Interview: Jim Jefferies – 'I'm the Rosa Parks of "c*nt"'
Taste-busting US-based Australian comic insists he was never offensive as he brings his Freedumb tour to the UK
If you had to pick a comedian out of a line-up who once performed for Prince William, trained in their 20s to be an opera star and loves ventriloquism, it wouldn't be Jim Jefferies. The Australian comic has had a hard reputation to maintain with early-career tales of his involvement in the porn industry, being robbed at machete point and discovering a tumour in his penis as well as reams of intoxicated shenanigans. So to hear that he once told jokes in front of the future King, sang twice in the chorus of Opera Australia and can't get enough of Nina Conti's work feels like a bolt from the blue.
'I played at St Andrews many, many years ago when he was a student and I was a very young comic,' recalls the now LA-based stand-up. 'I was briefed before the gig and they made it clear that we were not to heckle him or roast him and not even to really talk about him being there. But I can understand that; I've had some celebrities in the audience and it's a given thing that you don't point them out.'
In the three years prior to Jefferies starting on the road to stand-up infamy, he appeared in public with Opera Australia. 'This was a chorus which the government paid for so I did an audition and got in. People think I'm lying about this but I'm not. I'd sung in school musicals and been alright but now I can hardly sing a lick: my throat is wrecked to bits from yelling on stage.' For the record, he's a fan of Puccini and Mozart, but 'doesn't want to hear anything heavy like Wagner and Purcell'.
Having moved to the UK in order to seriously to pursue a long yearned-for stand-up career, Jefferies began wooing the Edinburgh Fringe throughout the 2000s with largely personal shows such as Porn Idol, 30 and Hammered. Inevitably, his style and content upset as many as it charmed and he's had a whole heap of accusations levelled at him: this reached its height when he was notoriously assaulted on stage at the Manchester Comedy Store by a less than amused observer.
While Jefferies insists that he never set out to offend anyone, he's largely unrepentant about his material. 'I don't think that I'm actually that offensive. As the years have gone by I certainly haven't got more offensive: the comics around me have. Yes I still say "cunt" a lot, but that means nothing in America. In a show I've just recorded, I basically call myself "the Rosa Parks of 'cunt'" because when I came out here seven years ago, it was banned in comedy clubs: it was the one word you could not say. About five years ago that ban was lifted and I feel that I am somewhat responsible for that. I have brought America that word.'
With a show title such as Freedumb, it's logical that we'll be expecting a long tirade about the current US election campaign and, in particular, the presumptive nominee of the Republican party. 'Well, you have to call a show something, don't you?' states Jefferies by way of sidestepping any concerns that it will be a solid and sustained rant about Trump. 'There will maybe be ten minutes on the election. A lot of it is about the hate mail I received after I commented on the second amendment. I had a routine on gun control and, for all their freedom talk, I sure got abused by a lot of them. A lot of the show is about debunking the idea that America is the most free country on earth.'