Jim Jefferies seems like an odd choice to host a weekly news and culture show on Comedy Central. But the channel, which has been home to the deliberately offensive “South Park” for the past 20 years, has invited a comedian who courts controversy and was once attacked on stage by an outraged member of the audience to take the helm of its newest late-night talk show. In his expletive-laden stand-up performances, Jefferies insults and ridicules pretty much everyone and everything; religion, he says, is a force for evil and pregnant women “are the worst people in the world.”
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Following in the footsteps of John Oliver, Samantha Bee and Trevor Noah, Jefferies has become the latest imported comedian to host a topical comedy show. Or, as he himself points out in the opening minutes of the first episode of “The Jim Jefferies Show,” which aired on Comedy Central earlier this month, he is just another example of immigrants coming over and stealing jobs from white Americans.
Until recently, Jefferies’ dubious claim to fame was that he single-handedly overturned a long-standing unwritten rule of comedy clubs in the United States: a ban on use of the word “cunt” – which is perceived very differently in America and in Jefferies’ native Australia. In Australia (and even more so in the United Kingdom), the C-word is far less offensive than it is in North America; in fact, it is often used as an admittedly risqué term of endearment. Not content with bringing the word into comedy clubs, however, Jefferies incorporated his achievement into his act, referring to himself as “the Rosa Parks of saying ‘cunt’.”
Hosting on Comedy Central is not Jefferies’ first foray into television. In addition to a half dozen or so specials on Netflix and elsewhere, he also co-wrote and starred as a semi-fictional version of himself in “Legit,” which aired on the FX network. Despite critical acclaim – the raucous, bawdy and often touching first season of the show has a 91 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes – “Legit” was canceled after two seasons. In his review of the series, Glenn Garvin of the Miami Herald said that it is “the most degraded, debauched and degenerate show on TV.” And he meant it as a compliment.
While Jefferies’ stand-up routines are unreservedly and unapologetically salty, covering a dizzyingly broad selection of issues – religion, alcoholism, terrorism, celebrities, gun control, recreational drug use, sex, marriage and relationships – his targets on “The Jim Jefferies Show” are much more familiar. A large slice of the first episode was dedicated to President Donald Trump and a rundown of the world leaders that Trump has cozied up to: Turkish dictator-in-waiting Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Philippines president and rape advocate Rodrigo Duterte and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
That segued into a section I’m sure I’ve seen on at least half a dozen similar TV shows, about the Dutch tradition of donning blackface at Christmas to represent Zwarte Piet (Black Pete), the companion of Santa Claus in Low Countries folklore. Jefferies relied on a highly formulaic approach to the (highly non-topical) issue: sarcastic comments about the Netherlands’ famed liberalism on other issues, mocking interviews with advocates of the tradition and outraged condemnation from a Dutch black activist.
It was when the show returned to the studio, however, that viewers got a glimpse of the real Jim Jefferies. After discussing the state of racism in the United States, Jefferies put forward his proposal to end the phenomenon: Two years a slave. If every ethnic group in America was forced to live under the yoke of slavery for two years, he argued, then racism would become a thing of the past. First the whites (“As a measure of good faith – otherwise no one will trust us”), then the Asians, the Latinos (“That should be a fairly smooth transition; many of them won’t even know it’s happening”) and so on. Arabs and people from the Middle East would be low down on the list, because “they’re a bit of a temperamental bunch,” according to Jefferies.
This is Jefferies at his best. He clearly doesn’t care about offending and his offense is funny. After condemning Sweden for practicing eugenics until as late as 1975, which he described as “horrible,” he showed a picture of attractive female Swedish soccer fans in skimpy clothing and said, “You can’t argue with the results!”
Melania for laughs
In the second episode, Jefferies decided to go after a different Trump – First Lady Melania. Visiting Mrs. Trump’s hometown in Slovenia, Jefferies met with local business owners who are cashing in on the town’s most famous daughter by hawking everything from soap to salami bearing Melania’s first name. Not her full name, however, because – as the First Lady’s legal representative in Slovenia pointed out – using the Trump name would be a copyright violation.
Never one to pass up an opportunity to make a smutty joke, Jefferies asked the soap vendor whether Melania was known to be particularly dirty; the salami joke must have written itself. It was no-holds-barred stuff: when he was told that a Christmas tree in the city had been named after Melania, he asked whether it was because she’s wooden, too.
After that highlight, the show almost inevitably returned to Melania’s husband, with a long section on the difficulty of removing a president from office by impeachment. Although the jokes are funny – including flashing a warning across the scene urging viewers not to assassinate the president – the subject matter is almost beneath Jefferies. A comedian who has made a career out of outrageous political incorrectness and gratuitous but hilarious profanities should be able to come up with something more original than laughing at Donald Trump’s fried chicken diet and making Bill Clinton blowjob jokes.
After sitting through 18 of the show’s 21 minutes, laughing out loud a couple of times and enjoying several of the jokes, still I was underwhelmed. And I was totally unprepared for the show-stopping finale, which followed a tirade berating Trump for pulling out of the Paris Accord on global warming. This was a cameo appearance by Brad Pitt as the show’s weatherman, who delivered a grim assessment of the future of the planet, declaring: “There is no future.” Pitt reprised the role in the second episode, telling the audience with a dead smile that, “Carbon dioxide is slowly turning our planet into an uninhabitable wasteland – and half the population don’t believe it.” Jefferies signs off his show by saying that, “I think we can all do better.”
If he picks his targets with the same abandon and imagination that goes into his stand-up work and his earlier television writing, so, too, can Jefferies.