HOLLYWOOD — Jim Jefferies doesn’t want his new Comedy Central late-night show to be all about Donald Trump. But he can’t help warming up the crowd at Tuesday afternoon’s taping of The Jim Jefferies Show premiere with his best “grab ’em by the pussy” material. More than being offensive, he tells the crowd that he just finds it confusing. He knows how you grab a boob. But a pussy? That’s more of an interior part of the female anatomy, right?
Jefferies is about to join a growing list of foreign-born late-night hosts that includes South Africa’s Trevor Noah, England’s John Oliver and James Corden, and Canada’s Samantha Bee. Born and raised in Australia, it makes sense that Jefferies has a harder edge than those comedians. He seems to have practically no interest in being liked.
When the show’s director encourages the audience to laugh at a taped piece, Jefferies adds, “But if you don’t find it funny, don’t fucking patronize me.”
“People trust a British accent,” he tells me, referring to Oliver’s show. “I don’t know if they trust an Australian one. We’ll soon find out.”
“I also think there is something to an outsider talking about things, because I didn’t grow up here,” he adds. “I’m not so entrenched as a Republican or Democrat. I didn’t grow up with these rules and this health care and these gun laws and all these different things. I’m just coming over and looking at it firsthand.”
He says he’s been able to identify the “absurdity” of American life through his stand-up, including last year’s widely praised Netflix special FreeDumb, which addressed the 2016 election directly, and he’s hoping the show will be able to do the same.
The often-cocky comic lets his nerves get the better of him while filming some promos, stumbling over his words. “You’ll find out over the course of today that I can’t read,” he jokes from behind his new desk.
But once the show gets going, he settles in fast, that signature confidence taking over as he leans back in his chair and casually delivers jokes about President Trump’s Twitter war with London’s Muslim mayor. He says the president was right to criticize Sadiq Khan for telling Londoners not to be “alarmed.”
“Trump’s the leader of the free world,” he says. “There’s never a reason not to be alarmed!” Another segment, titled “This Fucking Guy,” examines Trump’s odd reverence for authoritarian leaders like Rodrigo Duterte and Vladimir Putin.
After the taping, Jefferies invites me back to his office. It’s the biggest one in the Los Angeles studio that was once used to tape The Cosby Show so he can only assume it’s Bill Cosby’s old office, a possibility he finds seriously unsettling. Some gifts have arrived on his coffee table, including what looks to be a very expensive bottle of tequila. “Every time something good happens to you, people give you gifts,” he says. “When something shit happens, everyone ignores you. You know what I mean? I don’t need gifts right now!”
Producing a topical show in the age of Trump has caused writers all kinds of problems. Last month, Full Frontal With Samantha Bee had to scrap a fully written piece on the Republican health-care bill at the last minute when Trump surprised the country by firing FBI Director James Comey. How much do you let your agenda be driven by the latest news developments, let alone the president’s latest tweets?
It’s a balance that Jefferies and his team are trying to find. The first segment of the first show addresses the recent London attack and Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord. But subsequent segments, including a field piece from the Netherlands that examines that country’s bizarre blackface Christmas tradition and another broader discussion of police shootings, were put together back in December when Jefferies made a test pilot of the show. A surprise apocalyptic weather report from a very famous friend of Jefferies’ closes things out.
Among the upcoming far-flung field pieces is one in Melania Trump’s hometown in Slovenia. Jefferies traveled there after the election and went on a tour of the “sleepy little place” where the first lady grew up. “At the end of it, I liked her a lot more,” he says of the experience. “I got her. I think you can visit people’s hometowns and see where people are from and you get them. She’s a small-town girl from a fairly small country who is now the first lady of the world. It’s quite remarkable.”
So while there will be jokes about Trump’s third wife on The Jim Jefferies Show, don’t expect to hear him say anything about their son, Barron. When I ask if jokes about the president’s youngest child are “off-limits,” Jefferies replies, “I think they’re off-limits for about the next 10 years.” But when he finds out that Barron is 11 years old, he amends that statement. “I think we’ve got five more years then,” he says. “I think when he’s 16 we can go for it.”
Jefferies likes the idea of getting to do deep-dive pieces on a weekly basis as opposed to the types of quick reactions someone like Trevor Noah has to do fours nights a week. “Hats off to that guy, that’s a fucking grind doing that every day,” he says.
“Often I’ve been accused of being anti-American because I’ve said things about gun control or about health care,” Jefferies says. “I’ve said things about Trump. And I don’t believe I’m anti-American at all. That’s just the world I’m living in at the moment so that’s what I’m talking about.”
“I don’t think that America is worse than every other country,” he insists. “I think every country has little fucked up things about them. No place is a utopia. So if I hate America, then it turns out that I hate the world.” As for his home country, Jefferies adds, “Australia’s got fucking huge atrocities going on over there. It’s not just America, it’s not just Trump. There’s Brexit, these things are happening all over the world.”
“I love America, it’s my home, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else,” he says. “But you can go get fucked if you think I’m not going to take the piss out of it from time to time.”
Jefferies gained a lot of new fans—and lost some old ones—when he told Piers Morgan to “fuck off” for defending Trump’s Muslim ban during an episode of Real Time With Bill Maher this past February. “A lot of people thought I got this show because of the Piers Morgan thing,” he says, but in fact they had already shot the pilot and Comedy Central had agreed to pick it up to series when that episode aired.
“But I will say right now, Piers Morgan is welcome to come on my show,” he adds. “We’ll go another round, man. I think we’re good competitors. He’s always looking for attention and maybe I’m the guy to give it to him.”
As someone who knows what it’s like to face criticism for the jokes he delivers, Jefferies was hesitant to condemn Maher for casually using the “n-word” during last week’s show, but also acknowledged that it was a serious mistake.
“I think that Bill Maher made an error in judgment when he did that,” Jefferies says, his words becoming more deliberate. “And I think as soon as he said it, he knew he did. I always say you shouldn’t apologize for jokes, but what he did there was a racially insensitive thing to say.” He thinks Maher was right to apologize for being “racially insensitive,” but not for making a joke. “But it was a misplaced joke, yeah.”
Jefferies does not believe that Maher should have been fired by HBO, as some prominent black activists and artists suggested, partly because he knows he could end up in a similar position some day. “I assume that if this show is successful, I’ll fuck up along the way somewhere else. So at the moment, I’m going to say no, he shouldn’t be fired.”
Unlike Real Time, Jefferies’ show does not air live. “Thank fuck for that,” he says, laughing.