Crass. Obnoxious. Unapologetic. Loutish. This sort of language has regularly been used to describe Jim Jefferies’ stand-up comedy since the Sydney-born performer found wider recognition in the early 2010s. Jefferies – who’s been based in the US for over a decade – is unlikely to refute any of these descriptors, but that’s not to say his work is cynical or morally bereft.
Yes, there’s a heck of a lot of swearing in Jefferies’ comedy (he has a special affinity with the c-word) and he evidently has some crosses to bear when it comes to ex-partners, but Jefferies is also avidly left-wing, a fact that significantly informs his comedic outlook.
Jefferies’ positions are rarely expressed along party-political lines, mind you. He’s more of a bullshit de-clutterer, someone expert in pointing out the inanities of ultra-conservatism and blind nationalism. But in the same breath as exposing right-wing dog whistles, Jefferies is liable to dip into vulgar sex talk or shed light on his own apish behaviour.
With a major Australian tour lined up for next month, we’ve put together a primer on the personality and comedian that is Jim Jefferies, illustrated through these clips from Jefferies’ various stand-up specials and talk show appearances.
Jim Jefferies’ reputation is inextricably tied to his routine on gun control. In a clip taken from
his 2014 stand-up special Bare, Jefferies begins by assuring the American audience that he believes in their “right as Americans to have guns.” It’s more of a cover-my-arse disclaimer, however, as Jefferies goes on to dismantle any reasonable argument in favour of gun ownership.
Jefferies’ argument boils down to this: if you want guns, just admit it’s because you like guns and cut the crap about it being written in the constitution or that guns are necessary for protecting your family. Jefferies’ incisive articulation on the matter, along with being very funny, holds up as a moral re-education tool. The gun control routine not only elevated Jefferies to much wider international fame following Bare, but it’s the sort of bit that fills other stand-ups with professional envy.
Jefferies recorded his Freedumb special live from Nashville, Tennessee in the lead up to the 2016 US Presidential election. In this clip from the show, he acknowledges his previous specials were taped in locations sympathetic to his liberal views – namely San Francisco, New York and Boston. But having travelled to the American South for Freedumb, he wants to make it clear that he won’t be toning it down.
Now, of course, Trump’s an easy target for Jefferies’ lacerating incredulity, and a Jim Jefferies show is unlikely to attract many right-wing zealots anyway. But Jefferies nevertheless makes a compelling case for why Trump-style jingoism and racialised fear-mongering ought to be dispensed with. Perhaps what’s most surprising is that Jefferies rounds off the routine with a moment of genuine tenderness.
Daily confusion in America
Despite moving to the USA while his career was still in its relative infancy and being the father of an American son, Jefferies continues to lean heavily on his Australianness and outsider status. Comparisons between his birthplace and adopted home are a recurring feature of his various stand-up specials, with Jefferies using the device to highlight American myopia.
In this 2018 appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Jefferies explains some of the more trifling aspects of living in America. You’ll find many old favourites for any travelling Aussie, such as the refusal to adopt the metric system, the illogic of Fahrenheit and the Americans’ scrambled way of listing the date. Sure, it’s low hanging fruit, but if anyone’s going to be skilled at picking it off the tree, it’s Jefferies.
The hapless alt-right
Riding high on the success of multiple stand-up specials and his growing status as a touring comic, Jefferies got his own Comedy Central talk show in 2017. Following the lead of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, The Jim Jefferies Show was explicitly political. In this segment, Jefferies draws attention to an alt-right gathering held on the one-year anniversary of 2017’s Unite the Right rally, a large white supremacist gathering in Charlottesville, North Carolina that led to the death of counter protestor Heather Heyer.
Described by Jefferies as a “who’s who of who’s not invited to Thanksgiving anymore,” the rally ended up being a total flop. Jefferies uses this fizzer to expose the fact that those on the extreme right actually spend the majority of their time celebrating failure. So much so, in fact, that he doesn’t think the movement’s self-styled neo-Nazis even warrant the title of “Nazi”.
The land of the “free”
Americans sure do love to boast about freedom. The final line of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ romanticises the national flag waving over “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” But what’s so unique about American freedom? Well, as Jefferies points out, it’s a more limited version of freedom than what you’d find in pretty much every other free nation on Earth.
In this clip from Freedumb, Jefferies reminds his American audience of the country’s staggering incarceration rates, which outdo even those in South Africa. In his reckoning, the fact that the Netherlands permits you to smoke weed while engaging the services of a sex worker in front of a police officer makes it just a bit freer than the USA, a country that would prohibit an 18-year-old adult film actor from legally drinking a beer.
The value of honesty and failure
In 2017, Jefferies sat down with noted portrait photographer Sam Jones for an episode of Jones’ webseries, Off Camera. In this clip, Jones compliments Jefferies on his willingness to let people think less of him in service of his comedy. Jefferies concurs and explains how much he respects public figures who’ve stuck to their guns even when they risked losing a bit of status or money for doing so.
This correlates with Jefferies attitude to his own work, which he says is all about honesty and telling his own truth. “Everyone always goes, ‘everybody’s like an iceberg – you only see this little tiny bit at the top,’” he says. “Well, I’m not. There’s about ten per cent underwater that I keep quiet, and the rest of it I’ve been pretty honest about.” It’s not the funniest clip you’ll see of Jefferies, but his remarks shine a light on what motors his typically unrestricted stand-up.
It’s worth mentioning that Jefferies’ stand-up isn’t entirely dedicated to politics and lifting the lid on his grotesque sexual escapades. In this clip, he gives observational comics like Michael McIntyre a run for their money with a bit centred on the high-drama of taking a date to a fine dining restaurant.
It’s well-trod territory, perhaps, but the routine isn’t delivered with seething cynicism – the subtext is that someone’s got to be doing pretty well for themselves to be in such an establishment in the first place. Jefferies’ descriptions of fine-dining customs are not just bulldozing, but very funny, even if he does aim a loaded epithet at these restaurants’ stereotypical French waiters.
Gun control revisited
Jefferies has released three stand-up specials since Bare and has presented three seasons of The Jim Jefferies Show, but the gun control routine continues to hang over his career like a disco ball in the school gymnasium. In this clip from 2018’s This Is Me Now, which was filmed in the UK, he reflects on how the routine’s popularity has become a blessing and a curse.
Although Jefferies isn’t an exclusively political comedian, he’s obviously pleased to have made a widespread impression with such a politically salient routine. But, he adds, “it’s a double-edged sword, because I get more popular after a massacre, and that’s really not what you want.” He then submits to public pressure and revisits some of the routine’s core themes, identifying further hypocrisies in the gun rights tug-o-war that continues to occur over in the USA.
James Packer and Mariah Carey
This clip displays just how pervasive Jefferies’ gun control routine has been. It begins with Jefferies confessing that he’s about to contravene the terms of a non-disclosure agreement, before telling the London audience of the time he was paid a huge sum of money to perform 12 minutes of stand-up at billionaire James Packer’s 50th birthday party.
It was during the period of Packer’s relationship with Mariah Carey, who’d come to believe Packer was a big fan of Jefferies’ work. But when the event transpired, Jefferies was greeted by nothing but apathy. That is, however, until Packer finally remembered that this was the guy responsible for the gun control bit. It’s all very absurd and shows that Jim Jefferies might’ve become a well-known comedian, but he’s still a long way down the ladder from the Hollywood elite.
Jim Jefferies will make his triumphant return to Aus next month for a national romp, hitting a number of theatres in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. Head here for tour dates.