“How soon after Patrick Swayze dies do you think Whoopi Goldberg will wait before she calls up Demi Moore just to %$#@ with her,” may be seen as shocking and ultimately taboo by most comedians, not to mention pedestrian visitors, but to Anthony Jeselnik, it makes for fresh, but incredibly perishable material.
“I’m just glad Natasha Richardson isn’t around to see this. If you ever want to turn someone against you, say what I just said,” said Jeselnik onstage, who is also ranked first among emerging comedians at AskMen.com.
At 6-foot-2, with his no-limits style, Cheshire Cat grin and unmistakable swagger, Jeselnik has made quite a few enemies, though the greater majority of the crowd are fans, as the typical response is of uproarious laughter.
He detests the term “too soon.” If not told immediately, the joke is entirely too late.
“I’ve got a too-soon in my back pocket for you guys,” he would say. “Don’t you worry.”
The Pittsburgh native stands seemingly unassuming before his set, trusty PBR in hand as though a casual observer while his darkly sharp mind analyzes his surroundings to create outrageous and, sometimes, even to regulars, unexpected commentary – with enough inherent macabre to render a Disney musical a Hugo masterpiece.
Jeselnik, 30, has been a monologue writer on ‘Late Night with Jimmy Fallon’ since its debut on March 2, even providing its first stand-up act. He earned his comedic stripes by writing for such big names as Jimmy Kimmel and Sarah Silverman, even responsible for the latter’s since-famous quip about Britney Spears at the MTV Video Music Awards.
To sharpen his scathing wit, however, Jeselnik regularly performs at comedy clubs – almost nightly at the Comedy Cellar.
Not one to disappoint by regurgitating washed-up standards, Jeselnik tries to keep his routine original. Instead of belittling himself like many of his comic brethren, he opts to augment his perceived persona.
“I was nervous when I started and it was easy to hide the nervousness behind being kind of deadpan,” said the Jack Handey fan, also inspired by Michael O’Donoghue’s famous ‘second smile.’ “I feel like when I walked on stage, people thought, ‘look at this tall, young kid.’ I didn’t want to be self-deprecating and talk about problems with women. I wanted to act like the person they thought I was – only multiply it times ten.”
Delivered in a remarkably smooth, baritone voice – with a tinge of depravity – the audience hungrily ate it up, though some were more bashful than others – a decadent secret and guilty pleasure.
Jeselnik did not always aim to work in professional jocularity, contrary to what many would believe. His initial intent, upon graduating from Tulane with a degree in literature, was to be a novelist, but he moved to Los Angeles to pursue screen writing.
“I was going to be a screen writer and I hated that so much – it was even worse than being a novelist,” said Jeselnik. “As soon as I got into comedy, I knew that that was it.”
A large portion of Jeselnik’s set focused on crowd work, during which he effectively fenced with hecklers while maintaining comedic integrity.
“I’m not a crowd-pleaser by any means, but there’s always someone in the crowd who’ll say that I’m his favorite,” he said.
With credits including Comedy Central Presents, Premium Blend and HBO’s “Down and Dirty with Jim Norton,” that particular theory has been effectively realized and he is among the favorite of quite a few.
Throughout all this, while working hard, long hours the former Borders employee has been enjoying himself immensely. After all, writing jokes and performing nightly is entirely much more interactive and fun than the indoor, solitary nature of a novelist.
“I couldn’t believe I was able to get away with that on stage,” said Jeselnik. “So it’s been incredible.”