Jim Jefferies interview
His drunken days are behind him, but Ben Williams finds out Jim Jefferies hasn’t lost his edge
Drink, drugs and debauchery. The clichés of excess have always been Jim Jefferies’ topics of choice. I’ve seen him tell stories of taking severely disabled friends to brothels, thrusting vibrating eggs up his arse, and being punched on stage while in the middle of his ‘cunt’ material (which begins: ‘Women to me are like public toilets; they’re all dirty except for the disabled ones’).
So, when I heard that the unapologetic Australian comic had settled down, has a baby on the way, and has (mostly) given up boozing, I expected his new show to be a tamer, softer affair. Man, was I wrong. Fully Functional, which I caught at the Edinburgh Fringe, opens with a Down’s syndrome gag. Jefferies then slings out stories of ‘rapey’ movie stars and coked-up masturbation. A gentle ride this isn’t. But the more blatant misogyny, whether it was for deliberate ‘shock’ value or not, has mostly disappeared and he’s smarter when dealing with more contentious subjects, like religion or paedophilia.
I meet Jefferies the morning after his rowdy show in an Edinburgh café. The 35-year-old hasn’t totally ditched the booze, I realise, as he sits down, bleary-eyed and clearly nursing a hangover. ‘I’ve gotten drunk maybe four or five nights this festival, whereas it used to be every night,’ he says, sipping a glass of water. Last night was, he claims, his most drunken yet on this run – he got to bed at 6am, four hours before we meet. ‘Two years ago, I gave up drinking completely for eight, nine months. And I was bored. Horribly bored.’ Why did he quit in the first place? ‘It was health reasons, mainly. Liver problems. But also I was looking like a bag of shit.’ These days, he still gets hammered socially, but picks his moments, and whereas he would previously get through stacks of lagers during gigs, he no longer drinks while onstage or before shows.
The truth is, the lazy-voiced Aussie no longer has time for the chaotic lifestyle. He’s got his nose to the grindstone, writing nine-to-five on scripts for the self-starring sitcom ‘Legit’ (commissioned by US network FX), and gigging most evenings. Plus, his girlfriend, actress Kate Luyben, is pregnant with their first child, a boy, due next month. As is to be expected, Jefferies is experiencing a mixture of excitement and anxiety about impending fatherhood, but he’s more worried about his girlfriend. ‘She’s freaking out every day,’ he says. ‘I’m a firm believer that the internet should be taken away from pregnant women, because everything results in them reading that the baby’s dead. You know when you have a one-night stand and you start self-diagnosing and convince yourself you’ve got Aids? It’s like that. Everything’s just misery. I’m looking forward to the baby coming out so me and my girlfriend can talk about something else. It’s the only conversation I’ve had for the last seven months.’
Jefferies is already super-prepared for that day: his LA home has been child-friendlified. Winnie the Pooh borders decorate the baby’s room and the little nipper even has his own walk-in wardrobe and en-suite bathroom. ‘Jammy little fuck, isn’t he? He’s already got a better bedroom than I’d ever had up until about six months ago.’ Is Jefferies worried about spoiling his son? ‘I’m very nervous about it,’ he replies. ‘I don’t have millions of dollars, but I live in a nice area, in the Hollywood Hills, and I have money. I’m not going to smother him with gifts and toys and that sort of stuff. But he’s still not going to be eating own-brand food because I don’t want fucking own-brand food, you know? So, I’m trying to figure out ways to punish him…’
With Jefferies putting down roots in the States, this could be his last visit to our shores for some time. But, having cut his teeth on the London circuit for eight years, he takes pride in playing our city. ‘I can go into New York and sell out a theatre,’ he says, ‘but I didn’t have to fight my way to get there, I was already a made man from television. I sold out a theatre in London without any TV exposure, just word of mouth and being a good comic, and that was a much bigger sense of accomplishment than just being a guy from telly.’
Jefferies’s Lyric Theatre date this week will be his first sober gig in London for quite some time. Alcohol has always been a major part of his shows, not just in his subject matter, but as a connection between the comic and his hardcore fanbase, who were always drinking with him. Is he afraid of losing that bond? ‘Well, I’ve already lost it to a certain degree,’ he says. ‘I no longer have those gigs where we’re all singing, and I’ve got everyone standing on tables and stuff. But I also don’t have those gigs where I’m yelling, “You don’t understand me, you people don’t care!” and I go to the dressing room and cry afterwards. I enjoy mayhem, but I can’t organise that sober, because my brain starts thinking about health and safety. I start worrying that someone might get hurt.’ The drunken anarchy might have departed, but Jefferies is a far more consistent and funnier comic for it. Let’s just hope he doesn’t take his new responsibilities too seriously…