(If this transcript seems disjointed, it's because my digital recorder was acting up. Every minute or so, it would skip several seconds. Sometimes I could piece together what was being said; other times you'll see "[glitch]".)
"There's gotta be something redeeming about an asshole or else I don't think anyone would really watch."
– Jon Dore
Guy MacPherson: So you're still doing your show this late in the year?
Jon Dore: Yeah, I'm just on lunch. We broke a little later than we're supposed to, which is why I didn't get your message. But yeah, we're on lunch for a few more minutes. It's our last week of taping.
GM: Aren't most shows done by now?
JD: I don't think there's any real rhyme or reason of when they start. Our show wasn't officially picked up till a little later than we were expecting. And we throw some hiatus weeks in to give departments a bit of a breather. So it just happens that we wrap December 5th.
GM: What season is this? Two?
JD: Season two, yeah.
GM: How many shows have you done?
JD: We did 13 in season one; we have another 13 coming down the pipe this season.
GM: Is it as good or will there be a sophomore jinx?
JD: I don't know. Was the first season even any good? Who knows?
GM: I thought so.
JD: We made a television series and we're making another one so it will be equally as made, that's for sure.
GM: Is the first season on DVD?
JD: No, it's not.
GM: Will it be?
JD: I don't know. It hasn't crossed my mind. Possibly. I mean, I'm not really proud of all of them so I'd rather hide as many as I can and maybe take a best-of from season one and two and have a three-episode disc.
GM: Out of the 13, how many are you proud of?
JD: (laughs) Oh, I don't know. I mean, I like elements of some of them but it's too long of a story to get into why some of them didn't work out the way I wanted them to. But I'd say there's probably about six that I'd be like, "Yeah, yeah, if you're really bored...".
GM: Is there any particular aspect of the parts you aren't proud of or is it just comedically?
JD: Oh, it's just a first season, a first run at things, first kick at the can where things don't come together the way you expect them to. But in the meantime, you're also pleasantly surprised with other things so it's a nice little balance. But I'm a little hard on myself when it comes to that kind of stuff.
GM: I have to admit I was a typical Canadian who saw this thing promo'd over and over again and just thought 'lame Comedy Network series. I'm not even going to watch it.' And then I watched it and thought it was really good. I was surprised.
JD: That's great to hear. That's really great to hear.
GM: There's always a backlash to things that are made in our own country.
JD: Yeah, there's a stigma attached to shows. Yeah, we have gotten that from some people, which is nice to hear. A compliment's a compliment. Yeah, we get that from time to time.
GM: It's rare to see a unique show being made. Usually they're derivative of something. I'm wondering, what was the model?
JD: It all kind of started with... I mean, I love interviewing. But I'm not a fan of interviewing in a live format. I knew that I didn't want to do like a live nightly television show. I didn't think that was possible. So it was just combining elements of sketch and interviewing. It kind of just evolved. The executive producer of the production company that was working with me on it said, "Just go and imagine your show." So it was pretty much that. It went through several different evolutions but it always had a strain of interviews that tell the storyline and then a fake world that surrounds it.
GM: Yeah, which I haven't seen anywhere else.
JD: Well, I dunno. You wanna say The Daily Show. They have their correspondent interviews where they go out and do them then come back into the studio. When the Borat movie came out, I thought, "What the fuck is this?" And since I've stumbled across another show, The Armando Iannucci Show. It's a BBC show. It's similar minus the interviews. He explores a different topic in his life through sketches. But I don't know if it's that new, really. I mean, Ali G and The Daily Show do their interviews and that's kinda like what we're doing. And then we're just borrowing what we think is funny sketch stuff from other existing shows. It's like you're just combining different influences probably.
GM: It's also rare for the Comedy Network to develop shows that are any funny. They have stuff like The Keys to the VIP.
JD: (sarcastically) A verrrry funny show.
GM: You don't often see comedians in this country getting their own sitcom, for lack of a better word. And yet they gave one to you. Was that a hard sell or did they come to you saying "Do whatever you want"?
JD: Well, when I used to be part of the Canadian Idol television show I formed a relationship with the network, CTV. They knew that I did standup and enjoyed writing and that I had aspirations of doing a show and that the Canadian Idol show wasn't a perfect fit for me and not ultimately what I wanted to be doing, that's for certain. So I think I was fortunate enough to have a great relationship with Insight and the Comedy Network, and CTV are huge fans of what Insight do. So I had a bit of an in, for sure. So they were willing to listen to a pitch. But I don't think they would have picked up the show unless I had a relationship with Insight Productions. We shot a pilot for the show about four years ago and based on the pilot they weren't thrilled but they wanted to continue working on it. So that's what we did. So was it a tough pitch initially? No. But it was a tough road when it came to rewriting and repitching.
GM: It's who you know, isn't it?
GM: They seem to give you carte blanche. You can do whatever you want, judging from your first season. Do they interfere at all?
JD: Oh, yeah, absolutely. It's not really interfering, but they're concerned with story elements, concerned about some language, concerned about certain topics. So yeah, they voice their concerns and if it's something we really want to fight for, we will. Otherwise we'll back down. But they haven't been too bad.
GM: You do have the language, you do have nudity...
JD: Yeah, yeah. We're highbrow.
GM: I'm just wondering what on earth they'd go, "Hey, hey, that's too far."
JD: Like, what is sacred anymore? I don't know if anything is. And I guess it's not what you talk about; it's how you approach it. That's maybe what their concerns would be. Last year – and I'm not sure if this was an actual concern of the network's or not, but ultimately it didn't make it in the show – it was a baby that I found in the garbage and had a conversation with. We had our art department design an animatronic baby. That was, for whatever reason, cut. Which we fought for over and over again but their argument was that it didn't help the story at all. True that it wasn't necessary but it also wasn't unnecessary. So that would be one example. But otherwise they've been pretty good.
GM: But if it's funny, who cares if it helps the storyline.
JD: Yeah, I guess so. I don't know. That's the whole Family Guy theory, I guess.
GM: You're pretty fearless on the show, from pissing to kissing guys to whatever.
JD: What's to be afraid of?
GM: Have you always been that way or did you just say, "Ah, I'm gonna go for it because it's funny"?
JD: That's a good question. It depends. You know, I'm pretty thoughtful and methodical in my regular life, for the most part. But no, when it comes to television it's completely different. It's more the character that would do these outrageous things. As long as it's appropriate, I'll do it. But I'm not really like that, I don't think, in my real life.'
GM: It's interesting that you play a guy called Jon Dore and Sarah Silverman plays Sarah Silverman and Stephen Colbert plays Stephen Colbert. You're all essentially more loutish versions of your real selves.
JD: Versions of.
GM: The worst versions of, but still with a good heart.
JD: Yeah, there's gotta be something redeeming about an asshole or else I don't think anyone would really watch. Like Larry David. He's a perfect example. There's gotta be a redeeming quality to him or no one would watch. I think we empathize with his situation. Yeah, it's fun to play a character where in situations in real life you'd love to say something horrible to a child, but in real life, of course, you would hate to scar them in any way. But it's fun to write it into a show and get to say it.
GM: Do you get any flack from you being Jon Dore on the show and people thinking that's really you? Especially given the real interviews you do?
JD: No, I don't think so. I don't think a lot of people watch. So that's also helpful. But no, not really. I don't think so.
GM: Do you have any idea of the numbers?
JD: I know from last year they fluctuated. When they were up, the network was really happy. But they were really sporadic. We'd drop incredibly within a week and be down for a week and then a week later we'd jump up even higher than we ever were. So they were really hard to read.
GM: I would think that your show could do well down south or in England. Has there been talk of that?
JD: We have a distribution company Insight works with. Insight's the production company, by the way. And Freemantle Media is their distributor. So it's kind of out of our hands. I don't know. It would also be kinda nice to have the show here and no one else see it, which could be kinda fun, too. But it's kinda out of our hands. The distribution company takes it from there. So I don't know if there's any interest but they're definitely out there shopping it around. So maybe it'll be on in Argentina one day.
GM: What really won me over was the scene where you were jerking off to the Bible, then we saw St. Peter who opens the door to tell God, and God is sitting on the can jerking off, and he does the I Dream of Jeannie blink to disappear.
JD: Right, and he turns into a cat.
GM: Tell me that was a moment you liked, not one you're ashamed of.
JD: Oh absolutely. That was a moment where my friend Mark and I worked it in in the writers' room. We knew we wanted a masturbate-to-the-Bible scene, which Mark had written and put into a show but we didn't feel like it was enough so we shot around an idea of what might happen. It's one of those fun experiences in a room where you just say, "Oh, and what if this happened? And then what about this? Then what about this?" So that's definitely a favourite moment of mine, as well.
GM: Did you leave Canadian Idol for this show or for other reasons?
JD: No. We had shot the pilot for the show between season 2 and 3. I went back for season 3 and I had known that was going to be my last season. It wasn't what I ultimately wanted to be doing. Then when I left the show, we continued working on it and they had turned the pilot down and they asked us to continue working on it. So it was a year of not knowing what we're doing.
GM: Is Ben Mulroney the reason you left?
JD: No, God no. Not at all. Ben was a huge supporter of mine and I'm a fan of his for sure. He's a very nice man.
GM: A fan of his?
GM: This conversation is over!
JD: Well, I mean, you know, you meet people and you see who they really are. He really is a good person.
GM: You started on Rogers Cable in Ottawa, is that right?
JD: I did.
GM: Doing an interview show?
JD: Yeah, it was a daytime show. Do you know, I'm not sure if it's still called the Urban Well in Vancouver?
GM: Yeah. Urban Rush.
JD: What's it called, sorry?
GM: Urban Rush.
JD: Oh, Urban Rush. Urban Well is the old comedy room. Yeah, Urban Rush. It's similar to that, just the budget's even smaller. Yeah, we did that for three years. It was a magazine-style interview show. Occasionally you'd get, like, a Pierre Berton-type author in, but for the most part it was prostate cancer awareness week interviews and the Carp garlic festival. That kind of thing.
"When stand-up's great, it's so fun. When it's horrible, it's awful. And TV just gets really tiring sometimes."
- Jon Dore
GM: Were you doing stand-up at the same time?
JD: Yeah, I was. I started doing stand-up out of college. My first year of college. In Ottawa I was doing stand-up and the TV show during the day and working as a waiter at night.
GM: Are you still working as a waiter?
JD: I wish.
GM: Is that where Tom Green started?
JD: Yeah, the same TV station. I never crossed paths with him. He left a couple years before I got there.
GM: Which is a bigger thrill, stand-up or your TV show?
JD: Oh my God, they're completely different disciplines. Bigger thrill? I couldn't pick a bigger one. I mean, when stand-up's great, it's so fun. When it's horrible, it's awful. And TV just gets really tiring sometimes. It's fun but there's just too much to do, sitting in an edit suite, shooting, rewriting. There's just too much going on and you don't really feel like you're able to give it your best attention sometimes. So that would be the downfall of it. They're both great for different reasons.
GM: What are your roles on the TV show?
JD: We start writing the show...
GM: So you're a writer, producer, actor?
JD: Mm-hmm. That'd be about it. Our showrunner and myself kind of oversee every element of the show. If there's a question from the art department or a question from the director, or just about anybody, we answer that call. And we sit in a room and me and my friends write it, and we sit in the edit suite and trim things down the way we like them. It's fun.
GM: You're doing it all.
JD: But it's the way it has to be. It's like raising a kid. You can't leave him with a babysitter for too long.
GM: No. I have mine in front of the TV right now.
JD: That's terrible.
GM: But I have to talk to you. I gave him a cookie. He's alright. Is doing the show putting your stand-up on hold, at least creatively, because you're having to devote so much time to the show?
JD: Yeah, it definitely does. I mean, I still do stand-up during the show if I can, but I haven't had time to get up at open mics and really work on new material. It's a little frustrating. You feel like you can't give it the attention you want to.
GM: So you're coming to Vancouver. Are you coming cross Canada?
JD: I'm just flying out to Vancouver and then back to Ottawa for shows there.
GM: On your cell phone you said you wouldn't be back until May.
JD: Oh, that's an oldie. I gotta change that. That was from May of last year. Or this year. I like leaving it on only because I say "if my plane doesn't crash". No one thinks my plane crashed and I didn't change my message. So it's not working.
GM: Are you getting different crowds out to your standup, fans of the show?
JD: Yes. Not a lot but a handful of people at a show who seem to be fans, and that feels great. We just did a theatre tour in Ontario and, you know, it wasn't well attended but those that did attend, a few of them were fans of the show, which is nice.
GM: For those who don't know, how is your stand-up similar to the show? I guess it has the same sensibilities.
JD: Good old-fashioned Christian comedy, the way the Lord intended it to be. Yeah, that's the best way to describe it. If the Lord wrote a joke and then gave it to a disciple to tell the people, I'd be that disciple.
GM: That reminds me of the episode where you weren't a manly man and Jesus came and you just shoved him out of the way.
JD: That's right.
GM: Like you, I have never changed a flat tire or been in a fight. I don't know if that's you the character or you the real person or both.
JD: Yeah, I have since changed a flat tire. It was with the crew and someone stuck a razor blade in my tire, so me and the crew had to change the tire.
GM: So now you're a manly man, I guess.
JD: I am. I learned how to do it.
GM: In the first season, most of the episodes, or the ones I saw, were some sort of aspect of your character you were trying to figure out, be it alcoholism or rage or being a manly man. Are those the same sorts of stories you've developed for the second season? And were these all real aspects of the real Jon Dore?
JD: I'll answer the second one first. No, not all. I guess there's like a little ounce of truth in everything, but... Not a little ounce, I guess. An ounce is an ounce. But this year we do have a few personal topics. Like I'm worried am I getting old in one episode. Why am I horny? That is completely fictional. But sex topics are just irresistible. But for the most part, no. Our topics get a little bigger this year. I try and bite off more than I can chew as far as trying to end discrimination. That's our first episode this year. Trying to save the planet, our environmental episode. Right now we're shooting a drugs episode, where I think drugs are bad and then I discover that they're great. So some of the topics are a little bigger. Personal ones are like is my apartment haunted, am I competitive enough? So they're still personal but we attack a few bigger topics as well.
"We were going to call it the
'Catch 'em Before They Croak Tour'."
– Cheech Marin
Guy MacPherson: Hello, Cheech. How are you?
Cheech Marin: I'm good, man, how are you?
GM: Excellent. Where are you guys, by the way?
CM: We're on the road between Portland and Eugene, Oregon.
GM: Travelling by car.
GM: Getting along? Enjoying each other's company?
CM: We're having a good time. It's rainy, but we're having a good time.
GM: Oh, it's pouring here.
CM: Is it? I can't wait to get up there.
GM: Your old home.
CM: Yeah. I miss it a lot. I don't get there as much as I'd like to.
GM: Now you're back on stage with your old...
CM: My oooold buddy.
GM: Buddy. Nemesis.
GM: But it's going well? How long have you been on tour?
CM: A couple months now. Since September 5th.
GM: Where was the first show you did on the reunion?
CM: The first show was in Ottawa. We did Ottawa and Toronto.
GM: What was it like the first time back on stage?
CM: It was great! It was like we had never left. Like we'd been off weeks, not thirty years.
GM: How long were you guys apart?
CM: Oh, the last time we were on stage together was for Still Smokin' and that was 27 years ago. Before that we weren't on stage for, I don't know, a bunch of years. Probably 30 years. At least 30. So about 3 or around there.
GM: Did you have rehearsals for this tour?
CM: You know, very few. We just kinda sat down one day and kinda did the bit in the car and that was it.
GM: I was picturing the rehearsals going like they did in The Sunshine Boys.
CM: Yeah, yeah: "The finger! He gave me the finger!" (laughs)
CM: "Enter and come in!"
GM: When you guys started here in Vancouver – I think you only did two shows – you were in an improv troupe, too, right?
CM: Yeah, it was called The City Works. We worked out of a topless bar Tommy's family owned, called the Shanghai Junk on the corner of Main and Pender. That was a lot of fun.
GM: So you say you did very little rehearsing for this tour. Is there an improv element to it?
CM: Yeah, I mean, most of the bits, we change... There are different things in them every night. It's like we're like jazz musicians. We play the tunes and they come out a little bit different every night. It depends on how our chemistry is and where the audience is. I like that part. It keeps it alive for us.
GM: You crack each other up sometimes?
CM: Yeah, exactly.
GM: How did you get back together? Who approached who?
CM: Well, you know, over the years we'd been trying to do something, usually with movies. [garbled] It's been great. Some of the best stuff we ever did was on the stage. We were going to call it the "Catch 'em Before They Croak Tour".
GM: When I spoke to you last time, you talked about the clash that you guys had. You said, "If we ever want to do anything else we have to figure out a way around that clash. But at some point it's just not that worth the trouble."
CM: Yeah, exactly.
GM: But now it is worth the trouble? Or you figured a way around the clash?
CM: We decided not to argue anymore. Things that went on, went on, and let's see what we can do in the future. And there was enough money there (laughs).
GM: That's always helpful.
CM: Yeah. We both realized that we each had half of a treasure map and we could not access the treasure without putting those two halves together.
GM: How long is the tour going?
CM: We're up until March now. There's going to be a DVD of it. We've already signed a deal. I think we're going to film it sometime before the end of March. Then tomorrow night we're going to Vegas to do a roast. A roast of Cheech & Chong, at CBS, as part of the Las Vegas Comedy Festival.
GM: Who's going to roast you?
CM: Oh, a bunch of people. What's the guy from Raymond? The tall guy? Brad Garrett. Brad Garrett is going to emcee. Geraldo Rivera, Al Sharpton, Tom Arnold and a bunch of other people. So it's going to be pretty fun.
GM: I imagine back in the heyday you guys were too wrapped up in it to really enjoy and appreciate your success.
CM: Yeah, we were just working all the time. We just did one album after the other and then one movie after the other [garbled]. It wasn't until later when it was over that we said, "Oh, wow, that really meant a lot to people."
"Tommy came back to Vancouver and was trying to figure out what he wanted to do. And what he wanted to do was improv theatre. That's when he started in with topless bars so it became topless improv. Oh, man, it was so much fun you couldn't believe it! We didn't get discovered by anything other than perverts. It was unbelievable."
– Cheech Marin
GM: How has the aging process changed you personally?
CM: (laughs) I wish I had new knees. No, I think there's an assuredness. We really know what we're doing. It's like seasoned jazz musicians. We're not counting anymore. We kinda know our instruments really well and get out there and just do it. That is the fun part, to get on stage and play. The playing is so fun.
GM: Was it like riding a bike? Or did it take you a few shows to get your timing back?
CM: It took us like 30 seconds. I'm not kidding you. It was scary. Like when you have a tattoo and you go get it off you have a scar that looks like the tattoo. It was beyond easy. It's part of our DNA. [garbled] ...taking what we do and adding to it and rearranging it. It's great. Every time you come up with something new, you throw it in the act.
GM: Is it the greatest hits, or some new things, or a mixture?
CM: It's a mixture of stuff. Some of the things people ask me they want to see. The thing is we can't even get them all in there no matter what we do. They'll say, "Well, why didn't you do this? Why didn't you do that?" And we're doing a lot of music which we've never done on stage before. We're doing really radical rearrangements. Born in East L.A. we're doing as a salsa number. Tommy and his wife Shelby dance to it. It's like Bollywood. And I finally got Tommy to play a lot. He's playing a lot of guitar and I'm playing guitar. I love it. It's really a good part of the show.
GM: And the crowds are loving the show, I guess.
CM: Crowds are digging it. The thing that amazes me is that 80 percent of the audience is between 30 and 40, which means that most of them weren't alive or were three years old.
GM: It just goes to show how you live on.
CM: And the material holds up really well. It's like timeless. And Tommy does a lot of standup in between the bits. [garbled] There's a currency and a timelessness to it. We're the only ones who are doing what we're doing right now. Everybody else is a standup, you know?
GM: This is like a combination of standup, sketch, improv and music.
CM: Yeah, exactly.
GM: I'd like to hear a little bit about the early days of Vancouver. I know you were delivering carpets. Where did you live?
CM: I had a house on Hastings Street and then... let's see, where did I end up living? Out near Burnaby. I had a place out near Burnaby. [garbled] I was just renting little [garbled] with a couple different guys. I had a good time there. And then we came to L.A.
GM: And how long in total were you in Vancouver?
CM: A little over a year. And when I first got to town, I was writing for this magazine, Poppin, which was a rock 'n' roll magazine out of Vancouver. And this guy who [garbled] introduced me to his friend, Tommy Chong: "You guys would really get along together." Tommy was running this improv troupe. I was delivering carpets for about a month or so and then I met Tommy and that was it.
GM: Was Tommy like a mini-celebrity already because of his success in the bands?
CM: Yeah, because of Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers and the song Does Your Mama Know About You?, which he wrote.
GM: Were you kind of like the Yoko Ono?
CM: (laughs) No, it was like the McCartney.
GM: Did you drive him away from the band?
CM: No, the band had already split up and he had come back from Detroit, where he was living because he was with Motown. So he came back to Vancouver and was trying to figure out what he wanted to do. And what he wanted to do was improv theatre. That's when he started in with topless bars so it became topless improv.
GM: That's just awesome. I wish we still had that.
CM: Oh, man, it was so much fun you couldn't believe it! We didn't get discovered by anything other than perverts. It was unbelievable.
GM: You weren't topless, I hope.
CM: If the role required it, that's what we did.
GM: Was there any kind of comedy scene here before that?
CM: No, not as far as I know. When we first started, the hippies kept getting told that comedy was dead. So as soon as we came out we found an audience right away because they were dying for some commentary on the scene.
GM: I know you only did two shows here before taking off to L.A., but do you know if what you started here with the improv was continued after you left? Or did it go away and then come back in another life later?
CM: No, no, we had an improv group. There were like eight or nine of us, four topless dancers who we made actresses. When the troupe fell apart, Tommy and I decided to take what we had and consolidate it into two guys. So we took material we had already done and figured out a way to do it as a duo and then made up other stuff. That's when we only did two gigs in Vancouver after the troupe broke up and then we left for L.A. the next day. If we were going to make it, we were going to go to either L.A. or New York. But New York was too cold and I knew L.A.
GM: So you knew you had something special after two gigs?
GM: So you went to L.A. with stars in your eyes.
CM: Uh-huh. Stars in our eyes and holes in our pockets.
GM: The improv was at the Shanghai Junk, you say?
CM: Yeah, the Shanghai Junk. It was a bar. It's no longer there. It's a bank building now. But it was on the corner of Main and Pender.
GM: Who owned it, do you know?
CM: Tommy's family. It was a family-owned joint.
GM: A family-owned strip joint. Just a Ma and Pa strip joint.
CM: Yeah. It was Vancouver's first strip joint. Topless bar.
GM: When you got to L.A., were you an immediate hit?
CM: Yeah. Wherever we went, we attracted an audience. And most important, we attracted a reaction from everybody. In L.A., we played black clubs in the black sections of L.A. because they paid money. The white clubs would convince you to do hootenanny night. So we started honing our act in black clubs. And we kept ourselves alive that way. Then one thing kept leading to another then we started playing at the Troubador on Monday nights. This was hootenanny night [garbled].
GM: You followed the crowd, in that they were the ones who wanted the pot material. You didn't start out that way, right?
CM: Well, we had pot material. We didn't have that whole Chicano element because up in Vancouver there weren't any Chicanos. So in L.A. we started incorporating that into it and it was great. And all of a sudden the pot element really caught on. It caught on in the black clubs, as well. They understood that.
GM: Did Detective Abe Snidanko ever harass you?
CM: He was a real guy and he harassed Tommy and those guys up in Vancouver. Even before I got there he was always trying to bust 'em. (laughs)
GM: I wonder what happened to him. Do you know how he reacted to your act?
CM: He hated us because we made him a part of our act. We made him famous and it blew his cover. He was an undercover guy. The RCMP, I think, sent him to Turkey for like 20 years (laughs). When he went into retirement, they wanted Tommy to sign a poster and Snidanko didn't want anything to do with it. (laughs)
GM: You used to open for jazz musicians like Carmen McRae and Cannonball Adderley. How did they react to the act? They're artists!
CM: Carmen McRae would actually come out and watch once in a while. And Cannonball Adderley ... they were big fans of ours.
GM: You never see that anymore, where comedians open for jazz musicians.
CM: Yeah, you never see that anymore. We were kind of improv jazz comedians that had hippy, r&b, rock, jazz all fused into what we were doing and everybody kind of related to it.
GM: Cheech, I have to speak to Tommy.
CM: I'll hand the phone to him and you can talk to him.
"We became stoners more than starting out stoners. Actually, Cheech was almost celibate. He was like a priest. He never did anything. Then he started smoking a little bit. We became stoners. Our audiences made us become them. Because your audience really dictates your material. And when we found out stoner material and rock'n'roll really go good together, we hit upon the golden secret, the golden key."
– Tommy Chong
Tommy Chong: Hey, how you doing?
GM: Good, how are you? This is Guy MacPherson from the Georgia Straight.
TC: You guys still in business, huh?
GM: Hanging in there.
TC: You're outlasting a lot of people.
GM: Not you guys.
TC: No, no. We're still here.
GM: And how are you enjoying the comeback?
TC: It's twice the fun for half the work. I love it.
GM: Because there's two of you, you mean. And with your wife, that's three.
TC: Yeah, we spread out the work and we get paid a lot of money. It's great. It's win-win all the way.
GM: And you guys have said you're not going to fight; you're just going to enjoy it.
TC: You can't fight when you're creating. It's very hard when you're creating. The only time you argue is when you got too much money and too much time.
GM: Like back in the old days?
TC: It got to be that, you know.
GM: I was saying that you guys were probably too wrapped up in everything back then to really appreciate what you had the first time around.
TC: We were working too hard. That's a Catch-22, you know? You've got a lot of money but you got no time to enjoy it. And so you have to break up the band or break up the comedy team or whatever. Then you have too much time and not enough money.
GM: How has aging changed you? Has it softened you or brought perspective? What is it?
TC: Aging helps you with the timing. Timing is really waiting for the right time. The older you get, the more you can wait. It's easier to wait when you're older.
GM: Are you talking about on stage or in general?
TC: Everything. Everything in life. On stage and life and business. Anything. The key to success is waiting.
GM: Good to know. Words of wisdom. Your characters are obviously big stoners. You told me the last time I interviewed you that the crowds wanted the stoner material. I'm wondering how much of that persona is you guys. Were you stoners or just casual users?
TC: We became stoners more than starting out stoners. Actually, Cheech was almost celibate. He was like a priest. He never did anything. Then he started smoking a little bit. We became stoners. Our audiences made us become them. Because your audience really dictates your material. And when we found out stoner material and rock 'n' roll really go good together, we hit upon the golden secret, the golden key. Stoner material and jazz and rock 'n' roll and music... Stoner material and music really go hand in hand.
GM: And once you have these characters, is it that the audience will be bringing you stuff and wanting to party with you so that's how you become stoners off stage, too?
TC: That's exactly it. We become them. That's what happened. They actually adopted us. The audience said, "Hey, we got our own culture; now we have our own comedians. Our very own." We weren't comedians doing stoner material; we were stoners being comedians.
GM: How long in total did you spend in Vancouver?
TC: I was in Vancouver off and on from 1958 through to 1968. Yeah, ten years.
GM: And you still have a home here?
TC: Oh, yeah. I sure do. I love Vancouver.
GM: You first came here with The Calgary Shades?
TC: Yup. We got deported out of Calgary.
GM: I heard that was a really hot R&B band.
TC: It was. It was one of the best bands around. The only trouble was we were limited. And we never had proper management.
GM: Limited musically?
TC: Well, yeah, basically. We were the Stones without an education, you know?
GM: So you came to Vancouver to play and is that when you decided you'd like to live here?
TC: Well, yeah. I was there for a year, then I went home and tried to live in Calgary for a year. That didn't work out so we came back here. We put the band together... Well, the band broke up and then this guy bought a club and put the band back together again for a little while and we went back. Yeah, that's what happened. When you're in Canada you either head east or west. We went west.
GM: That was a smart move. And you were in Little Daddy & the Bachelors?
TC: Yup. I was the guitar player in Little Daddy & the Bachelors.
GM: So Vancouver had a little happening music scene.
TC: Yeah. And we were responsible for a lot of it. Tommy Milton and I had a club called the Blues Palace and we brought up Ike and Tina Turner to open it. They came up and more or less set the blues standard in Vancouver.
GM: My father was the bandleader at the Cave throughout the '60s. Fraser MacPherson.
TC: Fraser! That's your dad. I was just talking about Fraser yesterday to the limo driver. He was from Canada and he was talking about all the band leaders and he mentioned Fraser.
GM: How about that! When you met Cheech, he was this guy writing for a music magazine. And you were a musician.
TC: Well, at that time I had an improvisation theatre group. And I was looking for someone to be a straight man. My first partner was David Graham. He was a long-haired hippie and I was a long-haired hippie. And we were looking for a short-haired straight guy. And the guy that owned the magazine, Poppin, he said, "You gotta meet this little guy from America." So I went out and met Cheech and liked him right away and hired him. Then we had a troupe. We had an acting troupe for a couple months. Then the group broke up and Cheech and I stayed together.
GM: He wasn't a performer when you met him, right?
TC: He had performed, but no, he was a writer.
GM: What did you see in him that made you think this guy would be good?
TC: His attitude. His attitude. See, Canadians are weird. Canadians, they get too comfortable. They don't want to move. That's why bands break up. Because you get good enough but no one wants to go down to the States, no one wants to cut the record. They're just content where they're at. Cheech was from the States. And I had a big urge to make it big time. And I knew if you were going to make it big time you had to go down to the States. You had to go to Hollywood. The east coast always scared me. Too many people. But the west coast, I had been there before. So Cheech was the only one who still wanted to do it. When we got fired from our club, that's when the group broke up. We never had another gig to go to so the group disbanded and Cheech and I were the only ones who still wanted to do it.
GM: You had this urge to make it big. Was it specifically in comedy or music or you just wanted to be big in anything?
TC: I thought it was going to be music. And Cheech and I actually put a band together, but our comedy was so strong that we never got around to playing any music. In fact, we never got around to playing music until we started doing movies and we'd play in the movies. And we played on record, too. But we never played live – really live – until this tour.
GM: Before you started your improv troupe, was there a comedy scene in Vancouver that you knew of or any comedians working?
GM: So you really started the comedy scene in Vancouver!
TC: I started the topless thing and I started the comedy thing.
GM: And did it continue? Did what you started continue after you left? Or did it go back to nothing? Do you know?
TC: In Vancouver?
TC: Oh, no, the topless grew almost uncontrollably. The naked thing really grew big. Then the comedy picked up years later when they started all the little comedy clubs. But that was way, way, way after Cheech and I. In fact, we went back and we played Oil Can Harry's. Remember Oil Can Harry's?
TC: I knew the owner so I told him we wanted to try out this comedy thing. He said okay, so they had a little room for us and we went in and we created memorable bits in that room in Vancouver. It was tough but we did it.
"Vancouver was very racist. Very, very racist. And they had these cops imported from Ireland and Scotland. They sort of copied whatever States' laws. They had a right wing approach to everything. Like, I had friends do time, a year in jail, for selling a dime bag of weed. That kind of thing."
– Tommy Chong
GM: You told me last time we talked about Vancouver's draconian pot laws at the time. How did they compare to the current U.S. laws? Were they as bad or worse?
TC: Vancouver was very racist. Very, very racist. And they had these cops imported from Ireland and Scotland. They sort of copied whatever States' laws. They had a right wing approach to everything. Like, I had friends do time, a year in jail, for selling a dime bag of weed. That kind of thing. And Snidanko, the guy that's in Up In Smoke, he was head of the narcs in Vancouver and he was always trying to bust us for smoking pot or anything. That's why I made him famous.
GM: Whatever happened to him, do you know?
TC: When he got famous he got shipped off to Turkey for 17 years. Then he came back and he was on the force for a while and then they finally retired him. The narcs here called me down in L.A. and had me autograph a poster and send it up for his retirement present (laughs).
GM: Is he still alive?
TC: Oh, yeah. Yeah, he's still around. I think he's in Saskatchewan or something like that. I'm not sure.
GM: The U.S. government went on to harass you and put you in jail. Was there a period of harassment before that?
TC: No, not at all. No. Had there been I wouldn't have been in jail, you know, because we were sort of operating in this grey area, much like Marc Emery is now, you know. Like, it was illegal but they weren't enforcing anything. And so they kind of snuck up on us. After Bush got in power, he just changed... snuck up on us and the next thing you know, Operations Pipe Dreams came down. They never gave me a [warning]. In fact, I could have beat it but they threatened to go after my son and my wife, you know? And this is the United States government threatening you, so you gotta take 'em serious, you know.
GM: You say they never gave you a warning? Is that what you were saying? You cut out.
TC: No, no, not at all. Not at all. No, in fact, it was entrapment. They set us up. Because no one enforcing this archaic law that they had on the books. But for me, they did, you know. It was for shipping a bong across the state line. Any drug paraphernalia crossing the state line...
GM: Do you think things will change under Obama?
TC: Yeah. Yeah, it will change. You know who wrote the law was Joe Biden?
GM: Oh really? He wrote the law that put you in jail?
TC: That's right.
GM: So how will it change now that he's vice president?
TC: [cell phone breaking up]... when they wrote it up, they included marijuana pipes in with the crack pipes [breaking up and lost contact.]
[I call back]
GM: I'll let you go. I just wanted to get that last bit you were talking about, about Biden writing the law and yet you said you think things will change under Obama.
TC: Yeah, yeah. The medical marijuana has to step up and prove that it has medical uses and get it changed from a Schedule One, which is a narcotic, like heroin, and it should be controlled, to at least a Schedule Two where it's a misdemeanour or whatever. You know, you have to have a doctor's prescription. And then it'll be fine.
GM: But that doesn't affect you, because it's not medical marijuana; it's recreational marijuana, right?
TC: No, it'll still be medical. Like it is now. That's what it is in Los Angeles. There's a ton of medical marijuana sites all over the place. But it's also preventative medicine, too. Because if you're smoking pot, instead of drinking alcohol, then you're saving lives on the highways. So it works that way. It's just a mindset. And we'll change that. You know, there's a lot of things we can change now that we got someone that's not in bed with the oil companies and the pharmaceutical companies. The first thing I'm gonna do when Obama gets sworn in is get my record expunged. My felony conviction. There's a way to do it. What you do [is] you change your plea from guilty to innocent and if they accept the plea then they wipe off the... I already spent the time, so then they just wipe it off and say, "Okay, you're no longer a felon."
GM: Does it affect you still the fact that you are a convicted felon?
TC: Oh, yeah.
GM: How does it affect you?
TC: It really doesn't but if, for instance, I was caught with a firearm for whatever reason, I'd go to jail forever.
GM: Oh, because you already are a convicted felon.
TC: That's right. I mean, anything could happen. And it's not a good thing to have. It's not a good thing to have on your record. I couldn't run for public office or something like that.
GM: Well, there's something you gotta work on next! Run for public office.
TC: Why not?
"The SNL cast was huge and it was hard getting my sketches on. I started losing confidence in what I thought my funny was. You'd throw so much stuff up against the wall and felt you hit a homerun but they just never made the show. And then things that you were just never that passionate about ended up making television. I don't know, it was just a tough year for my last year."
– Finesse Mitchell
Finesse Mitchell: Yo, yo, yo.
Guy MacPherson: Yo. Finesse, you're back.
FM: I am back, sir. Sorry about that.
GM: Did you get your bag, or whatever you needed?
FM: Got me this big, gigantic hockey bag. If I can't fit stuff in that, something's wrong with me.
GM: So you got a few minutes?
FM: Yeah, I'm ready.
GM: How's Canada treating you so far?
FM: This is Vancouver, right?
GM: I'm in Vancouver, yeah.
FM: Vancouver. I can't wait to get to Vancouver.
GM: Have you ever been here?
FM: Yes, I have. For a bachelor party.
GM: You have friends here?
FM: No, I had a friend in L.A. who decided to go up to Vancouver for his bachelor party.
GM: What did you do?
FM: We did absolutely nothing! We went clubbing but I don't even think we went to an adult bar or anything like that. We just went clubbing. Hanging out.
GM: The current JFL tour started in the maritimes. Have you done the whole thing?
FM: I joined the tour in Toronto. Hamilton, actually, and then Toronto, which was probably our biggest show. Man, I tell you, this thing is funny. It is funny. We have been leaving people in stitches, crying, wiping tears. The good thing about it is the show is actually funny. Every comic, from Ireland, London, Scotland, U.K, and me from America, everybody is representing really hard.
GM: Just For Laughs always puts on a solid show. Professional. Starts on time...
FM: (laughs) This thing has been running like clockwork. It starts at 7 and out by... It depends, sometimes I run long. It's hard for me to stick to my time. I've got a lot to say. (laughs)
GM: How long have you been on the tour?
FM: Since the 29th.
GM: How much time had you spent in Canada prior to this?
FM: I'd been to Just For Laughs in 2002 and 2005. In 2002 I was in New Faces and in 2005 I was doing a gala and I was in my second year of Saturday Night Live.
GM: I saw you at that one.
FM: Oh, okay. Was I funny?
GM: Yeah, of course. That's why I chose you to interview.
FM: (laughs) I hate interviews. Sometimes I'm funny and sometimes I'm just informational.
GM: Hey, both are good.
FM: I did a couple of movies: Who's Your Caddy?, the movie Mad Money with Queen Latifa and Katie Holmes. I have a new book out called All Your Girlfriends Only Know So Much. I've been tapped as the relationship guru now.
GM: Kinda like Greg Behrendt.
FM: Yeah, Greg. Except I'm funny. He's not funny.
FM: He's okay.
GM: It's a smackdown!
FM: I stopped liking him when he started wearing glasses.
GM: Yeah, there's something wrong about that.
FM: Yeah (laughs).
GM: You did a relationship column in a magazine, right?
FM: Essence magazine. For all you ladies out there, you guys know about Essence. Go to essence.com.
GM: Is the book a collection of your columns or were they specifically written for the book?
FM: The book is a no-holds-barred, everything-women-want-to-know-about-dating. From dealing with themselves and their own issues to putting together a list of what they think they want in a guy and then scratching some of those things off that list because that's unrealistic, and how to be approached and who's saying what when they approach you, all the way to when you start dating when not to have sex and when it's okay to have sex.
GM: When is it okay?
FM: It depends on how much you like 'em! I always tell women that if you have sex with no expectations and you really like somebody, usually the guy will pick up on that. Because if it's just a mutual understanding, like a one-night stand type of thing, nobody can get upset. And I think if it's really, really good, that's when the trouble starts because then people want to see more of each other. And if it's really, really bad they can't wait to put their shoes on and get outta there. So it's sort of like a double standard.
GM: How did you learn all this?
FM: Uh, you know, trial and error. I'd been single for a while before I got hooked up and on the road all the time, living in four of the best cities in the States: I live in Miami now, L.A., New York and Atlanta. I mean, those are some great cities to become socially advanced as far as being on the dating scene and making mistakes and having some successes. I just basically took all my experiences and the experiences from my boys, who were thugs, professional athletes, doctors, lawyers, teachers and unemployed Playstation dudes – I put all those guys' opinions out in one book and made a hit, man.
"As long as everybody stays in like then everything is simple. You're always happy and giddy. But the minute you fall in love and become boyfriend and girlfriend, it's all of a sudden, 'Where you going? Why you going there? Who's that?'"
– Finesse Mitchell
GM: Do you think that all guys, from thugs and unemployed Playstation dudes to lawyers and professional athletes and actors have the same problems when it comes to relationships?
FM: Oh, no doubt. No doubt. Everyone's the same when it comes to love.
GM: We just don't understand women.
FM: It's not that we don't understand women. I just think sometimes people lose their common sense when it comes to falling in love. Because as long as everybody stays in like then everything is simple. You're always happy and giddy. But the minute you fall in love and become boyfriend and girlfriend, it's all of a sudden, "Where you going? Why you going there? Who's that?" But in the beginning it's never like that. It's always like, "Alright, well give me a call when you get home. Let me know you got home safe." That's all we say. (laughs)
GM: Being a relationship expert, does that put pressure on you in your own personal relationships?
FM: No, me and my lady, we're pretty chill. I picked somebody that pretty much gels with my personality and I think that's the key to it, where a lot of people pick somebody because they're lonely or just for the sake of having somebody or there are kids involved or whatever the case may be. But I think there are a lot of incompatible people that are together.
GM: Is your act relationship based?
FM: It depends. Because I'm doing about 20 minutes: ten up top and ten in the middle. Sometimes it can go by so quick. And I'm always messing with the crowd in the front row. So, Vancouver, if you don't want to get messed with, don't sit in the front row. Especially with the wrong type of shirt on.
GM: Funny how those people always end up in the front.
FM: They're always in the front! So I'm always messing with the crowd. And then people always want me to do the Prince joke, so I'm always talking about the Prince concert or maybe [doing] Starkisha from SNL. So I just never know. And then in the second half I'm usually talking about relationships and getting a little bit more adult in the second half of the show because people have settled in, and maybe talking about some sex stuff... in a very, very professional comedic way.
GM: They don't put any restrictions on you, do they?
FM: They try not to but they want us to use our best judgment. They don't want to take the show too blue because Just For Laughs has a brand that's unparalleled in comedy. They have a certain image. And we have sponsors and everything. A big shout-out to Capital One.
GM: Whoever they are.
FM: Yeah, right. So, you know, we try to keep it clean. But everybody's so funny.Danny Bhoy is the last act. Everybody loves Danny Bhoy. He gets up there and tells these crazy stories and has people in stitches.
GM: And you can understand him?
FM: Oh yes, no doubt. And he can do every accent, too.
GM: You don't get to spend much time in any one place. It's kind of like a whistle-stop tour.
FM: Oh, man, it feels like one-night stands every night.
GM: At least you're going by plane, not bus.
FM: And it's really first-class, too. I've been really impressed with the tour.
GM: You live in Miami, and now here you are in Saskatoon! It must be a bit of a culture shock.
FM: Just the other day in Miami they had a Barack Obama bikini contest. It was like 80 degrees. So they gave me a call. They were like, "Hey, Finesse, we want you to come down and be a judge. You in town?" I'm like, [weeping] "I'm in Saskatoon!" They're like, "Where is that?" "Somewhere very cold."
GM: Is it freezing there now?
FM: Yeah, it's pretty cold out here tonight. It's really cold. It's cold for me.
GM: What are your impressions of what you've seen so far?
FM: Man, honestly, I have been doing a lot of casinos late at night. I get my work done during the day. I eat, work out, I go to the local mall, and I get ready for the show. Then if I'm not back in the room tired or in the hotel lobby – because sometimes I'll shout out where we're staying and there'll be a ton of people at the hotel so we'll have drinks and mingle with folks and I'll end up at the casino later that night. One thing I like about Canada is that you guys have casinos close by.
GM: What's your game?
FM: Texas Hold 'em. I can sit there for four hours, lose all my money... I can play brilliantly for four hours and then get restless and lose all my money and go, "Okay, that was worth it."
GM: Do you like being away from home this long?
FM: I hate it.
GM: How long will you be gone all told?
FM: I think we do Vancouver and Victoria and then we're done. I'll be home on the 16th. Then I'll be back in New York doing something on the Today show on the 17th, then I have a show in Miami on the 18th, then I will be in Norfolk, Virginia, on the 22nd.
GM: Constantly on the go.
FM: I'm always on the go.
GM: You missed your big election.
FM: Ah, tell me about it.
GM: Did you get to vote?
FM: Yeah, I voted. I voted early. I put Barack in. I turned Florida blue.
GM: Oh, you voted for Barack?
FM: Oh, no doubt. Of course I did. I tried to vote for McCain but I couldn't raise my arm high enough to reach the lever.
GM: Was it emotional for you?
FM: Oh, yeah, it was. I cried. I cried and I cried watching other people cry. Every time I stopped crying they showed somebody who was crying and then I started crying. And I was getting all these text messages and e-mails. Had I known I was going to win I would have probably not done the tour because I wanted to be in the States. I thought Hillary was going to win; I'm like, "I'm outta here. I'm going to Canada." I'm so happy. It's only because he's so over-qualified. All you need to do is just be smart and have a good judge of character. And you need to have self-control. You can't be on television like John McCain making all those faces and calling people "that one".
GM: Even Elizabeth Hasselbeck was saying what a great day it was.
FM: (laughs) Yeah, she had to eat her words. Shari Shepherd is a good friend of mine. We did a movie Who's Your Caddy? together.
GM: She was crying on the air.
FM: Yeah, I think I started crying when I saw her crying. I was just happy for the country. I'm happy for the world. We just need somebody that looks like they care about people instead of big businesses. It does not work if you keep rewarding the rich and the middle class becomes the poor. Because the poor have aspirations of becoming the middle class, and the middle class is working their butt off to get somewhere. But we're giving all the breaks to ten percent of the population in our country. Everybody's broke. Nobody's buying anything. But the big boys are making money. That's my politics.
GM: Do you do political humour?
FM: Oh, yeah. Yeah. I'm killing Bush in the first five minutes.
GM: Kick him when he's down!
FM: No doubt, man. Stomp on him.
GM: He was such an easy target for the last eight years. Do you expect comics to go after Obama?
FM: With stereotypical jokes. You know, Kool-aid, chicken, watermelon.
GM: You think?
FM: Yeah, it's funny, man. This guy couldn't even say Barack Obama. He was taking me to the casino last night. He was an Indian guy. He was combining his names. He was saying, "Mr. Bahamas". Now, who is Mr. Bahamas? He said, "You do comedy?" He kept going on and on: "I love comedy! I want to do comedy. I have a joke." I was like, "Oh, my God, it's like a bad movie." I said, "What's the joke?" He said, "Mr. Bahamas" – and that made me laugh already because when I figured out he was trying to say Barack Obama I was already in the back seat dying. But he thought he was hilarious. And then he said, "Okay, now that Mr. Bahamas is president, weed is legal!" And I was like, "What the hell?" Where's the joke? And he said, "Marijuana is legal now." And he was cracking up. And I thought to myself, "Okay, I guess there'll be a lot of those jokes."
GM: He was Indian from India?
FM: I guess. I said, "What brought you to Canada?" He said Canada needed 3 million people and his name was on the list. Is that true?
GM: I haven't heard.
FM: He said you guys needed 3 million people. The way he was describing it you guys put out what you actually need, like more beauticians, construction workers or whatever. And there are certain people that you allow into the country.
GM: Everyone is so on board with Obama and he'll screw up like everybody does, or he's going to do something that maybe placates the rich guys and his hardcore supporters will be like, "What are you doing? You've become one of them!"
FM: I think he's in a no-win situation and I think what he should just do is just make the best decision according to what he thinks and fulfill a lot of the campaign promises, like getting health care thing going and these tax breaks going for the middle class and then use common sense and good judgment when it comes to everything else. I think that was Bush's problem. He was always just so one-sided and then turned to God at the end of the day. You can't pray everything is going to work out. You've got to make some sound decisions.
GM: You played football for the University of Miami. Were you a funny football player or did that come later?
FM: That came after I finished. It's hard being a pretty boy and on the football team like the University of Miami, because they were winning championships with a bunch of thugs on the team. I had a name. Finesse was my name and all the girls was liking me. So it was hard just trying to squeeze in there and carve out a spot on the team. Before I knew it I was flunking off so I had to make a decision. Was I going to try to graduate or continue to play football? You can't play football without the grades.
GM: What position were you?
FM: Strong safety and cornerback.
GM: Did you have dreams of turning pro?
FM: Yeah. I think every guy who goes down there, or any guy who plays college ball, wants to go pro. And that just didn't work out for me. After graduation I was selling cruise tickets for about two weeks and then I went into financial services and started selling insurance for about three years, and then moved to L.A. and got involved in the comedy at the Laugh Factory and The Improv out there. We heard Tracy Morgan was leaving Saturday Night Live and they was looking for the new black guy and I was like, "Hey, I'm black. Where do I send my tape?" I sent the tape in, got a call from Tracy: "What's up, Finesse? Heard you wanted my spot." So the next thing I know I'm in New York auditioning and I'm on SNL.
GM: It happened pretty quick, didn't it?
FM: Yeah, man, it happened really quick. I auditioned five times but they couldn't make up their mind then the next thing I know they told me on a Monday when I was in L.A. that I had to be in New York that night; I had the job. So I got my butt on the plane and got my stuff later. Whew! And it was the first week of work. Jack Black was there and then the second week it was Halle Berry. Halle Berry!
GM: You must have been in heaven. You sold insurance, you say. Cedric the Entertainer did that, too, didn't he?
FM: I think so. Cedric sold insurance, Steve Harvey sold insurance. It might be a great job for people who want to go into comedy.
GM: Do you have fond memories of your SNL days?
FM: Yeah, yeah. When I was there, my first two years I felt like were awesome. My last year was a bit of a struggle and challenge.
GM: In what way?
FM: The cast was huge and it was hard getting my sketches on. I started losing confidence in what I thought my funny was. You'd throw so much stuff up against the wall and felt you hit a homerun but they would just never pick or just never made the show. And then things that you were just never that passionate about ended up making television. I don't know, it was just a tough year for my last year. And then when we heard that Horatio was getting let go and they were going to make other cuts, I knew I was going to be one of those other cuts. So I was just preparing myself. And that's when I started back on the standup scene. Also, they would never let me do a Comedy Central half-hour special. Then in my last year Comedy Central offered it to me again, so I went to them and I was like, "Yeah, they want me to do a half-hour special" and they went, "Yeah, go ahead." I was like, "Oh ha, okay."
GM: So you could prepare yourself a bit, but was it still a huge disappointment?
FM: It was disappointing. I left New York and went down to Miami instead of going back to L.A. because I didn't want to have that feeling of going to L.A. and getting back in the rat race. ... That's what I did. I took a personal time-out and now I'm back. But when I was taking that time, I wrote the book. So I had the book deal, which was great. That was another great thing. Even though SNL was ending, I had just gotten a huge book deal to write this relationship book so that made me feel a lot better. It also gave me a sense of purpose; something to do. Then I started touring and doing a whole bunch of fundraisers. Because I thought the phone wasn't going to ring. That was my problem. You get terrified when you leave a show like SNL: "Man, what's going to happen next?" But the phone was ringing and I got two movies: this movie called Who's Your Caddy? and another movie called The Comebacks. We shot those back-to-back. And then I booked a big movie that we thought was going to be huge called Mad Money. And it didn't do the numbers. It got creamed by this movie called Cloverfield. It got creamed by Cloverfield. But things keep happening. Every time I think I have nothing to do, Just For Laughs comes along and they want you to host a comedy tour this fall.
GM: There have been so many cast members over the years and some you never hear from again. Ellen Cleghorn... what's she doing now?
FM: She was doing radio for a little bit but I don't know what she's doing. You know, she's one of the people that just gets lost in the shuffle. You get so frustrated because they bring you on and then they don't use you. But me, they treated me great. My first year I had a great year. My second year I was happy. It was just that third year.
GM: How did they tell you you weren't coming back?
FM: They were like, "Uh, Finesse, you're not coming back."
GM: Just like that? Right to your face?
FM: Uh, no. I just knew when I left for that summer. They called my manager.
GM: Have you seen Lorne Michaels since then?
FM: No. We talked on the phone a couple of times and I went by there before I hit the tour because I'm always in New York. I did the Today show a lot and that's the same building. I've been doing a lot of the daytime morning shows, being the funny relationships guy. Doing Fox's morning show, CBS's morning show, and NBC's morning show. I've been on Tyra Banks' show a lot. So I've still been popping up on television here and there and then doing standup at night. I did the Byron Allen Comics Unleashed show. I don't know when that airs, but it's pretty funny.
GM: Do you get in some of that Bush material when you're on the Fox morning show?
FM: It depends. Sometimes we're talking more about relationships. I always try to throw in my opinion if they ask for it. I hope to have some sort of type of show in '09. So that's what we're working on right now. That's what I'm doing in the daytime. I'm always on the computer going back and forth with producers and writing stuff.
GM: Would it be a sitcom or a talk show?
FM: That's what we're going back and forth on. So we wrote both. And that's what we're pitching.
GM: Good luck with that. Do you think growing up with the name Finesse gave you that sense of humour? Or were you picked on?
FM: Both. Both. But it was always a conversation piece. People either called me 'Nesse or they call me Fin. I very rarely heard dudes say, "What's up, Finesse?" And it wasn't until I actually got to college that people started calling me Finesse. And that helped out. It actually helped out on the football field. It helped out just being popular at school. And I'm a frat guy so we were always throwing parties. So my college experience was probably the best time of my life. And SNL was second. (laughs)
GM: What was The Rock like back then?
FM: Well, I knew him our freshman year because we all came in together. Just a quiet guy. He was really quiet. And he was going through a couple injuries himself. And when we went into our junior year I was off the team and I guess that's when he was this other personality. Because the guy I see on TV was not the guy I knew our freshman year. He was a little quiet. But I guess you had to really know him.
GM: How many years did you play?
FM: Just two. My freshman and sophomore year.
GM: Is this tour kind of like travelling with the team?
FM: Yeah, we've become a small little family now. And it's so funny to have somebody from Ireland, Scotland, London, because they're always talking about their history and who invaded who and who owes who what, who's in debt to who, and all that type of stuff. But it's so funny and so witty, everywhere we go we're cracking jokes. And we're not even really trying to, it's just happening. Because you know we're meeting normal people and we're always playing off of them. And it's just a funny situation. We could be at the airport. Danny Bhoy, they broke the handle of his bag. So he was like, "You guys broke my bag. You owe me a new bag." And they were like, "No, look at the sign. We don't cover handles." He was like, "But that's the only part you touch." Hilarious.
GM: And you've got a Canadian on the tour, too.
FM: Pete Zedlacher. That guy is funny. For 20 minutes he has you crying. He has this joke about the Canadian bird. The state bird or whatever you guys call it. The goose. Oh my God. It has people dying. It's a very funny tour. I can't wait to get to Vancouver because I had a great time the last time I was there. And I love the fact that your flowers are so colourful.
GM: Well, I hope they're still out when you're here.
FM: I don't know when I was there last. I know it was for the bachelor party. But I remember it being kinda cold. It wasn't warm. But I would say, "Man, look at those flowers, they're so blue and pink and orange and red and white!" They were all-colours type of flowers the neighbourhoods we were going in.
GM: Well, I look forward to seeing the show.
FM: All the beautiful women of Vancouver, come on out to the Just For Laughs comedy show. This is your boy Finesse Mitchell. Google me, find out who I am. It's gonna be hilarious and we definitely want you to come out. I think we added another show so it's been well received out there. I can't wait to get out there.
"It's not like my comedy's my own private business. I got into this shit to have people hear these ideas. And if people are poor and they wanna steal, I dunno. I know it's not right to think this way but I kind of give them a pass."
– Louis C.K.
Guy MacPherson: Louis, this is Guy MacPherson in Vancouver calling.
Louis C.K.: Hey, how are you doing?
GM: Good. You got a few minutes?
GM: Great. The last time we spoke was five days before my son was born and coincidentally his name is Louis.
LCK: (laughs) How's he doing?
GM: He's great. He's four now. I just bribed him. I said, "You have to be quiet while I'm doing an interview."
LCK: Ah, what did you give him?
GM: He's got some little gummies and is watching Caillou.
LCK: Oh, that's not bad. Caillou's okay. He's gentle.
GM: It's funny, now that he's four I totally appreciate your kid material.
GM: I think it's genius because parents relate, although they never give voice to those opinions, and then people without kids hate people talking about their kids anyway, so it's a win-win situation.
GM: Was that just dumb luck or calculated?
LCK: I just started doing it and people liked it. You know, that's kind of the way stuff like that works. If you're trying to find something that people are gonna like, you're never going to. You'll drive yourself nuts and it's no fun anyway. I think evolution worked that way. Species grew different parts and the ones that helped them stayed on and the ones that weren't helping dropped off. You know what I mean? So that's kind of what happens with an act because comedy's very Darwinist. You sort of just do all kinds of different things. Although I've done material that's been successful that I've cut. It's sort of different. It's turned upside-down for me now because there are things that get laughs right away and then I just feel, after doing them a little bit, that they're not genuine. They don't feel real to me so I drop 'em. And then there's other things that aren't getting any laughs and I just know there's something in there if I just stick with it until it does. I won't do it with the intention of not getting a laugh – which I just think is stupid. I'll try it until it works. And those [bits] usually wind up getting far more laughs and are more gratifying to the audience than the stuff that works easily.
GM: You're so popular now. Are you finding that people are laughing when they shouldn't be just because it's you on stage?
LCK: Um, you do have to keep yourself honest by just watching what you're doing. There are times, a place in the show where you're just doing so well you can just start saying almost anything. But you can't put too much veracity on the success of that material. But also there's the overall show versus the material. Like, if you scrutinize each piece of material, like this joke is good or bad. The overall show is important.
GM: And you do about an hour, right?
LCK: Yeah, usually a little more. Usually like an hour-ten.
GM: And it's new. Every year you're doing something new.
LCK: Yep. The hour-long special on Showtime that's on the air right now, which I shot in March, all that material is dead now. I do a different hour than that now.
GM: It's dead to you. Do you ever have something you like doing so much that you want to keep it; it's hard letting go?
LCK: I love throwing it away. What's kinda keeping me alive at this age as a standup is that I keep throwing material away. I reach a point where I just have no jokes.
GM: Why don't more comics do that?
LCK: Because jokes are addictive and laughs are addictive. And you get scared. You think, "I couldn't possibly do a show without that stuff. That stuff – that's my big stuff." But sure you can. Tell yourself you're going to do it.
GM: Then there's also the aspect of sitting down, or however you do it, and writing new material.
LCK: Well, to me the only way to write new stuff is to fill a void. It's like the way the diaphragm works in a person's body. It flexes and expands with nothing in them. That's how you breathe. I don't sit down and write. I don't do it. I can't. I can't write if I don't have to. I can't do things that I don't have to do. I'm a badly motivated person. So I have to make it a rule that I don't do material after a certain point. Because this is what I do for a living. The natural instinct of my brain will kick into high gear and give me stuff to talk about.
GM: So you come up with germs of ideas then go on stage somewhere and work them out?
LCK: I usually have a development period in the spring and early summer and then doing local clubs in New York and short sets and building material.
GM: And you put tons of clips up on the internet. I guess that's a way to spur yourself on. Hasn't the internet taken over the way TV used to be when everyone would basically watch the same shows because there were only three major networks? When somebody was on TV they'd have to burn that set because everyone would have seen it.
LCK: Even though less people, I think, watch clips on the internet than they do with television still, but it's always on. When you have a clip on YouTube, it's always there. It's not something that's on at a certain time; it's just there. And pretty much everybody that knows me has probably seen everything (laughs) because people binge watch and it's not that hard to just click around and watch everything that I have. I used to put stuff on more. I used to put stuff on as I developed it. I used to just do sets and tape them and then throw it on. The year I did the special Shameless and the year before that I did a half-hour for HBO, those two I threw clips on as I developed that material. And then I stopped doing that (laughs) because once my focus became doing these hours, I don't put undeveloped bad versions of that material out until I've put it out as a special in its best form. And then I don't care who chops it up and puts it out. The new special I have, there's like ten different people who have posted it on YouTube in different pieces. That's fine, that's great, I don't care. And sometimes people, when I was developing that set, they'd come to one of my shows with a camera phone, videotape it, and put it on YouTube. When that's happened, I've written the person and said... I don't tell them they have to take it down; I believe in sharing on the internet. But I just tell them, "I personally rather you wait until after it's come out in the special." And a hundred percent of the time they've taken it down.
GM: I know a lot of artists are more controlling about what goes up.
LCK: I dunno. I mean, I make my money on ticket sales. I'm not a person that makes money on royalties. If I did, I might feel differently. I don't know. The last album that Radiohead put out, they put the whole album on the internet for free. A free download for a finite amount of time. And then they took it down and put it on sale and it fucking killed, made a shitload of money. It's like radio. The internet is the radio. People don't know their history. It's ridiculous. This goes all the way back to rag music. You know why they call it a rag?
GM: No, I don't.
LCK: It refers to the sheet of music it's written on. It used to be, the only way you could ever hear music was to go see somebody play it. Around the late 1800s, if you wanted to hear a Scott Joplin song, or whoever the fuck, you had to go watch him play. And before there were records or anything, there were rags, which were the sheet music and lyrics of a song. And some musicians got the idea to publish their songs as a thing you could go buy at a dime store and take it home and play it on your home piano. A lot of musicians said, "What are you, crazy? Because who's going to come watch you play it if they know how to play it themselves?" But obviously it made songs a huge hit and the person who wrote the rag would play it live and packed every theatre. And when they came out with the phonograph, everybody was like, "Shit! Of course, if they hear it at home on their radio, they'll never come out." Of course record sales promote live... And vice versa. Hey, guess what? You're getting paid for the record and the people made a shitload of money on those rags, too. I mean, it's just stupid. And the radio is free. Nobody gets paid at all for radio.
GM: Somebody does, don't they?
LCK: I don't think... I don't know. Do radio stations pay like a small fee to [the artists]? I don't think they make a shitload of money. But everybody goes and buys their records. It's proved over and over again that the more exposure the artist gets, the more people are going to seek it out.
GM: What about with your CD's? Are you okay, then, with people copying it or lending it?
LCK: I guess I am. I guess I don't care. Also, personally, I'm a pretty savvy person, computer-wise. I know how to use computers really well and I don't know how to get a bit torrent. I don't get any of that. I don't have time to teach myself how to download a torrent, you know what I mean? My new special is available that way, copiously. And after all these years of that stuff being available, I don't know how to do it. I don't have a real P-to-P thing, since Napster went down all those years ago. And I don't want to pay some subscription version of Napster when I can just buy it on iTunes for 99 cents. I have to believe that most people are like me or even more not going to go through this shit. But the people that do are fanatics. They love the material and they don't have the money to pay for it or they don't want to pay for it for whatever reason. But the people like that are good advertisers, good word of mouth. (laughs) I mean, you gotta understand. It's not like my comedy's my own private business. Like, I got into this shit to have people hear these ideas. And if people are poor and they wanna steal, I dunno. Like, I know it's not right to think this way but I kind of give them a pass. (laughs)
GM: And they'll probably be the first to line up to come see you.
LCK: That's a fact. People come up to me after shows a lot and they say, "Hey, man, I downloaded your stuff for free. I stole it. I'm sorry." And I'm like, "Hey, you're here. You paid 30 dollars to see me so I don't care."
"If you're telling anybody a story in any situation and you're not throwing a little bullshit in, you're just fucking wasting everybody's time."
– Louis C.K.
GM: Going back to that Darwinian thing, I think your personal material is genius as well because a lot of comics try to be as shocking as possible by going religious or political or with the vocabulary, and yet you just turn it on yourself and it's as shocking as anything out there without that being its sole purpose.
LCK: Right. Yeah, it's not why I do it, but I do like taking people to places that they're not used to going in a comedy show and giving them big laughs there. That, to me, is really rewarding. And it's not because I like being edgy or something; it's because I think it's a really good idea to go to areas in your mind that you're really afraid of and actually laugh in those places. What's not good about that?
GM: What's your truth quotient? Is that important to you, other than the joke being sort of generally true? Does it have to also be specifically true for you?
LCK: Oh, no. I mean, I have a lot of stories that I tell that I elaborate. Absolutely. I mean, if you're telling anybody a story in any situation and you're not throwing a little bullshit in, you're just fucking wasting everybody's time.
GM: (laughs) Do people get the wrong idea, then?
LCK: Uh... I suppose not. I don't lie about the way I feel about something. I'll exaggerate the way I feel or purify it or distill it, but I won't lie about how I feel about something. I'll describe a situation that I've been in and it's a real true story and I'll draw it with bigger, thicker lines. That's pretty common in fiction and even non-fiction writing. And then sometimes I'll throw in shit... Like, if I have a loose joke that doesn't fit anywhere, I'll throw it into a story where it didn't happen just to be economical and dense. I want my act to be very dense and for people to be laughing through most of it. So I think I owe it to my audience. If I was a newspaper and I had to vet my act for truthfulness, I'd be a pretty shitty comedian. But there are pieces of truth in all of it. I did a bit about how much I hate deer. That was in the last special. And I get passionately angry about the deer that I hated in that special. When I started doing it, I was living in the country and encountering them a lot. By the time I finally did it in the special, I just didn't hate deer at all. And it was really hard to get myself that whipped up into deer hatred. It just was excruciating. I hated that bit by the time the special was done and I was so glad to get rid of it. So that's somewhere where I was a little bit dishonest, but there was a day when I hated deer that much.
GM: And the part about your daughter being an asshole...
LCK: Look, that's the way some parents feel in certain moments. And I changed, too. I think I was a very young father and I think when you're a young father, you don't know what you're doing and everything feels like it's the worst thing ever. And you just go, "Fuck this!" And I think it's a very common feeling. And it's a hard feeling for people to admit to because it exists simultaneously with intense love for your kid. So that's what makes it very confusing and guilty to feel that way. So for me to just come out and say it on stage I think was cathartic for me and for other parents. But it's a few years down the line now. I said my daughter's an asshole when I had one kid and she was, like, 2 or 3. I have two kids now: a 3- and a 6-year-old. And I'm 41 and I feel differently about my kids. It's still just as hard as it was, but I can identify with the guy who said that, which was me. But I'm calmer. I take stress better because of them. Because of being trained by them. And my older daughter's a better person than I am, so I'm trying to catch up that way.
GM: When she's old enough and hears your old act, you'll explain just as you explained it to me, that it was frustrating but of course I love you.
LCK: Yeah. Look, I'll say, "Yeah, it was hard raising you, but also remember, it's comedy." She knows what comedy is. She's seen my act earlier. Like when I used to do Letterman a lot, I had these nice 5-minute sets, my kind of more quirky stuff that I used to do, and that's perfect entry-level stuff. Both of my kids have watched those sets and they love them. So they know what I do and they know that I exaggerate my anger if I'm angry and that it's fun to act these big emotions out as a comedian. They get that. And they even know that I've talked about them. But I can't show it to them, most of that stuff, because it's not for kids. But when they do see it I think they'll understand. They are a comedian's children so if anyone's going to be savvy it's going to be them.
GM: And I think everyone watching you gets that it's just parental frustration that we all feel and that there's a real love there even though you don't do a Rickles at the end and get all sentimental.
LCK: If you're really putting the time in as a parent, if you're really actually raising your kids, and spending real time with them and engaging them, you're going to get pissed off (laughs). But if you're an indifferent parent and a bullshit parent who has nannies, and fathers that go play golf on a weekend, that just boggles my mind. The idea that with the time you're not working... At least figure out something you can do to relax with your kids. I don't get it. And I don't judge people, but I don't understand that. And those people are generally in better moods than other parents.
GM: Well, I'm home all day with mine.
LCK: Yeah, me, too. I mean, when I'm not on the road, that's all I do. I go on the road three days a week and four days a week I'm home with my kids and I'm just with my kids. I don't put any time into anything else. I have a job I can put aside when I'm at home.
GM: Are you getting a divorce?
LCK: We're separated and we're divorcing right now, yeah. So my time with my kids is just me and them. That's changed the nature of my time with them.
GM: I've read that you're talking about it on stage.
LCK: I talk about what it's like to be divorced but I don't talk about her anymore. That's her private life. She doesn't share her private life with me anymore.
GM: You're just back from London.
LCK: Yeah, I was there for quite a while.
GM: You've spent a lot of time over there, even when you were a younger comedian, right?
LCK: I did used to go there a lot.
GM: They have ruthless hecklers there, I hear.
LCK: Yeah, I never got one. I never got one. One guy yelled at me, "You're a cunt" once when I was on stage and I let the moment pass and then I kept talking and nothing else happened. You know, actually I kind of got commented on from the audience this last trip. About two minutes into my act I realized I had said the word "shit" a number of times. And I said something like, "Wow, I've only been on stage for five minutes and I've already said 'shit' five times." And this guy said, [assuming a pompous British accent] "Actually, it's eight." And I just fucking eviscerated him. I don't think I've ever been that mean to anybody. The audience loved it. Because he was so pompous. It had nothing to do with him being British; he was just an ass. I don't even remember what I said, but I spent about ten minutes pissing right in his face to the huge delight of the audience. It was really fun.
GM: It helps, though, that he's British and sounds even more pompous, though, I'm sure.
LCK: Oh, totally! Look, you gotta be honest, there's no way you can say that all British people are pompous assholes but when one is, you're like, "Look at that fuckin' guy." You know, there's a trillion different kind of Jews - well, there's not even that many Jews (laughs), but there has to be at least as many kinds of Jews as there are Jews – but when a Jew is cheap, it's hilarious (laughs).
GM: I liked your quote about how great comics like Eddie Murphy and Steve Martin have made three good movies between them in 25 years. And yet it seems like so many great comics feel that's the route they have to go. Is it just the money, do you think?
LCK: No, it's exciting. Some people are more into being sort of stars and they're climbing a star ladder. I'm more into the work that I'm doing. I know I can do a great standup show so that's what I'm sort of concentrating on. I can get myself through writing a movie so I'll sometimes go try to get that job.
GM: You're in a couple now.
LCK: Yeah, I'm in a few movies. If somebody came to me and said, "Paramount wants to do a movie where you play this asshole and you walk around smirking at everybody and say wise-ass things," I'd be like, "Sure, man. Sounds like fun." (laughs) I don't know. I would definitely give it a shot. It's fun to act. It's funny. It's silly. I was in a movie where I played Martin Lawrence's partner. I was supposed to be, like, an agent with a blue-tooth earpiece and sunglasses and this whole get-up. I'm so not that guy. I mean, they shouldn't have hired me. I was terrible. But for me, I was like, "Sure! I'll be in a movie with Martin Lawrence. Fuck it." (laughs) It's just fun to do. But what I won't do is pursue a movie career. It's just a lot of work to audition for stuff. I've done like three movies and I didn't audition for any of them. I just got 'em on rep. So I don't have to be in movies. If they keep coming that way, I'll take 'em.
GM: You've written and produced and directed movies. Would you continue that?
LCK: Yeah, that's different. Because also the pursuit of that is not as tedious. You don't have to audition 50 to 1. I've gone out and pitched something like ten movies, at the most, and I would say 80 percent of those I've gotten at least paid to write them. So that's a pretty decent pursuit but it's having an idea and actually sitting down and writing, which is very hard to do. To write a movie is very fucking hard. And I don't honestly think I'm very good at it. (laughs)
GM: Well, they have people to rewrite it for you.
LCK: It's stay-at-home pay and it's hard to beat that, you know? So when I come up with something that's a marketable idea I will go pitch it and try to get paid to write it.
"Being on a TV show, that's like performing, that's like standup. Especially because the TV shows that I do are generally autobiographical and are built around me. So that's just sort of an extension of the standup. And I really love the idea of having a sitcom and having it actually stay on the air and work. That's definitely a dream."
– Louis C.K.
GM: You're developing a CBS sitcom now?
LCK: Yeah, to me TV is different because being on a TV show, that's like performing, that's like standup. Especially because the TV shows that I do are generally autobiographical and are built around me. So that's just sort of an extension of the standup. And I really love the idea of having a sitcom and having it actually stay on the air and work. That's definitely a dream. That's something I would love to do. I would rather that than the movie roles because I know TV. I know that business better. So yeah, I'm trying that now. Pamela [Adlon], from Lucky Louie, and I have written a pilot together for Paramount television and it's in the middle of the whole development process, which takes forever.
GM: Is it...
LCK: It's a sitcom. Man and wife.
GM: ... Lucky Louie without the swearing?
LCK: No, because it's definitely different. You know, every couple of years I've done one of these. Before Lucky Louie I did a pilot for CBS called St. Louie. And that didn't go to series and then Lucky Louie did go to series. They were very different from each other, too. This couple has more kids. I can't talk about it a lot because it's in the middle of this shit but it's very different totally but it's still, at its core, a very honest show about family life.
GM: Modelled after any particular favourites of yours?
LCK: This is what I said when I pitched it: If Lucky Louie was The Honeymooners, which it was (laughs), then this show would be All In The Family. The Honeymooners and Lucky Louie were very similar, although there was a kid. But really, The Honeymooners was a young couple. People don't look at it that way. But they were like a young couple trying to figure each other out and really fighting it out and trying to find each other. They had no money and it was shot on an extremely bare, theatrical set and based solely on performance and comedic skills, really. That was Lucky Louie also. So this would be modelled more after All In The Family. There's probably a little more of the house but still simple. And more about the long scenes. Like, Lucky Louie ended up being more story oriented than I expected. We ended up doing a lot of writing on that show to where we went to a bunch of different scenes. This show would be more... I don't know. It's different. There's a different relationship. Once you get past trying to figure each other out, you reach a new level with marriage. So that's what this is about.
GM: I read where you said that you lost the ability to offend.
LCK: I stopped thinking it was an issue. Once I sort of realized that it was better, it was actually more generous to an audience to take them to places and subjects that they just find exciting or cringe-worthy, to take people to those places, it's just more worth it to go there for laughs. Nobody's been there before – or usually. And it's a bigger payoff because they're laughing at shit they're afraid of. So why the fuck not? Why would you ever not want to do a joke about any subject unless there's nothing funny there. Or nothing real there. There are some comedians I've seen... I was watching a guy on YouTube who's like a tough-guy comic, like a real dark dude. And he's like, "So then I fuckin' gave her an abortion." (laughs) You know. Or like, "Yeah, I like going to abortion clinics for the buffet." I'm making that joke up. Nobody pulled that joke. But that kind of thing where he's like, "I'm gonna do five minutes on abortion just to fuck with these people." To me that's just boring. It's also cheap. It's a cheap trick. It's like sleight of hand, pretending that you're doing something courageous where you're actually doing something very predictable and you know there's always going to be a group of people who applaud you just for being in that area, material-wise.
GM: And there will be others who will automatically get offended.
LCK: And then other people are going to go, "Fuck you, PC faggots! This guy is the best! He's a fuckin' genius!" That kind of thing. But to me it's not worth going there. If you can get a bunch of people that really have never heard the words you're using or subjects you're talking about, even, brought up in public, I take them to that place and I see them getting upset if I go in that direction. And they kind of sink in their chairs, like, "I don't wanna go here. Please don't take us to this area." Then I go there and they're laughing uncontrollably at what I find there. That's a great victory to me. So why wouldn't you do it?
GM: Can you pinpoint the time? Was there an "aha!" moment when you realized you could go down those paths?
LCK: I don't know. There wasn't a moment but one thing I can point at as a control group, as a control of the experiment, the bit I did on Chewed Up about about how soon after September 11th you masturbated as a measure of how bad a person you are. When I first started doing that bit I was afraid to do it in certain places. I would think, is this a night for that bit or not? How's this audience going to take that bit? Then I found later in the year, "Oh yeah, I don't think about that anymore! I stopped checking on that."
GM: No one had probably ever thought of that take on the situation before yet we can all relate. And it's a philosophical question, too.
LCK: It is a philosophical question. It's not saying "Ha, ha, dead people! You guys suck!" It's saying that at the extreme of our recent memory is very valuable information about who we are. It's really talking about just me jacking off too much.
GM: On the surface.
LCK: Yeah. But I mean, you have to take responsibility for what you say. There are people that just won't see it that way. There are people that just go, "That's horrible that you would use that." That's the way that they would think of it. Well, anybody that thinks that, maybe they have a closer connection to the thing. But they heard another hour of material that night that was closer to somebody else that's not them and they weren't offended by it. So I think in some ways people singling themselves out as offended is very narcissistic. I mean, it's a comedy show. You don't go there to listen to a lecture about good ideas and what's nice to think. That's not what a comedy show is.
GM: But do you ever think, though, that when you're performing in New York you may have relatives of 9/11 victims in the audience?
LCK: I'll tell you what. Right after 9/11 people were in comedy clubs and it's all they wanted the comedians to talk about. Comedians on stage in New York City right after 9/11 just talked about "How fucking scary was that shit, huh?" and told stories of what was happening around them and how the city was processing it. Free speech and humour and unfettered speech and unfiltered impolite ideas are a very healthy way to cope with everything negative. And I think 9/11 proved that. I was on the road a lot then. I'd be like in Ohio or someplace and if I mentioned 9/11 people would either get tense or applaud patriotically (laughs), which is just weird. But right in New York City, where everybody knows somebody who was hurt, killed or [had a] changed life forever, those people were starving for therapy to talk about it.
GM: Do you ever do political material. I know you've got the big election next week.
LCK: No. This has been the most fascinating election. This has been the one to talk about if ever there was one, and I haven't touched it. Nobody needs me to do that. There are so many sources for political humour. And mainly because I'm building these sets. I have a very specific goal. There are comedians who are, "Oh, I've got to talk about this! This is going to help me get through tonight." And they do some version of a political joke. But I'm looking ahead to the beginning of next year when I'm going to shoot this next special. So I'm not going to do Sarah Palin jokes on my next HBO special.
GM: So the next special will be the tour we're going to see here in Vancouver?
LCK: Yeah. The tour I'm doing in Vancouver is ripe for shooting. It's probably going to be shot in January or somewhere in the first quarter of next year. Shameless is out. It's been out for a while. And Lucky Louie's episodes. And also this last special, Chewed Up, that's on Showtime this month, that'll be out on DVD in early December. December 16th it'll hit the streets. In Canada you can probably get it on Amazon up there.