Sunday, January 21, 2018
Stage

Anthony Jeselnik scoffs at boundaries

By Jay Cridlin

Times Staff Writer

Writing for Late Night With Jimmy Fallon taught Anthony Jeselnik a valuable lesson about the world of late-night TV.

"When I hired my staff, I made sure not to hire anyone who wanted my job," the host of Comedy Central's The Jeselnik Offensive said in a recent phone interview. "And I didn't know it at the time, but I wanted Jimmy's job. Maybe not that of late-night host, but I was kind of thinking how I would do it, second-guessing him, and of course you don't want that as a host."

That's the challenge when your comedic persona is as immaculately defined as Jeselnik's. The standup, who performs Saturday at the Straz Center in Tampa, specializes in pitch-black subject matter like rape and suicide, hammering each joke home with a shotgun blast of a twist.

For example, from this year's Caligula: "The problem with my girlfriend now is that she's got like a million shoes. Like a million shoes! And she doesn't even like to wear them. I swear, she just likes stealing from the Holocaust Museum."

So you can see how Jeselnik only lasted a year on Fallon's happy-go-lucky Late Night.

But even on his own show, Jeselnik has found he's had to temper his acidic sense of humor — and not necessarily because of network standards.

"My own act is all just me carving out jokes; I have a lifetime to do it," he said. "On a TV show, you've got one week, you've got a week's worth of material, and you've got to go. I wouldn't even call it a difference in quality, but more of a difference in style. There's a certain style you have to have to do a late-night show. We treat it like a show that would be on every night, so you want to be as topical as possible. So you're going in with stuff that I wouldn't do in my standup, frankly — but I wasn't doing my standup every week for half an hour."

Jeselnik — a polite guy in real life — said he still wanted The Jeselnik Offensive to represent his merciless standup persona as much as possible. "I wanted to make a show that would talk about the things that no other show would talk about. (Other) shows would say, 'Oh, we can't make a joke about that, someone died.' Well, we can. Let's see how much we can get away with."

Since The Jeselnik Offensive premiered in February, it has evolved beyond an outlet for comics to unleash their nastiest barbs. It's also become a testing ground for surreal, anything-goes talk-show antics — like the time Eric Andre lobbed lit firecrackers at fellow comic T.J. Miller.

"The cameras never stopped rolling, which was pretty funny," Jeselnik recalled. "I thought we were cutting. When the stage manager runs out on stage, I think, 'Ah, this is over, everyone's getting fired.' People don't realize what a big deal it is to light off fireworks on a TV show. If you were to light a match and hold it up on TV, you have to hire a fire expert to come. There's all kinds of insurance things. It could have been really bad."

But, he added: "I felt completely calm. I knew exactly what was happening as soon as it started happening."

Jeselnik has been mentally preparing to host a late-night comedy show for years. In fact, his ultimate career goal at one point was hosting Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live.

The Jeselnik Offensive premiered three months before NBC announced that Update's current anchor, Seth Meyers, would be leaving SNL to replace Fallon at Late Night. And for a moment, Jeselnik's Weekend Update fantasy flared up again.

"I talked to people when Seth said he was leaving, and I thought, 'I want my name mentioned in the room when they're talking about possible replacements,' " he said. "And my manager went and brought it up and said, 'You know, you've got your own TV show with your name on it. It's beyond Weekend Update. There's no way.' And I was fine with that. Why would I give up control at this point?"

Comments
Orchestra sets off fireworks in the brassy ‘Sinfonietta’

Orchestra sets off fireworks in the brassy ‘Sinfonietta’

TAMPA — Many times during Sinfonietta, Leoš Janácek’s notoriously difficult but joyous work, it was impossible for a regular patron of the Florida Orchestra to escape this observation: They have never sounded quite like this.This isn’t to say musicia...
Published: 01/20/18
‘Mike Hammer - Encore for Murder’ serves up hard-boiled 1950s fare with a healthy side of wit

‘Mike Hammer - Encore for Murder’ serves up hard-boiled 1950s fare with a healthy side of wit

CLEARWATER — From the moment the title character takes center stage, Mike Hammer — Encore for Murder is sold. Rarely does one actor own an entire production the way Gary Sandy owns this world premiere, and it’s a pleasure at watch, in large measure t...
Published: 01/19/18
Inside American Stage’s plan to offer free or reduced admission to young people

Inside American Stage’s plan to offer free or reduced admission to young people

ST. PETERSBURG An air compressor did most of the talking as the small crew stapled down flooring to the stage. A master carpenter kept unskilled but eager workers on track, telling them where to line up edges. An astringent smell of glue permeated t...
Published: 01/18/18
What’s on stage this week: Riverdance, ‘Mike Hammer,’ ‘The Tempest’

What’s on stage this week: Riverdance, ‘Mike Hammer,’ ‘The Tempest’

RIVERDANCE AT 20: CIARA SEXTONShe’s a former world champion in Irish dance, and now Ciara Sexton, center, is leading Riverdance in Tampa. A lead dancer and soloist with the troupe, Sexton said she has felt comfortable touring the states."What really ...
Published: 01/17/18
Steve Martin and Martin Short talk touring together and ‘newfangled old-fashioned’ variety show

Steve Martin and Martin Short talk touring together and ‘newfangled old-fashioned’ variety show

It’s barely been a year since Steve Martin and Martin Short last brought their roadshow to town. But there was never a doubt in their minds they’d be back."We thought — and I seriously mean this — we’ve got to play Florida more." Martin said in a pho...
Published: 01/17/18
Tampa Rep’s ‘Gnit’ is a sharp commentary on narcissism in the age of selfies

Tampa Rep’s ‘Gnit’ is a sharp commentary on narcissism in the age of selfies

By JULIE GARISTOTimes CorrespondentTAMPA — Tampa Repertory Theatre’s Gnit strikes gold for theatergoers who appreciate deadpan wit, clever wordplay and incisive commentary on the human condition.First produced in 2013, the retread of a Scandinavian c...
Published: 01/16/18
Review: Show Palace’s Pippin daring and dangerous

Review: Show Palace’s Pippin daring and dangerous

HUDSON —If you saw the musical Pippin when it first hit Broadway in 1972, or a high school drama club version, or even a touring company rendition a decade ago, it’s not exactly the Pippin you’ll see if you’re wise enough to go see the spectacular mo...
Published: 01/15/18
Updated: 01/18/18
Review: Richey Suncoast’s I Hate Hamlet worth shouting about

Review: Richey Suncoast’s I Hate Hamlet worth shouting about

NEW PORT RICHEY — Many years ago I lived near New Orleans, and one of my favorite pastimes was to put my son in his stroller and saunter up and down the streets of the Vieux Carre.But Bourbon Street in the late afternoon was our favorite. Back then, ...
Published: 01/15/18
Updated: 01/18/18
A play about Miami’s Cocaine Cowboys is becoming a reality

A play about Miami’s Cocaine Cowboys is becoming a reality

MIAMI — The idea seemed outlandish, maybe even impossible at the time: a one-man play about Miami’s infamous Cocaine Cowboys of the 1980s. Some 15 years ago, the Miami-raised Billy Corben was deep into research for what would become Coca...
Published: 01/15/18
Updated: 01/16/18
With Zev Buffman at the creative end, Ruth Eckerd Hall brings Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer to the stage

With Zev Buffman at the creative end, Ruth Eckerd Hall brings Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer to the stage

An actor famous for playing a radio station manager will star this week in the world premiere of a radio play.Mike Hammer: Encore for Murder brings Gary Sandy, who played Andy Travis on WKRP in Cincinnati, to Ruth Eckerd Hall. And the star power was ...
Published: 01/12/18
Updated: 01/13/18