Anthony Jeselnik On How To Be Funny By Being Mean
There are plenty of ways to be mean. Anthony Jeselnik uses them all. Here, the creator and star of Comedy Central’s The Jeselnik Offensive talks about finding the funny in everything.
Anthony Jeselnik has nothing nice to say about anything. His persona is that of an arrogant prick, constantly airing grievances and confessing evil deeds. Frequent targets of abuse include family members, small children, and any woman with the misfortune of being one of his girlfriends. Through sheer commitment to character, though, and a deep respect for old-school joke crafting, Jeselnik has elevated “being a dick” to an art.
Of course, nobody gets laughs merely by saying horrible things. There’s a certain finesse to it—a strategy built on misanthropy—of which Jeselnik is the undisputed master. The cranky comedian recently shared with Co.Create the tricks to cracking jokes by being a jerk.
Appeal to your audience’s dark side.
I think the biggest laugh is when someone laughs at something they don’t think they should be laughing at. It’s just a different kind of laugh, and that’s the only laugh I want from an audience.
Desensitize through quantity.
People can feel a little better about laughing at something awful when it’s surrounded by other horrible things.
Smuggle mean in with the humorously tragic.
When I wrote for Fallon, my favorite stories were the more tragic ones that people could still make fun of. Like when the inventor of the Frisbee dies. It’s a chance to make a funny, silly joke about that, but it was also making fun of someone who just died.
Go ahead and offend people; they’ll get over it.
There’s a guy from New Zealand who was demanding an apology from me for this shark bit I did on the show recently. And I couldn’t care less. I would never apologize for anything. He’ll forget about it in a week. It doesn’t matter. He doesn’t know who I am. The criticism was “How can you make fun of New Zealand sharks when you wouldn’t make fun of 9/11 or Newtown?” I’ve made fun of both of those things a few times on the show.
Be mean for the right reasons.
Laughing after a tragedy takes the power away from it.
It depends on why you’re making the joke. Are you trying to get attention for yourself? Or are you really trying to make people laugh at something. I think one is more noble than the other.
People like being insulted…sometimes.
There’s something about not taking yourself seriously that’s really fun. Especially if someone’s good at it.
Use “third thought” to make mean twists surprising.
If I give you the setup of a joke, a punch line might pop in your head right away. That’s the first thought. But if your punch line is the first thought, nobody’s going to laugh at it because they’ve all already thought of it. If you sit there and think about what else might happen—the second thought—that could be an okay joke. But the third thought is where you really blow people away, because it’s something that they would have put together eventually, but it takes a while.
The bigger the tension, the bigger the release.
Sometimes the punch line is something offensive, sometimes the setup is offensive—where it just makes people uncomfortable. That’s when you can really pull the rug out—because they’re looking one way. You build up the tension and then release the tension, and everybody laughs. I just think you get a bigger laugh when you’re talking about offensive subjects
Pretend there’s no line (because there isn’t one).
There’s no line. Comedy can go anywhere, as long as you can make it funny.