Anthony Jeselnik's hilarious comedy routines have landed him on HBO, NBC, Comedy Central and ABC. His episode of Comedy Central Presents premiered January 16th, 2009. Jeselnik is also a writer on NBC's Late Night with Jimmy Fallon which debuted on March 2nd, 2009. He also wrote the lines for Sarah Silverman's MTV Awards, MTV Video Awards and some of her Comedy Central appearances. So how does this comic hottie come up with his material? Ever wanted to be funnier? Here are some comedic tips from Anthony and a little about his life.
Gabrielle Reilly: Anthony when I was London I was lucky enough to be able to enjoy a lovely day at the House of Lords. We went into the chamber that housed all the original portraits of King Henry VIII and his six wives. Fascinating, did you know he beheaded two of his wives? Boy, I'm sure glad they painted the "before" and not the "after" on the two beheaded wives portraits. I was about to eat lunch.
Chuckle, ok, I'll start off by being really upfront. I'm not intelligent at all, I have no idea how to write comedy. In all fairness though, I am a swimsuit model and thAat hasn't been part of my job description so far. So, can you give my readers and I some quick tips on how to write good comedy?
Anthony Jeselnik: Well, first of all, don't be so down on yourself. I'm sure there aren't a lot of intellectual swimsuit models out there, but you've managed to get to interview me, so you must be pretty smart, right? Regardless, I'm sure you're a hell of a model. Most girls would get full on lobotomized if it meant they could look like you in a bikini.
As for writing good comedy, I think it comes from knowing what is funny to you, specifically. If you can make yourself laugh with your own comedy writing, then you will be a huge success. Unless, of course, you don't have a good sense of humor. Then, you're screwed. Another secret to good comedy writing is volume. For every joke I tell on stage or sell to television, I've written ten to twenty jokes that fail miserably. It's a process not unlike actual work. And, as every comedy writer knows, work sucks.
Gabrielle Reilly: How do you come up with all your material?
Anthony Jeselnik: I come up with my own material by looking for cliché situations I can exploit. The cliché situation is key because the audience has to think they know where the joke is going so that I can surprise with the punch line. An example (one that I haven't cracked yet) would be parents telling their children that they took the family dog to go live on a farm. The whole audience knows where that story is going and it's my job to change the ending to make it a surprise, but it also has to make sense. And, to make me laugh, usually someone has to die.
Gabrielle Reilly: Where does your comic/dark side start and finish in real life. Would you really give your girlfriend lingerie you bought for your ex? Actually, no, would you really give her your ex's lingerie and be crazy enough to tell her?
Anthony Jeselnik: Great question. I can practically see you writing that down in your swimsuit. My comic/dark side is right on my sleeve. None of my actual jokes are true, but you get a pretty good idea about my moral make-up. I probably wouldn't knock a plate of food out of someone's hand at a restaurant, but the idea of doing that in real life makes me laugh until I cry. One of the best things about making your living as a comedian is that you can get away with a lot of shit. I can say the darkest, most inappropriate thing that pops into my head at any given moment (as I constantly do) and it doesn't matter. It's almost like I get to live in a different reality. If I were a lawyer or a teacher, I'd get fired every half hour. As for how I treat my girlfriend? I treat her like a princess, otherwise she'd kill me.
Gabrielle Reilly: Do you have other ambitions or have you settled into your niche as a comedian?
Anthony Jeselnik: My original plan when I got into comedy was to become a joke writer and then stop performing altogether. It took me five years of stand-up to start getting those writing jobs and, once I got them, all I wanted to do was keep performing. I love my job right now, writing for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, but I think my future is in front of the camera. I'll do stand-up forever, but I'm getting into acting, too. Anything to up my profile and let me reach as wide an audience as possible. I would definitely love to have my own show one day. The idea of doing a show filled with jokes I get to decide on is almost too much to even dream about. Never being told "too mean", "too dark", or "people are going to complain" again? That's my ambition.
Gabrielle Reilly: How were you raised? Rich/poor, religious, good/bad/mundane? Did anything in particular about your childhood influence your comedy besides your Dad's one connection in the industry?
Anthony Jeselnik: I was raised the oldest of five children in a middle class family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We weren't rich, but we weren't poor, either. All the kids were raised Catholic, but I figured out pretty quick that all that is bullshit. My family is still pretty religious and aren't exactly wild about my atheist ways. I had a good childhood. Nice relationship with my family and lots of friends. Looking back, I feel like I just always wanted to be older so that no one could tell me what to do. I think the thing that made me want to get into comedy the most was just having to sit in class, bored out of my mind, day after day. I was really furious about having to sit there, taking in all that crap. In fact, I would love the chance to go back in time and take a bat to anyone who taught me math. I just, and this very much still applies, despised being told what to do.
My dad's connection to the industry was extremely loose. He hadn't spoken to his friend in decades, but it was enough for him to meet me at a comedy club and tell me to do stand-up comedy if I wanted to get into writing. That is, literally, all he ever did for me and it's all I ever needed.
Gabrielle Reilly: How old were you when you started writing comedy?
Anthony Jeselnik: I was twenty-four, I think. I had written some short stories and part of a novel in high school and college. There were funny parts, I guess, but it wasn't comedy writing at all. Mostly dark stuff. Disfigured people going through their daily errands, lawyers who moonlighted as cat burglars, a fraternity of guys who drank and drugged their way through college while occasionally trying to commit suicide. Fun stuff.
The comedy writing came later. But, once you learn a couple of joke formulas, you see comedy as a comedy writer and there is no going back. Jesus, I probably should have just said twenty-four and moved onto the next one.
Gabrielle Reilly: What's been your favorite career highlight?
Anthony Jeselnik: Wow, I'll give you the first five that pop into my head: 1. Paul "Pee-Wee Herman" Reubens interrupting a conversation I was having with a friend to tell me he was a big fan. 2. The first time I performed on television. 3. Getting to perform on Conan O'Brien. 4. Getting hired to write jokes for Sarah Silverman and kicking ass. 5. Getting recognized on the street for the first time.
I have a lot of highlights.
Gabrielle Reilly: And for all us "Dancing with the Stars" fans can you gives us the inside/backstage scoop on Jimmy Kimmel... Did you see Guillermo?
Anthony Jeselnik: Was Jimmy Kimmel on Dancing with the Stars? I didn't know that. Kimmel is a great guy and he's done a lot for my career. Such a smart and driven person. He gave me my first exposure on national television after seeing me perform in a club and he's given me writing work from time to time. I'll have to work a long time before I am out of his debt. Plus, he's the only talk show host I know who gets drunk a lot.and that means the world to me. As for Guillermo, we say hello to each other whenever I come by the show. He's a nice guy, but I could not imagine having a conversation with the man.
Gabrielle Reilly: Do you have something motivational or philosophical you could share that would help improve the lives of my readers?
Anthony Jeselnik: Do whatever you want, whenever you want to do it and, as long as you look confident, no one will give you any shit. Put that on the back of a locket, then swallow it.