Comedian Anthony Jeselnik has been pretty darn busy over the past three years solidifying his rightful place in today’s stand-up market. After a hugely successful debut album that was named by Laughspin as the Best Comedy Album of 2010, Jeselnik quickly became the breakout star of several Comedy Central Roasts, including that of Charlie Sheen and Donald Trump, where his mean-guy stage persona was right at home. Having earned a reputation as one of the meanest men in comedy, it just might surprise you how nice of a guy he really is – while his sharp and piercing one-liner style of comedy often takes his audiences to a dark place, Jeselnik makes a point to never single out and insult any one particular individual.
Born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA, Jeselnik moved to Los Angeles after completing a BA in English Literature from Tulane University, where he worked as a writer on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Often appearing in the show’s numerous comedy skits, Jeselnik was the first comedian to perform stand up on the show (an accomplishment he’s quick to point out at the beginning of his recorded set). I recently spoke with Jeselnik at the thirtieth anniversary Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal about his experience both as a writer and as a comedian.
“I was in Los Angeles, I moved there after college and I didn’t know what I wasn’t going to do. After about a year, I thought, what would be my dream job? If I could do anything what would I try to do?” Jeselnik reflects. “I figured I would want to sit around a table – I had this image in my head – with a bunch of other people that I liked and respected, and I picture the other comedians (that I like) throwing out jokes for a late-night show. Just doing jokes every day, making each other laugh. That sounded amazing. My dad knew a guy who wrote for Leno, and he said, ‘If you want to do joke writing, just get into stand-up. It will help your writing.’ It took me a few months to kind of work up the courage to even start to do that, but I was like, I’ll just go up and tell jokes. I wanted to make comedy writers laugh so I started telling mean jokes, dark jokes. By the time I finally got that job, six or seven years later, I was loving comedy so much that I was like, ‘Oh, this job sucks. It’s not what I expected at all.’”
While Jeselnik kept his eye on the prize in terms of securing a television writing job, he simply couldn’t suppress the true independent comedian that had been growing inside of him.
“I really wanted to write for that show specifically, a show that was just starting out, a brand-new show that we kind of formed,” Jeselnik recalls. “But Fallon kind of knew what he wanted to do, and it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I would have these jokes that were my kind of jokes, that I thought were funny – I can only write them one way. This joke is bullshit, he might like that joke. This is the good stuff, he’s like, ‘I can’t say it.’ I understood, but I did it for like a year just to get the experience and when I left, they were like, ‘We understand.’ But they’ve been great to me.”
When it comes to career choices, making a living as a stand-up comedian wasn’t always as glamorous in Jeselnik’s mind as it would eventually become.
“I thought of comics as the guys wearing Hawaiian shirts,” Jeselnik states, describing his early apprehension of telling people he was a comedian. “It wasn’t like, oh, I’m going to be brilliant and do this, and I’m gonna make a living on this…I said, I’ll do it until I get a writing job. But I hated telling people I was a stand-up. The only thing worse than saying I’m a stand-up is ‘Well, I used to be a stand-up’. That’s the worst – I said I’ll never quit because of that. I originally wanted to be a novelist but they don’t make any money. It’s like being a stand-up but you’re stuck in a room by yourself just, like, drinking. As a comedian you can go out and drink.”
The more comedy derriere Jeselnik kicks in his career, however, the more he finds himself back in the writing arena, as he was recently approached by Comedy Central to develop his own show for 2013.
“I got picked up picked up by Comedy Central, it’s going to premiere in January,” Jeselnik dishes. “Comedy Central said we want a show from you, we want you to do a half hour every night, like a midnight show after Colbert. So we’re like, okay great, let’s do that. We had it down; it was like, we’ll talk about what happened that day, have like, a comedy bit, and then a couple things of panel where I’d just be talking to people. They were like, ‘We love it, but we’re not going to do anything at midnight now, it’s budget things, so we’re going to pick you up for a weekly show, but now you have to tell us what that show is.’ So I have a premiere date, I have everything – except, we have to figure it out. So after the roast [of Roseanne Barr] I’m going to sit down with my team – the same team I used for the old show, I love those guys – and figure out exactly what it will be. I know what I want it to be, but we have to figure out how we’re going to tell Comedy Central.”
Catch Anthony Jeselnik live at The Wilbur Theatre on August 18, fresh off the heels of what is sure to be an amazingly hilarious appearance on Comedy Central’s Roast of Roseanne Barr, which airs on August 12 at 10:00 p.m. (EST). Tickets start at $27 and can be purchased by visiting The Wilbur’s website or at Ticketmaster.