what I was going to say,” Jeselnik says, “but when I sort of started to go into the character, the villain, that was something they didn’t expect and they latched onto it.”
Now a savvy 35-year-old, Jeselnik embraces the role of comedy’s villain, and playing that role perfectly has taken him to the very top of his craft. Anyone who watches Jeselnik perform can see some obvious influences for his character, like the narrators of Bret Easton Ellis novels or Andrew “Dice” Clay. He also gets inspiration from a very unexpected place: The world of professional wrestling. “I thought that the bad guys in professional wrestling were so funny because they were mean for no reason,” says Jeselnik. “It is insane to act the way those people do—I just think they’re much more interesting than the heroes.”
After a few years of starring in his own TV show, The Jeselnik Offensive on Comedy Central, Jeselnik has hit the road on a 24-date American tour. That tour is stopping off at The Depot on Saturday, April 12. Jeselnik says that he loves doing stand up because no one can tell him what to do, and he can perform the show just for the audience that night. This isn’t his first time performing in Salt Lake, but now he returns with a big enough name to headline a bigger venue. “I love Salt Lake City,” says Jeselnik. “I’m sort of the antithesis of what Utah is sort of known for, and I think it brings out the counterculture.”
Tickets to Saturday’s show can be purchased at Smith’s Tix for $30.50 and for $35.50 on the day of the show. The show starts at 8 p.m., with doors opening at 7. For more information on Anthony Jeselnik, go to anthonyjeselnik.com.