“I find stand-up comedy is a lot like rapping, which is kind of fun. You can feel sort of a beat when you’re doing your stand-up and you’re up there hitting punchlines, punchlines, punchlines. It’s kind of like staying on a beat.”
– Tom Green
Guy MacPherson: Tom Green.
Tom Green: Yes. How are you doing?
GM: Good, thank you. How are you?
TG: Very good, very good. What’s going on, man?
GM: Well, Tom... I met you once before. I interviewed you in a hotel room in Vancouver during your incarnation as a rapper.
TG: Oh, okay. That was fun. Good times. I had a great time up there in Vancouver.
GM: And a great time as a rapper?
TG: Yeah, absolutely. Always. I’ve been doing that for 20 years. I’m still rapping.
GM: Are you?
TG: Oh, yeah. Always rapping. Always rapping.
GM: Can you sing, too? Because rap is like talking.
TG: Uh, yeah, I guess so. I mean, it’s kind of like more of a combination of talking really fast and... I find stand-up comedy is a lot like rapping, which is kind of fun. You can feel sort of a beat when you’re doing your stand-up and you’re up there hitting punchlines, punchlines, punchlines. It’s kind of like staying on a beat.
GM: It’s funny how you did stand-up first as a kid, then got into rap, then you got famous for something completely different, then you went back to rap, and now you’re back to stand-up.
TG: Yeah, I’ve always enjoyed doing all this kind of stuff since I was even in high school, basically. It kind of blended together even then because I was on student council and I was hosting all the assemblies at the school. It started out, we did a couple of funny raps at the assembly and then it turned into hosting the assembly and doing comedy there. I’ve always enjoyed both. I mean, they’re very similar, you know? You get to write funny lyrics. It’s just a completely different thing. And in making my show, when I’d edit all the videos, it kind of felt like making beats to me. You take little chunks of video and put them all together just the way when I would make a beat with samples. You take a bunch of samples and put them all together. It always comes from the enjoyment of playing with electronic gadgets.
GM: Where are you?
TG: I’m at home in Los Angeles, which is nice because I’ve been basically on the road doing stand-up pretty much full-time for the last nine months. So I’m home for a couple of days. I’m actually doing a show tonight here in L.A., too, at the Melrose Improv. Just basically going to jump up and do a set there. Just a fun show. I just got back from Boston a couple of days ago. Did three shows there. And then I was in London, England, a few days before that. Basically came from London to Boston. So I was on the road for twelve days or ten days. I’ve been going everywhere, man. I did all of Australia this year: Sydney, Melbourne... Actually 16 shows in Australia. It’s been really pretty fun. I’m a road warrior.
GM: So it really is a world tour.
TG: Yeah. I’ve done two shows in Canada this year: Edmonton and Calgary. Both out west. Oh, and I played at the Montréal Comedy Festival, too, about a month and a half ago or something like that.
GM: How are you finding it? I’m sure you watched the Seinfeld documentary Comedian and he was developing his act. As famous as he was, he said still the audience just gives you about ten minutes because you’re famous, then after that if you’re not funny, they’re not with you.
TG: Yeah, sure, exactly. That was a great documentary. Yeah, you know, you gotta be funny. It’s certainly probably the most important thing. I’ve never really had a huge problem, really, to be honest with you. It’s been going just really great. I’ve had an awesome year. I started jumping up, kinda like in that movie. I ran around to different clubs in L.A. just doing some short sets at first. From the minute I started jumping up again, about a year and a half ago, and really just writing and doing this, it’s been going great. Knock on wood, you know, but it’s been a lot of fun. I’ve done a lot of stand-up over the years in one-off things, hosting award shows. And when I was a teenager I did it. But I never really have done it with this level of focus and attention being put on it.
GM: How long is your show?
TG: You know, about an hour and 15, an hour and 20 minutes sometimes. It just depends on the night. Always somewhere around an hour and 10, hour and 15 minutes. I’ve got all sorts of different things that I do in my show, talking about all sorts of different subjects: making fun of myself, making fun of some of the things that I’ve done on my show over the years, I’m talking a lot about social issues, things that are going on with technology, with the changing way we’re communicating with each other. I sort of find a lot of humour in, you know, Facebook and text messaging and computers and all of the things that have sort of changed in my lifetime. Essentially, if there was a theme to my show I think it’s probably that. I’m just turning 39 years old and the world’s changed quite a bit in the last 30 years since I was a kid and I don’t necessarily think it’s changing for the better all the time.
GM: Ha! You’re becoming an old man!
TG: Yeah. We get all excited about all these new little gadgets and things like that, and to me, exactly, sometimes I feel a little bit like my dad when he wouldn’t get rap music or something like that. But the thing is, what’s funny is I’m so immersed in technology with my web show and building the television studio in my living room and during the last few years I’m probably more wired into the internet than most people. Because of that I kind of think that maybe I’m getting fed up with it a little sooner than most people, too. So I’ve found some humour through angles for comedy there and it’s something that I think a lot of people really relate to now. Everyone’s getting sucked into this digital vortex with all our information being put up online. I think it’s a really interesting time to be jumping up and doing comedy. Lots of things are changing in people’s lives. It’s been really exciting, man. It’s been going great. And I’m just continually writing as I go around the world and coming up with new ideas and adding them to the show. It’s been one of these things that has been such a relief because I’ve wanted to do this for so long.
GM: I would imagine that you leave space, because of the type of performer you are, for some improv in the show, too.
TG: Yeah, absolutely. The crowd sometimes gets a little rowdy with me, which is always fun. Not always. Just depending where I am. Certainly in Australia and England and Canada, the crowds are actually a little more vocal. Sometimes people will shout out things from some of my shows and stuff. I don’t necessarily encourage that but it does happen. And when it happens, I’ll talk to the audience or engage the person or whatever. And I enjoy that. That has always sort of been a big source of fun in my show, was the spontaneous nature of it. I definitely embrace that. And I like to talk a lot about the surroundings just in the general theatre that I’m in or if there’s something funny on the wall or something funny on the set or anything like that, or depending on the city I’m in then I’ll talk a lot about certain things like that. But you get into a good rhythm where... I have a very structured show, really, in a lot of ways. It maybe doesn’t appear structured at first glance but in my head it’s structured. It’s definitely very structured if you see the show night to night. I’m taking the audience on a little bit of a ride through all sorts of different topics and I have it in pretty much a format that I like. But then I shoot off of that format and go into the crowd work and do some of that. And then I get back on track with what I’m doing. But I don’t think it’s that apparent to an audience. Because I’ve written it and planned it out I know there’s a pretty structured base to it.
GM: You were saying stand-up is similar to rap. Rap is very specific about the wording and I know a lot of comics get very specific about a particular word here or phrase, and others work more loosely, more conversationally. Where do you stand?
TG: I definitely really like to structure stories and jokes and songs very specifically. Usually I’ll start with a premise. If I come up with a funny premise or a funny concept, usually this is happening if I’m out with friends or on tour talking to people. Someone will say something funny or I’ll say something funny or think of something funny and I’ll just jot it down in my phone as a note to myself. And every few weeks I go through my notes and sit down at a computer and actually literally write the jokes out and find some ways of having some punchier lines in it and laugh lines and things like this. And I also have a few friends who I’ve worked with over the years who are comedians and comedy writers and people like this. After I get past that stage, I’ll have them come over and sit down in my office and read through the bits and throw some ideas around and see if they can think of anything to add to it. So it’s pretty structured the way I put it all together. And then it evolves. Then I try it on the stage for the first time and usually I forget about half of what I meant to say. But you eventually whittle it down to the main laugh points. And after doing a joke a few times, I finally get it to the point where it’s really working. That’s why I kind of have a pretty formatted show but I’ll try new material every night and slip it in there. If it works, then I’ll keep it in there. It’s very fun. It’s makes touring fun because the show’s never really the same every night. You’re kind of always whittling away at it and making it better. That’s why I’m excited to be coming to Canada now, because I have been on the road. Like I said, in nine months I did 16 shows in Australia, probably 150 shows in the U.S. or something like that. I’ve been going non-stop so it’s in a good place right now.
GM: I’ve heard stand-up is one of the hardest things to do. Some performers would never even attempt it. Does it come pretty easy to you?
TG: It’s definitely the hardest thing in some ways. It’s hard to compare it to my television show, I suppose because that was a pretty complex thing to come up with. That was years of whittling away at making funny videos and things like that, too. But as far as a live performance, hosting a television show live – one television show versus a stand-up show – on a television show you have writers working with you all day and producers working with you and you have teleprompters and things like this. But the other thing is you’re also doing a different show every night when you do a TV show, so that’s pretty tough, too. I guess the thing is about stand-up is I would say it’s definitely the most exciting thing.
GM: And immediate.
TG: And immediate and fun and you get a real adrenaline rush out of it. The touring aspect is pretty hard. I’ve been, like I said, on the road all the time, in hotel rooms all the time and airports all the time. You get tired. You’re getting up doing interviews every morning and that can be a little bit difficult. But it’s fun. It’s really fun.
GM: Do other stand-ups resent you? When you go down to the Improv, for example, you already have celebrity, you already have a name, so maybe the crowd is more excited to see you than these guys, who may be not known at all but may be great themselves.
TG: I haven’t experienced that at all. I’ve had nothing but great support from people. So many comedians have come up and done my web television show. I think the other thing is people know my history. It’s not like I haven’t been on television for the last ten years and made movies and done all sorts of stuff. They were always very non-commercial-- Hold on one second. I have to put one of my dogs outside... Anyway, no, I haven’t experienced that at all. A lot of comedians probably remember watching my show before they were doing comedy. My show was on in Canada 15 years ago. I think a lot of people actually thought I’d been doing stand-up all along, to be honest with you. That’s what I experience. I think most people are surprised when they find out I’ve really only been on the road full-time for a year now. That, I think, comes more as a surprise to people because they always looked at me as a comedian just because my show was so outrageous and ridiculous. And, you know, I did do monologues on my show and the cadence of the way I would host my talk show element of the show was always very much a comedy sort of pacing and I think that’s probably because I did stand-up when I was a kid, you know? And grew up watching Letterman and other people like that who were stand-ups.
GM: He would have been the biggest influence on you?
TG: It’s a tough call. I mean, certainly when I was a kid and I saw him doing that show, and now I have a talk show set in my living room so it’s pretty easy to say so, that he would be. Or The Tonight Show, of course, is a big influence. Absolutely, yeah. I always loved Letterman, watching him go out on the street and shout at people with megaphones and things like this. I definitely borrowed a lot of those ideas when I started my television show out.
GM: You worked for Leno on The Tonight Show.
TG: Yeah, I did. And had a great time doing that. The Tonight Show’s been really cool with me and did reporting for them with the Torino Winter Olympics a few years ago, the one before Vancouver. About three or four years ago I really just started focussing a lot of my energy back on to this web talk show on tomgreen.com. I’ve been doing a show in my living room. It’s basically the longest-running web talk show now. It’s extremely highly rated. I think it’s probably the highest rated talk show on the internet. We’re getting three million views per episode for our big higher rated episodes. So that’s going really good, too.
“With the web show it’s me more listening and interviewing and then when I go out and do stand-up, it’s definitely much more high energy and more outrageous, silly and fun. I’m essentially alone on stage doing jokes. When I have the talk show I’d just rather invite on funny people and let them do the jokes.”
– Tom Green
GM: How frequently do you do it?
TG: I’ve sort of slowed it down a little bit this year just to get the stand-up going. But there was a time there I was doing it nightly. I’m going to basically be doing it weekly starting in the next month or so. I’m going to be getting back on to doing the show on Tuesdays and then I’ll go out and do stand-up on the weekends and things like that. I’m really kind of in a way merging the two things together. My web camera guy comes out on the road with me and we film a lot of stuff on the road. We’re always posting videos on the road. Like, we were just in London the other day and were goofing around on the streets of London for a couple of hours and edited a video in the hotel room on the laptop computer and posted it up on the site. So it’s pretty fun the instantaneous way you can produce TV now without having to run everything past people.
GM: You’re a pioneer. Are there any other talk shows on the internet?
TG: There are some that have come and gone. There’s nobody that’s done one for four years. I’ve done, you know, literally two or three hundred episodes. Probably a bit more than that, actually. I’ve had tons of great guests on and the show’s built up a following over the years. You can see lots of clips from the show. They’re all over YouTube and some of them are getting up to 3.5, close to 4 million hits now. There’s one particular video that went up there on YouTube of me rapping forXzibit, actually, which has got, like, 3.5 million views or something on it. And that’s kind of what’s exciting about it to me, is we create this show, this crazy little show in my living room, and it just pumps out there into the world and it exists online in different formats forever. I mean, it’s on my website now and all the shows getting views every day, and also ends up flying around YouTube and all these other places.
GM: I was wondering if it was tough to get guests, but then I thought podcasts are huge now, so why not? They get guests, too. People are watching and that’s all that matters.
TG: Yeah. I’m actually going to be starting a new podcast, as well. I’ve never done a podcast but I’m going to start a podcast because the director, Kevin Smith, started a podcast theatre in Los Angeles called Smodcastle. Check it out: smodcastle.com They just asked me last week – I was just down there the night before last watching his show – and I’m going to start doing a weekly podcast out of there also. That’s kind of an exciting thing as well. Having done college radio, this is going to be a fun thing to do here in L.A. is to do this weekly podcast with this little audience in Kevin’s studio. I’m looking forward to that. But, yeah, it’s all very exciting times right now because of the fact that you can be an independent person and just go out there and create your own broadcasts and find your own audience and find sponsors and all sorts of different things you can do. So it’s pretty cool.
GM: Do you feel pressure to out-Tom Green yourself?
TG: Not really, no. Because, I mean, I think the people that have really followed me closely on my web show over the years and whoever was really paying attention knows that there are so many different things I’ve always done. It’s hard for me to really pick one thing that is a way of defining that. Put it this way: when I do the talk show, I’m more of a straight man for the guest. I’m more of a laid-back interviewer. I don’t really do anything too outrageous. I invite on people that are going to do outrageous stuff, like Steve-O and Rob Schneider and Norm Macdonald and Harland Williams and funny people like that will come on. I’m reserving more of the goofballism, the crazier, sillier, more outrageous version of me for the stand-up. So that’s what’s cool: I can sort of have two versions of what it is that I do. With the web show it’s me more listening and interviewing and then when I go out and do stand-up, it’s definitely much more high energy and more outrageous, silly and fun. I’m essentially alone on stage doing jokes. When I have the talk show I’d just rather invite on funny people and let them do the jokes.
GM: Is the goal to eventually move the show to TV or don’t you care? I know forms of it have already been on.
TG: Yeah, yeah. We’re going to do that again. It’s definitely going to be something I continue doing. I’ve sort of stopped, in my mind, of drawing a line between what it is when it’s just on the internet and when it’s on television. Because literally we’re probably going to get more views of this show off of people iPhones than my show got when it was on MTV, just in sheer numbers. It’s pretty interesting that now the thing airs on tomgreen.com, it airs on YouTube, people can watch it on their televisions, they can watch it on their phones. We’re going to continue trying to syndicate it to traditional television cable channels and things like this around the world. Right at the moment we’re not doing that because I’m actually not actively doing the show right now, but we’re going to relaunch the show in the new year – that’s the plan – with some new sponsors. I really have taken this year to focus on doing the stand-up. I’ve really just put the talk show itself a little bit on the backburner just because I really wanted to really get the stand-up side of things really dialed in.
GM: You’ve worked hard to stay in the limelight when you could have faded away. You hit it big and then the show was cancelled. It’s hard work, isn’t it?
TG: My show actually wasn’t cancelled, just, you know, for the record. When my show was on MTV, it was initially the top-rated show on MTV at the time, and there was obviously no reason to cancel it. But I got sick. When I got cancer it was right in the middle of having that show on the air. So I stopped doing the show. It was my choice to stop doing the show and I went and made four or five movies at the time because I had the opportunity to do that. Then I sort of got back into more of my independent frame of mind, doing the web show and things like that. I’ve always chosen to keep trying new and different things. I had my rap group Organized Rhyme when I was 18 years old. We got a big record deal with A&M Records and we thought we’d made it, you know? I toured around doing shows for a couple years there, then we got dropped by the record label after one album and thought, “Oh, my gosh, we’re never going to work in show business again”, you know? And I went back to school and took television and broadcasting and went ahead and started my show on the public access station and did it for seven solid years before it even had the tiniest bit of success. So I understand. Sometimes when you build something new you’ve got to work it for a while before it really pops, you know? That’s the way I kind of feel about the internet right now. It’s exciting. Sometimes it’s more exciting when you’re developing stuff, if you don’t have as many eyeballs critiquing it and picking it apart so you can just really focus on doing some fun, creative things. That’s what’s been great about the stand-up, travelling around doing it. It’s slowly growing and the shows are really selling out all over the world. The tour was sold out all across Australia. I was playing in a 2000-seat theatre in Sydney, Australia, and all these different great venues all across the country. I’d never even been over there before. Never even experienced being to Australia, let alone doing a tour there.
GM: But they know you.
TG: Yeah, they did. It was great. It was exciting. I didn’t realize that they did so much. And they all know the Canadian Comedy Network show that I did. They’ve collected all the DVDs that we put out. They know every single bit that I’ve ever done. It’s an exciting opportunity, really, to be able to now go out and do stand-up and stay on the road like this.
GM: I know Wikipedia isn’t the most authoritative source for information, but it says you’re going mainstream. Was that a conscious decision or is it true at all?
TG: Honestly, no, I’ve never heard that. I don’t really think so. (laughs)
GM: It wasn’t a shot at you. It said you’re trying to go more mainstream to have a wider appeal.
TG: No, no. No, not at all. I’d never heard that before. I’ve done lots of different kinds of things so some people have, like, favourite stuff that I’ve done. So if they tune into my web show and see me doing more of a serious interview and sitting back having a more of a lower key conversational interview with Val Kilmer or something like that, they might think that’s mainstream. But to me it’s not mainstream because it’s a completely independent show that I’ve built in my living room and it’s completely outside of the world of corporate TV. To be honest with you, it’s more independent than anything I’ve ever done. It’s the least mainstream thing I’ve ever done, right now, doing stand-up and a completely independent show. Even when I was on Rogers Cable, I was still working at Rogers, a huge corporation.
GM: In your stand-up act you say Facebook is ruining reunions. I’m going to mine on Saturday. Have you ever been to one?
TG: No, I haven’t had a high school reunion that was really... I mean, I don’t know if I want to say this because probably the organizer of it will... I don’t even know who the organizer of it was. I don’t think they ever really did a very good job organizing my high school reunion. I’ll just say it like that. Because I remember a few years ago someone would say, “Okay, we’re having a high school reunion in July!” And then the next thing you know it’s, “Oh, we’ve moved it to August because none of these people can make it.” It would be like the friends of the organizer couldn’t make it so it kept getting moved around and moved around and then eventually I think, like, twelve people met at a pub in Ottawa, or something like that. That was my high school reunion.
GM: You were a popular kid in high school, right?
TG: I was a goofball, goofy kid. I was on students’ counsel. I was elected to students’ counsel every year so I guess you couldn’t say that I was completely unpopular because people voted for me. I was a skateboarder, I was into hip-hop music, and these were things that weren’t really popular things when I was in high school. Skateboarding hadn’t really become popular so I was a little bit more of an outsider in that sense. On the weekends I’d go skate downtown and hang out with kids from other parts of the city because that was where all the skaters converged. Everybody else would hang out with one another, I think. A lot of my friends were from other high schools. But I was on students’ counsel and hosted all the assemblies. It was always fun.
GM: And you weren’t shy because you were doing stand-up at 15 or 16. Little Tommy Green from down the street.
TG: Yes. Yes, you read about that.
GM: I think you mentioned it in our last interview.
TG: Oh, okay, cool. Yeah, you can find all those interviews and articles online. You know, those old articles from when I was 15 years old. I just started doing amateur night for a while. I was 15 years old, you know? And then after about a year and a half of doing amateur night, I would do little opening acts and middling spots but never got up to the point where I was headlining or anything like that or really doing it professionally. I think I was basically too young to be doing stand-up. That’s the thing that’s been really exciting about doing it now: I’m 39 years old, I’ve been through some stuff in my life, I’ve got a completely different perspective on the world. I think it’s much, much more fun doing stand-up comedy when you’re a little bit older. I’ve got stuff to talk about.
GM: Neil Hamburger’s going to be on the show with you in Vancouver.
TG: Yeah, that’s gonna be awesome. It’s going to be the first show we’ve done together.
GM: Although he’s been on your talk show.
TG: Yeah. First time we’ve done a stand-up show together, though. He’s been on my talk show a million times. He’s one of my favourite guests and a friend of mine. We were hanging out together in Montréal at the festival, but this is the first time we’ve ever been on the same bill, which I think is cool because we’ve definitely got an overlapping audience. I love his shows. They’re very avant-garde, hilarious, ridiculous, outrageous, crazy shows. It’s going to be fun. We’re going to be filming it. I’ve been filming all my sets, multi-camera, for the last four or five months and we’re putting together a tour movie DVD kind of thing and also shooting a lot for the web. But we’re going to do a more elaborate shoot at the Vogue because it’s such a nice theatre and we can really cover it. Maybe we’ll put out the entire set on some form of release.