:: Article

Soberphobia

By Graham Rae

Jim Jefferies Live, Park West, Chicago, June 2011

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A couple of months ago I wrote a review of putting-the-come-in-comedian Jim Jefferies’ live stand-up DVD, Alcoholocaust, which is coming out soon in the USA. In it I mused, as did he during the funny running time, about whether or not he’d still be as good after giving up drinking for health reasons last year. Having just gone to see him live (suppose I wouldn’t be seeing him dead, unless it was at his wake or something), I can definitively state the answer is… nope, he’s shit, he’s lost it, career game over finished done gone out. (Sorry for quoting an old Anthrax song there for no clear reason with the last five words of the preceding sentence.)

GOTCHA! The real answer to that performance anxiety question is that the teetotal Australian laugh-maker is actually even funnier than when he was a mumbling stumbling pisshead. There’s a new focus and drive and intensity of (mal)intent behind the sometimes manic glaring stare, a new spring and pep in the stop-stagger-step, a new chapter in the life of the notorious bipolar sex-offender-raps rep.

I must admit it was a bit weird to see the man come onstage spry and wry with a bottle of spring water in his hand (or maybe it was pure liquid LSD – you never know) instead of the once-constant-and-ubiquitous beers or Jack-and-cokes, both liquid and powder. It was great to see; as an unabashed fan of a performer, you’re always glad when they look as though they’re going to be around for a good long while yet to tickle your funny bone – my supporting of his sobriety is purely selfish, you see. If he stops being funny then I’ll be the first to buy him a drink, who cares, yesterday’s news, away and sing the lost-it-comic used-up blues, bye-bye.

But not right now. Jim (note me being on first-name terms with a man I regard myself as being deep friends with, despite having only ever met him briefly a couple of times and never having hung out with him or anything – I am secure in my delusion) talked a bit about stopping drinking, saying was suffering from a condition “technically known as shitting blood,” having an enlarged liver, and having to give up the (to quote my brother Tony) ‘old love sauce.’ Scary stuff indeed, and you can hardly blame him for straightening himself out to, well, y’know, save his life and liver from leaving him like an abusive lover, stuff like that. And good on him for doing it. The man was clearly frightened by his wake-up-and-sober-up call, and he made the correct dipsomania-denying decision by stopping his self-abuse. Of the alcoholic kind that is, not the salami-slapping type, as his monologue about a near-heart-attack constant-hard-on coke wank later on was testicle-slapping testament to, but that’s another story altogether.

The man’s clear dedication to stopping his pain-self-medication was what made it all the more strange when a Latino-looking man stepped out of the audience to offer him a cold bottle of Miller (shit, if you were going to start drinking again, you wouldn’t drink that hospice-horror hosspiss anyway, no fucking chance!) with a big shiteating grin on his expectant upturned face. Jefferies took great and understandable offence at this fucking stupid faux-pas and ranted at the man about how he was an alcoholic and offering him that was like going up to a junkie with a needle and smack. Having been through the horror of alcoholism to near death with a thankfully-now-not-drinking very close friend, I can totally relate to that anger and am disgusted. There is no bigger insult than an action like the one that wanker pulled on the entertainer.

The guy gave Jim the finger behind his back when he turned away for a moment, then was deservingly huckled away by a bouncer moments later after an insanely angry cock-shrivellingly-humiliating profanity-laced tonguelashing from the offended offensive comedian. As I have said before, some of his fans seem to be insensitive drunken shitheads, thinking he should go back to destroying himself for their abusive entertainment, and you have to wonder how often he has to deal with this garbage. His response to the raged-at stagecrasher was certainly a lesson in how to kill a sick hick dick heckler stone dead and buried, and the man certainly deserved to be served it.

But moving on from tacky diversionary tactics. I had heard some of the semen-in-amusement material before in Alcoholocaust and other performances, but much of it was new and lewd and rude and crude and as cruel and grueling a set as you’re ever likely to hear anytime anyplace anywhere. Jim said his girlfriend was in the audience in the balcony, and you have to wonder what she made of material like how he’d like to be a father (oddly, I think he’d make a good one), but would really get bored with fucking one person for the rest of his life so he would like the mother to die after a few years so he could use the kid to get women to have sex with him, a poor struggling single father. I know, just jokes, but still…it must be weird to hear your boyfriend talk about dating a porn star or attempting a threesome (just who was that insane ‘rapey’ movie star involved at the hotel, Jim?) with two Canadian teenage girls. Still, she obviously knew what she was getting into, so, well (chuckling), good luck to her.

This is the fourth piece I have written for the site about Jefferies. Know why I keep doing this? Because he never disappoints and just keeps getting better all the time. I have been going through a really bad time since last year for various not-to-be-discussed reasons, and had forgotten I could actually laugh so hard until I had tears in my eyes (from laughing, not conjunctivitis or kidney stone pain or anything – and you don’t want to experience the latter, believe me) or just be swept up along in the pure joyous manic beauty and sensitive madness of a man who, oddly, occasionally reminded me of watching Sid Vicious, sometimes with a strange off-kilter taboo-killing feral glare in his inspired sick-glint eyes, a prophet of profanity and insanity whose work the world humor-profits from. Any man who can raise that rousing reaction in me is alright in my book (I must confess I always sort-of wanted to try my hand at stand-up, and it’s a pleasure watching the finest at play and work and storytell) and gets my review-vote until the end of time and space.

It’s an odd thing when you don’t really want to discuss what an artist was talking about after you see them with somebody who wasn’t there because saying that he made you laugh about material about horrible subjects like child abuse (some of the psychotic stuff he came away with sounded like something out of a fucking William S. Burroughs novel) just makes both of you sound sick in the head. Which, personally, I will (chuckle) cop to, fuck it. But I’m not the only one, and he’s doing really well, so it’s good to know that the slick sick (once-alcoholo) caustic schtick he sticks to the shock-and-awed audience is therapeutic and, well, most important of all, just plain fucking hilarious, never mind all the examinations and part-justifications and art-expectations and ruminations on societal degeneration and what-the-fuck-not.

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Speaking of which, the man’s material is developing in an interesting, more adult, adult humour direction. He did some fine patriot-battering patter about America’s place in the world’s top country-dogs that really made me viciously laugh like fuck in satisfaction in hearing it being art-articulated in public. “Your empire’s over. You’ve got 10 more years left. Asia’s coming to get you.” I loved the man for his audience-assaulting audacity; there is nothing Americans (another quote: “You’re breeding confident morons”) like less than having their quasi-mystical self-mythologizing masturbatory status as The Greatest Country in the World™ (got news for you, my self-aggrandising American brethren – every country in the world thinks the exact same thing – and they’re all wrong, but many have much more of a sense of humour about it than you can-be-pompous self-righteous arrogant cunts) questioned by ungrateful uncomprehending foreigners.

I know this for a first-hand fact, trust me (or maybe not, what with my suspicious Scottish accent and all), and the seditious USA-ego-sedating material Jim was gleefully venom-spewing onto his audience (sorry if this is not exactly what your Yank PR people or agent CAA want stated, Jim) was the kind of thing that immigrants (in an immigrant-hating country whose present form was founded by immigrants) sometimes talk about behind your backs in hushed secret conspiratorial tones when you’re not around, cursing your cunty country, your obnoxiousness and obsession with money and celebrity and God and pro-life flag-haggery and all that fizzling-out pizzle-drizzle jizz-jazz.

And all this from a man who is ostensibly a nonsensical spunkspewing adult comedian. Yes, I know, he’s only joking. Except the stuff he’s saying is the absolute inviolable truth.

This sociological-over-scatological stuff-and-no-nonsense may be an indicator of future directions Jefferies could take, from young dumb (though he’s not dumb by any means – he’s sharp as a tack on the attack, way smarter than most of his self-loathing-and-destructive material lets on) drunk drugged young man(iac) abroad to more thought-and-anger-provoking analyses of the world at large. Remains to be seen, and maybe I’m taking it a bit too seriously. There will always be a creepy sperm-steam freak-streak in the Australian, bright-versus-night-fighting with his darkly funny intellectual side, but anything that can make me laugh (I love it when the man cracks himself up with the sheer outrageousness of what he is saying, as if he can’t believe what he is getting paid to say and get away with – he just grabs a concept and runs with it until the insane funny end) and think and moan in horror at what is being said is just fine by me.

After the gig Jim did a ‘meet-and-greet’ in the foyer of the theatre. My good friend Matt Cole, who had accompanied me (he loved the show – I got him into Jim, as I have done with a few others) made a very pertinent observation as we watched the drunken excited crowd frantically antswarm their much-photographed comic anti-hero. He said that it was interesting that Jefferies looked ill-at-ease with people, and I would say I think he’s right. It must be a weird thing indeed to sober up after many years performing to finally fully confront the people you stand in front of day and night (heard some dick shouting about letting Jim have some of his homebrew the next time he was in town, but thankfully he didn’t hear it, or let on if he did); learning to relate to people straight after years as a pained vicious-tongued drunk must be no easy thing, especially when they’re as wasted as you may well still like to be on some half-hidden drink-desperate cellular level. No easy thing.

I waited until a fair section of the crowd had dispersed and went to speak to the man (he recognised me on sight because of my writings for this site), basically just shaking his hand and thanking him for making me laugh harder than any time I could remember in recent memory. I told him to stay off the drink and gave him a lucky charm: a stuffed koala I had found a few days earlier whilst at a local church rummage sale looking for toys and books for my young daughter. It was part affectionate lucky charm and part gentle ribbing at his newfound somewhat softer sober image. He said he had occasional relapses but was still trying. And then he was off again after shaking my hand again, attention distracted by some other yammering clamouring fan, with a slightly hunted haunted look on his face as he did so. Maybe it was for me: after all, a grown man had just handed him a stuffed toy! Crazy shit! I am genuinely laughing here. And then Matt and I were off into the impossible-to-find-parking balmy Chicago night, with my painful laugh-torn ribs and guts thankfully much less sore than they had been for a long, long time. And that’s just about what it’s all about, over finished done gone out.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Graham Rae’s first novel Soundproof Future Scotland will be coming out from Creation Books in the next few months. Scotland will hear all about it.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, July 19th, 2011.