When Jim Jefferies answers the phone at the agreed-upon time (between a network publicist and myself), just about the first thing he says is that he forgot he was doing an interview today. Not an unusual occurrence in my line of work. Busy people, packed schedules, these things happen. But I often don’t hear people tell me they just got out of the shower, meaning there was a pretty good chance that he was naked, and asking could I please call back in seven minutes.
“Actually, how about eight minutes?” he quickly amended.
So, eight minutes later I called him back as he was driving to the set of Legit, his new FX sitcom that premieres Thursday and is the subject of our little chat. We make some quick small talk before he tells me to hang on a bit because he’s just stopped off to get some cigarettes. So I listen as he purchases a pack of organic smokes, then returns to his car to finally get things underway. While we talk, his vehicle’s GPS chimes in loudly and frequently making sure he can navigate the tricky Los Angeles traffic.
Perhaps all this sounds like the rude behavior of an obnoxious comic, but Jefferies has a way of making it part of his charm. The Aussie comedian’s standup act is lewd and crude, but there’s also a frankness to it that just adds to the funny. He brings that same attitude to Legit, while also adding a surprisingly effective dash of, yes, sweetness. As Jefferies puts it, it’s basically the story of him five years ago, when he was liver-deep in a hedonistic lifestyle of booze and womanizing. His character, still a standup comic named Jim Jefferies, pals around with his longtime friend Steve (Dan Bakkedahl) and Steve’s severely handicapped brother Billy (DJ Qualls), and manages despite himself to be a little more thoughtful about life. The blunt honesty of the show will draw comparisons to Louie, something both comics should appreciate.
It’s a particularly auspicious time in Jefferies’ life, not only with the premiere of his own show, but he also just became a father. He met actress Kate Luyben on the set of the Legit pilot (she was playing a hooker his character had requisitioned for Billy) and she was with child just a few months later. He doesn’t drink as much these days and is thinking more about where he wants his career to go. Wherever that is, it’s a good bet that Legit will be an important stop along the way.
Channel Guide Magazine: So I thought the pilot was really effective, sort of like a little movie more than the first episode of a series. Would you say it’s pretty representative of the other episodes?
Jim Jefferies: Yeah, I’d say it is. There are some other episodes that are a bit more out there than that one. That one is a little bit I’d say more sensitive than many of the other episodes because of the subject matter, obviously. But I’d say it’s a good representation. The three main characters are there. We obviously see more of Mindy Sterling’s character, DJ’s character, Dan’s brother [in further episodes]. When we first started writing the show I didn’t know whether DJ Qualls’ character was going to be in every episode, but I decided he is.
SPOILER ALERT FOR THE NEXT QUESTION!!!
CGM: I have to say, at the end when you see DJ’s character slumped over in the back seat, I thought he was dead. Which could have been a perfect way to end it, from a certain perspective.
JJ: I sort of wanted to kill him off in a way. Out of the 13 episodes, maybe nine are directly from my standup or stories that have actually happened to me. Maybe exaggerated a little bit, and obviously things have changed. Now we’re working in a story with a guy with muscular dystrophy into it. Obviously those stories have to adapt. I like it, it gives the show a different feel. I don’t like calling it a sitcom. I don’t even think we look very much like the other comedies on FX either. I love the other comedies on FX, but I like that it’s a little bit unique. I appreciate you said that it looked like a small movie, because that was sort of what we were going for.
CG: Will you be doing standup in the show?
JJ: No standup. I thought about it, and I just didn’t want to be compared to Louis’s show or Seinfeld’s show and the whole idea of a comedian playing themselves. I thought, you know, let’s see the life outside of standup. I’m of the opinion that everyone knows that I can do standup. I want to showcase all the shit that I’m bad at in the industry, like going to auditions. There’s no use in us having a scene where I’m killing onstage, going, “Hey, look how good I’m doing?” It’s much funnier if I’m tripping up everywhere.
CGM: I was also surprised to see that the actress playing the hooker in the pilot is the mother of your child. Were you guys together during filming?
JJ: That’s who I knocked up, yeah. We met on set. She’d just broken up with Nathan Fillion. It happened all very quickly. We filmed the pilot over a year ago, before it got greenlit and edited and all that stuff. She was pregnant a couple of months after the pilot, so it was pretty fast. But being a dad is great. We’re very happy. He’s a very healthy little happy baby. But obviously I’m not going to be impregnating anyone on the show too quickly. The character is not going to do that anyway. The whole idea is that it’s sort of me five years ago. We’re using up all those stories from when you’re a — I won’t say I’m a big-time comedian now — but when you’re a club comic and you’re traveling from town to town trying to shag as many women as you can, it’s sort of that era of my life.
CGM: Where does Legit fit into your career plan, if you have one?
JJ: Here’s the thing, I try not to set my goals too far ahead of me. I never thought I’d even come to America. I was a standup comic in the U.K. for so long. Even though I’m Australian, my career was in the U.K., and I always sort of looked at it as well, I’ve got a nice little gig here. Then when I met my manager, she goes, “Come over and do a couple of weekends.” I spotted Denis Leary for a gig, and then HBO put me on a small TV show, then they gave me a special, and I thought, “Hey, I’ll give it a go in America.” I didn’t have any grand schemes of becoming an actor, but I think I could be an actor. I don’t know. I’d like to be in a movie. I don’t have visions of being a lead in a movie yet or anything like that. I’d like a small part or something, sure. If I had my dream career — and I’m not saying that I could have this — I’d like to be like a Bill Murray-type of guy. But that’s too far away. I’m just focused on this show at the moment. I’m never going to quit standup. I just had a new special on EPIX, and I’m writing my next [material] right now and every weekend when we’re not filming the show I’m in the clubs around L.A. trying out new material.
CGM: Was it difficult to play those sensitive moments in the pilot when that might not be what people expect of you?
JJ: Yeah, it was at times. I got very nervous, not about fans or people saying that it wasn’t my style of comedy. I got more nervous that I couldn’t pull it off, you know? And that I’d look stupid being sensitive or something. Because I’m a producer and a writer and all that stuff, I’ve been involved with the editing, and if I had my way, I probably wouldn’t watch the episodes after we film them because I’m just looking at how fat my chin is. I don’t like looking at myself on camera, but I’ve been forced to do that.
CGM: As far as the concept of the show, going “legit,” how much has that been an issue for you in real life?
JJ: I realize that being a dirtbag comedian — in the sense that the material and the persona of being a drunk onstage — I couldn’t do that forever. Having a baby obviously has changed me a little bit, but I just wanted to clean my life up a tad, and it’s weird that we wrote a show about doing that, and then that sort of happened in the first episode in real life. Yeah, I struggle with it. I struggle with drinking and all that type of stuff. But I think I’m at a pretty good stage with a pretty good handle on all that stuff at the moment in my life. It’s weird, we have Andy Dick guest star as my acting coach in one episode. It’s funny to look at a guy who’s been through the whole mill — success, the drug problem, the alcohol, back to being successful — I sort of thought, “I think I’d like my life a little bit steadier than that.”
CGM: You have Mindy Sterling as a regular, and Verne Troyer as a guest star. Will there be a little Austin Powers reunion there?
JJ: No, they never were in a scene together. Actually, no, that’s a lie, they’re going to be in a scene together. They haven’t been in a scene together yet. Verne was just a real nice guy. We needed someone sort of kitschy for this one small part and we got a whole list from the casting director, and I was like, “Yeah, let’s get that guy.” He is small, let me tell you. He comes up to your knees. I didn’t think he was that tiny.
CGM: I’m guessing there might be a few jokes about his height then?
JJ: No, the thing is, this show, we’ve got … Take DJ’s character. This wasn’t our intention, but it’s worked out in a way that you had to have him living in a home, and then if he lives in a home, you’ve got to populate that world of people. So there’s a manager or an agency in L.A. that strictly takes care of disabled actors. I think we’re keeping them afloat at the moment. I don’t think there’s been more disabled people cast in a show ever. It’s kind of interesting. I think everyone’s enjoying it because, let’s say you have a Down syndrome person in a show. They don’t get much acting work besides playing a sanctimonious child in a Lifetime movie who’s being mistreated at school or a PSA commercial. I don’t think many sitcoms or comedies call for that type of a character. I don’t think at any stage we’re mean or nasty about it. I think they’re having a lot more fun on our set than they would in these Lifetime movies or Hallmark films, I can tell you that. The thing is they’re all just still saying jokes. There is this one guy, Nick Daley, who is playing a pretty big role. He’s basically Billy’s roommate. We’re not even sure what condition he has, someone told me what it is, but it’s pretty rare. Nick’s got better timing than most people I’ve met in my life. Not sure he always understands the joke, but he can time it brilliantly.
Photo: Credit: FX