Anthony Jeselnik’s new Comedy Central show Good Talk is basically an excuse for him to roast his comedian friends on TV.
“I can’t help myself,” Jeselnik admits on this week’s episode of The Last Laugh podcast. “I don’t like making television,” he adds. “And I thought, if I’m going to come back, I want to do something that I can enjoy.”
Jeselnik first broke through in a big way on the Comedy Central Roast of Donald Trump in 2011 and has since made a name for himself as one of the best—and darkest—joke writers in the stand-up scene.
Earlier this year, Netflix released his best hour-long special yet, Fire in the Maternity Ward, which opened with a joke about Alzheimer’s and ended with a long story about taking his friend to get an abortion. The 40-year-old Jeselnik describes himself as a comedy “villain,” but says he hopes to “soften” as he gets older.
Good Talk, which premieres this Friday, September 6th, features interviews with friends like Nick Kroll, Kumail Nanjiani and Tig Notaro. But Jeselnik jokes, “I’d like to get to the point where I’m talking to people that I do not know or care about, that seems fun.”
During our conversation, we talked about how Jeselnik’s comedy persona has evolved over the years, how he’s managed to avoid the calls to be “canceled” that other comics have faced, why he’s “fascinated” by Louis C.K.’s trainwreck attempt at a comeback and a lot more.
Why he doesn’t like the title of his new Comedy Central show
“The one fight I had with the network on this show was over the title. I really didn’t want to call it Good Talk. I think it’s just a little bit too generic for what I am. But anything that was too me, they thought it would get confused with [his previous show] The Jeselnik Offensive. They thought The Jeselnik Inquisition was too smart, that people wouldn’t know what that was. And then finally, it was getting a little bit heated where I was like, ‘I want a title, I just want it done so we can move on.’ And they kept saying that the title has to describe what the show is and it might make guests afraid to come on the show if it sounds too hardcore. So someone said, what about Good Talk with Anthony Jeselnik and they were like, OK, we’ll use that. So I’m going to complain about it in almost every episode.”
On getting fan mail from a white supremacist
“I had a joke about being adopted: ‘My parents told me I’d been adopted. And I was like, why did you pick me, was I special? And they said, yes, because of all the babies we had to choose from, you were the only one that was white.’ I mean, it’s a joke about adoption. People who have adopted kids love that joke. And then racists are like, ‘Oh my god,’ and I’m like, you don’t understand, that joke is not for you. But I got a fan letter from a guy who was clearly a white supremacist from Jacksonville, Florida. I remember the name was the most white supremacist name ever. He sounded like he founded a fraternity, one of those weird, old Confederate names. He wanted me to do a gig and I just never wrote back. But it was scary. It was so early in my career that I was like, is this what my fan base is? And what would you do if they actually offered you money at a time when you needed money? I was glad that I wasn’t faced with that decision.”
Why he believes he’s ‘uncancelable’
“I don’t really have things to cancel. Comedy Central’s not going to get upset about a controversial joke no matter what, as long as it’s coming from a decent place, which I think most of my jokes do. I mean, I couldn’t use the ‘N-word’ and have them back me on it, but I would never do that. It’s strange that you have to scrub your Twitter before you get a major job, but it’s not something that’s ever going to affect me in any negative way. Even after a lot of my controversies I hosted Last Comic Standing, which is one of the most mainstream things you can do. So I just think I’m uncancelable.”
On Louis C.K.’s attempt at a comeback
“People keep asking the question, should he be allowed to perform? And I think that’s the wrong question. This is show business and it’s not fair, just or even remotely reasonable. The question is, should you buy a ticket? And that’s up to the audience member. I’m not sure that Netflix would be completely against putting up his special. I don’t know if I would watch it, but I’ve read every single article about it. I’m just fascinated. It’s like watching somebody fall down. I certainly don’t feel bad for him. I don’t think anything happened to him. I think that he did this. And if he can fight his way back, I’m interested in watching someone drag themselves through barbed wire... Of course he’s allowed to joke about what he wants to joke about. I’d never be like, you can’t joke about Parkland. I’d think he would have a better take on it. I’m a little surprised, to be honest, about where he’s decided to go with this and the tack that he’s taken with his comeback, and who knows what the final result is going to be? But I think it’s funny to watch this guy who was the comedy god for 10 years have to eat all this shit.”
Why he hopes to ‘soften’ comedically as he gets older
“You can’t get darker as you get older, because it makes you seem bitter. But if you start out dark, you can always soften. And people will still remember what you did and you’re kind of like an old grandpa figure who definitely fought in a war and has done some stuff but now is an old sweet man. But you can’t go the other way. I hope [to soften]. I’d like to. It’s almost like being a punk rocker when you’re younger. I’m 40 now and I want to evolve and change as a person and as an artist. I want to be the type of villain that other villains are afraid of. We live in a world now where there are very real villains. I’m a comedian. People get mad at me, but I make people laugh for a living. There are way worse people out there that you should be upset with. And I like that I might make those people afraid.”
Next week on The Last Laugh podcast: Former SNL cast member and host of Hiking with Kevin, Kevin Nealon.