:: Article

You’ve Got To Be Obscene To Be Heard

By Graham Rae.


Now the words that he spoke/seemed the wisest of philosophy/there was nothing ever gained/by a wet thing called a tear/when the world is too dark/and I need the light inside of me/I’ll walk into the bar/and drink 15 pints of beer

– The Pogues.

I saw Jim Jefferies live in Chicago at the Lakeshore Theatre on Saturday, October 17, and am still buzzing from it several days later.

For those of you who don’t know, Jefferies (real name: Jim Jefferey Nugent, though I don’t believe he’s related to the frightening right-wing American gun-nut musician Ted) is an ever-more-famous angry Antipodean anarchic stand-up comedian whose sick, slick, dick-and-cunt choke-on-your-drink jokes have entertained and offended an ever-increasing number of people (including TV slimelight-dwelling denizens like Kelly and Sharon Osbourne) over the last few years. Jefferies is making the big time (he’s huge in the UK and is making it ever-bigger in the USA) and he absolutely deserves to.

He does edge-riding-and-gleefully-diving-over routines about the disabled, his fucked-up family life growing up (a recurring theme), suicide, getting a vibrating egg stuck up his arse, having sex with dirty women, burn victims, getting shot at in Iraq, his rabid rampant atheism, being abused by a Scoutmaster as a child, Michael Jackson’s nasal hole being just the right size for underage genitalia…and on and on and on, and down and down (under) and dirty and dirtier still. He makes cheeseburgers out of every sacred cow known to humanity, gobbles them down, then shits them back onto the appalled, amused, verbally abused audience. Rinse and repeat. And if by that description you don’t think you would like him…

…you’re very probably right.

I first encountered the man’s work a scant few months ago. My wife and I were visiting friends, Nick and Mary, and staying overnight. Nick told us about this comedian he thought I would get a kick out of, a guy called Jim Jefferies. I had already chucked back a couple of beers and was ready for a chuckle so we tuned in to see I Swear to God, a one-hour HBO special by this guy I had never heard of. Within moments I was laughing like fuck and watching this (of course) black-clad sick caustic tornado of anger and extreme (literal) fucking humor had me laughing as hard as I’ve ever laughed in my life.

This manic madman was bouncing and bounding and growling and prowling across the stage taking no prisoners, not censoring himself at all, no restraints no limits, tanning pint of lager after pint of lager, saying he drank because life was shit and we have to get through it however we can, laying waste to huge tracts of humanity and philosophy and simple decency and self-respect and dignity. It was instantly crystal clear that what the man was beerspray-saying was coming straight out of some tortured contorted corner of his dark head and heart, and he was somebody who was into Telling The Truth, no matter how dark or demented or depressing or disturbing. Or hilarious. This is a straitjacket-loosening trait I equated with my own favorite comedian Bill Hicks, and I can’t tell you what a breath of halitosis-fogged unfresh air it was to hear an artist who didn’t seem like the current crap crop of popcult hipster cunts (pap) smeared across TV making faux edgy comments about celebritneys and laughing all the way to the spank-bank.

I was totally intrigued by the coarse, rude, crude dipsomaniac (random quote: “If you don’t drink you’re a boring cunt, and all your stories suck”) dancing before me on the screen. There was the sense of a lot of pain beneath his material, and I instantly started wondering just what the fuck was eating and beating his mental meat. But the answer is eminently obvious to anybody with a brain these dazed days: every fucking thing under the sun. He came across as being very down-to-earth, reminding me of my own old friends back in Falkirk in Scotland (I now live in the Chicago suburbs) telling wild stories in various pubs late on a Saturday night, and just fucking looked like somebody you’d love to have a beer and shoot the shit with. He just made me want to drink heavily, which I did, and I never stopped laughing once during the whole hour.

His surreal intelligent off-the-wall observations on a shortarse Jesus who could feed the 5000 easily because people were shorter back in Biblical days because of less growth through evolution, and his skits and shit about Noah and animals, and how much he hated pandas, and hated life, ad infinitum, ad nauseam…it was all just comedic fucking gold. There was a real (twisted, but real) brain operating behind that thick veil of nauseating appalling sleaze, and that just made his act all the more appealing. I don’t want to over-intellectualize it, because a lot of it is just socially irredeemable filth with no deep meaning, but that’s my sense of humor so that’s fine. I caught it again the next afternoon and drank a few beers during it again. He just had that freewheeling anarchic spirit effect on me. I occasionally wondered if things like his vibrating egg story is true, but I can’t think of a single reason (except money, of course) why you would tell a self-destructive super-em-bare-assing story about getting a sex toy stuck up your stovepipe for three days without at least enjoying whatever minimal enjoyment it might initially have provided. I’m cynical, yes, but these daze you simply have to be.

He’s for real.

After I saw the HBO special (which came out on October 13th on DVD, and I need to buy it)(note to self) I checked Youtube and a few other places and found loads more of his stuff here and there. All of the stuff was funny, and let me tell you – any man who can make a home invasion, where the lives of he and his girlfriend are threatened, into something that will make an audience laugh, albeit guiltily…is somebody operating from a different plane and planet altogether. Actually, he trades in guilty laughs quite a bit (looking like he is cracking himself up sometimes because he knows how outrageous what he is saying is), especially on fronts like mocking the developmentally disabled, whom he has worked with (and obviously has genuine affection for) in the past. He’s clearly a man who turns extremely painful events into humor and if he has no qualms about turning his pain into our pleasure…why not laugh at it? But some of that stuff is very thought-provoking, at least in that made me think about my own limits on what I can find funny. And I found, not for the first time, that I don’t actually have any, so it was nice to have that reinforcement of my own amorality-cum-sociopathology in the humor arena.

Thanks, Jim.

Shortly after seeing I Swear to God I was delighted to find that the baby-faced bitter drunken misanthrope was appearing live in Chicago, and went down to see him (with my wife Ellen and Nick and Mary) at the Lakeshore Theatre around three or four months ago. He was as hilarious as I had hoped, not replicating any of his HBO material, which was great. Then he did a true story about taking a 31-year-old virgin with developmental disabilities to a whorehouse to get a blowjob…and something happened to me that had never happened before, especially not at a comedy gig.

I started crying. Whilst laughing at the same time.

It’s an odd confusing emotional mix, and really only works on pregnant women or psychopaths, so I can’t say I recommend it.

As I sat there listening to this angry, hilarious, soulful, very human man talk about wanting to get somebody he had been lifelong friends with a blowjob from a hooker who would do the job, something in me just damburst and the tears just flowed. I have worked with people with developmental disabilities (the currently acceptable PC euphemism for what Jefferies often calls ‘spastics’) and the material just struck a deep resonant chord. I had never heard what I will call here, for the sake of expediency, ‘social worker humor’ done before in public. Anybody who works in a field with disabled people, or any field where they deal with damaged people on a daily basis, is going to have a jet-black sense of humor to help them get through the day to counter the potentially overwhelming sheer unvarnished horror of what they and their charges are constantly facing.

The comedian talked about how the severely disabled young man had basically outlived any real life expectancy, and how he had said to his own brother and to Jim that he had never been with a woman and didn’t want to die without knowing what that was like. In the event they didn’t get full sex for him, but what they got was close enough. And I thought of the disabled ‘trainees’ I had known at the workshop I had worked in for eight months a couple of years ago, and how sad you are on an unacknowledged level because you know that their DNA-boobytrapped flesh means that they will never live a normal life or have a sexual partner…and here was a man doing something direct and real about this very thing.

So I sat and cried.

I was embarrassed as Hell, and cried, and laughed, and the tears coursed down my cheeks. I tried to scrunch down in my chair a bit so nobody could really see me, but everybody was too busy watching and listening and laughing to care anyway. So I just sat and cried and laughed, gouging sobs and guffaws, absolutely disbelieving of the genuinely unprecedented emotional rollercoaster ride that I was undergoing. Nobody ever made me laugh and cry at the same time before, and probably nobody ever will again, so what Jim Jefferies gave me that night was a cathartic art-gift (to put it pretentious prickishly), an expression of the range of my own emotional capabilities (rivaled only by being the father of a two-year-old). As the story unfolded over several minutes I sat and quite clearly remember thinking that this was genuinely awe-inspiring, how lucky I was to be seeing such a fearless peerless talented individual at the height of his powers telling such a beautiful, poignant, haunting, sad, depressing and, yes, absolutely fucking hilarious tale. I marveled at the passion and compassion and sympathy and empathy on display, and it gave me a clue as to where some of his stuff was coming from in him, right from his heart, railing against human pain and horror in his own funny demented sanity-saving way.

I had always wanted to see Bill Hicks and now I felt like I finally was getting to, in a way. Their material is very different, of course, though Hicks had his dark sexual (think: ‘Goatboy’) moments. Here was (and is) a man excavating the Raw Human Truth from under a mountain of contemporary media and lifestyle bullshit, with proud pure-cum-prurient progenitors like Bruce and Carlin and Pryor and Hicks. He has obviously been to Hell and back and brought back these shock-and-awe-inspiring stories to tell us, and his experience working with people like his young disabled friend has left him impatient with lies.

When you work in a field where the flesh of the people you deal with on a daily basis has betrayed them (I have worked with the social work department in Edinburgh, and with old people with dementia as well; the latter is totally illusion-shattering, which is a good and bad thing, because you get to see what’s potentially coming down the existential track at you) it lets you see life in all its inglory, showing you the full fool folly of much of human endeavor, engendering you with a total lack of time for idiots and timewasters in your life. The way of all flesh is death and decay and nothing forever and never to part from that script, so why waste time fucking around whilst you’re here?

Like I said though, that’s what I took from it. Many others would hear a funny sick story about a biff (offensive British term for any disabled person coming, I would imagine from, ‘spina bifida’) getting a blowjob and not think much about anything deeper.

I shook Jefferies’ hand after the gig for that story, telling him it had made me cry (I may well be the first person to ever tell him he has made them shed tears, and not because they’ve been offended or something), which he appreciated, telling me that it was a true story that had happened only six weeks before. That single story had offset a lot of his schlock horror gynecological ravings and sheer bad taste stuff (funny as a lot of it undoubtedly is) for me and added a great deal of depth to his act and character. I left feeling mentally and emotionally blown, and my trip to see him live was not exactly what I had expected.

Putting it mildly.

When I saw him again on Saturday night there he was just as hilarious as he had been a few months ago. He’d gotten some new sick and fucking hilarious material about Michael Jackson’s death, and when he repeated the disabled blowjob story this time I was not caught unprepared and was able to sit back and enjoy it for the excellent, tightly-crafted piece of comedic storytelling and writing it undoubtedly is. It was interesting to hear stories about auditioning for such recycled crap as the A-Team movie (apparently he wasn’t good-looking enough to be Face Man, or black enough to be B.A) starting to creep into his material. It means he’s on the way up and up and up. I for one wish him all the luck in the world. You’ll hear no shite moaning about selling out from me; the only ones who never sold out are the ones who never had anything to sell, as some wag whose name I can’t remember put it (actually, I can, but I don’t want to credit her because I fucking hate her work). The man is just starting a two-month UK tour, so get yourself along to a gig for an unforgettable night if you can.

I hope he makes shitloads of cash making stupid Hollywood movies then goes back on the stand-up circuit tearing up hearts and minds as he goes. Drink-and-drug-drowned lives like the one he lives (one cool young member of the Lakeshore staff named Erik was telling me about Jim’s drunken late-night performances and drinking until the early hours of the morning, so it’s not just image with him – though admittedly it helps) normally end up in early burnout or death; I’d rather see the man reach the top of his profession, straighten out a bit, and have a long and successful career making talking monkey movies (read: all Hollywood product) than end up another sadly deceased personal demon martyr.

Jefferies is not stupid, and you don’t end up auditioning for top Hollywood movies by accident; he is clearly a driven, ambitious individual, sensitive and sharp underneath it all. His rage-filled material has to be extreme to be noticed in this media-bombastic day and age; you’ve got to be obscene to be heard. He does not strike me as a man who would be your average Vince Vaughn-type fucked-film easily manipulated puppet. He has seen things, real things, human things, death things, pain things, pleasure things, drug and drink and self-hate things…that would make it very, very difficult for him to become a cookie-cutter Hollywood wankstain.

Bizarrely, given what he is doing right now, he studied musical theatre and opera at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, but throat nodules put paid to him ever being the next Pavarotti or Sarah Brightman (he’d need the cock-chop-op for the latter). But you never know. One of these days, there may be the world’s first feelbad-feelgood musical coming out of Hollywood about disabled sex with hookers: Best Spastic Whorehouse in Texas. And Jim Jefferies, of course, will be the brothel owner of a place like Lady Divine’s Cavalcade of Perversions in Multiple Maniacs by John Waters, enticing wary curious ‘normal’ people in the door with a carny barker’s pitch and sick guttural laugh, to explore the dark insane untamed inhuman-but-utterly-human side of their natures. I, for one, will be right at the front of the queue for a ticket.


Graham Rae‘s first novel, Soundproof Future Scotland, will be published by Creation Books next year. He has been published in more places than he can mention or even remember, and still has a lot of things to write. His favourite piece of heckling was a guy shouting “HENRY! SMELL YER MAW!” with middle finger raised at Henry Rollins at the Glasgow Barrowlands during a Beastie Boys gig in the early 90s. Nobody has ever bettered that one, or ever will.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, October 22nd, 2009.