An interview with comedian Tom Green

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Image © Tom Green

We talk Trump, comedy and counter-culture with Tom Green

Tom Green is in the UK for the first time with his European Comedy Road Trip. The 90s alternative comedy star shot to fame with MTV’s The Tom Green Show, before the films Freddy Got Fingered and Road Trip solidified a humour that a whole generation of noughties schoolkids took as their own. It was a humour that spoke to them - that their parents didn’t understand - and that rode the crest of the newly breaking DIY internet wave. Now, at 45, he’s back on the stand up circuit, and London Calling spoke to him about his show, his comedy roots and how his humour has evolved over time.

London Calling: Thank you very much for speaking to us. Can you tell us a bit about your new show?

Tom Green: I’m talking about lots of different subjects. It’s a stand-up show - no music, just full-on comedy. I cover lots of subjects, make observations about ridiculous things and tell funny stories, but it’s mostly jokes - I don’t talk about my old shows or anything. I talk about how I know the President of the United States, because he fired me on The Apprentice, and I talk about technology and relationships. I do a lot of improv as well - it’s pretty high energy. It’s a mix of social commentary and absurdity. I try to make a point whilst having a fun time and being a bit ridiculous.

LC: How is it returning to stand-up?

TG: I started when I was a teenager 30 years ago. Now, at 45, I have experienced a lot of things and I can get a lot of laughs at my own expense. We’re living in very strange times - there’s a lot of change happening socially and politically. There’s a lot to talk about that people are engaged in.

I’m also excited about connecting with people. Tom just re-launched for mobile and a lot of my old videos are on there. I’m on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook - as much as I make fun of social media in my show I do use it a lot. I know it bothers me because I use it a lot. This is my first full tour of the UK and I’m really excited - we’re going to have a blast!

Image courtesy of Tom Green

LC: Who are some of your biggest influences in stand-up?

TG: When I started I was a big fan of Norm Macdonald and Harland Williams - two guys who were touring in Canada at the time - as well as David Letterman, who really inspired me to do my own TV show. George Carlin and Richard Prior are big influences too - they’re two of the greatest ever. I like Carlin because of his commentary: his writing was so crafted and the way he wrote a joke was just perfect. I love Pryor because of his brutal honesty and his ability to leave his personal self on stage. I leave a lot of my personal experiences in my shows too.

LC: Looking back, did you feel like you were doing something really new at the time with your TV show?

TG: Absolutely. I did the show on Public Access TV for many, many years before I had any success with it. I would write up descriptions of the show and send them to TV networks in Canada, and eventually the States, trying to get somebody to pick up the show. I was doing it voluntarily and, although it was popular on cable TV, I was living at my parents and I wasn’t getting paid. It was very frustrating. I was saying “Nobody’s doing this!” and people didn’t understand how that was a good thing. They’d say “yeah. Nobody’s doing that.” ”No, but we’re shooting it with a home video camera. It doesn’t look like a TV show - it’s guerrilla. We’re interacting with real people, we’re getting real reactions and doing things that would never be done on television”. People would look at us and say “yeah. This would never be on television.” Then, when it finally got on MTV, the show exploded instantaneously because people had never seen anything like it.

I was a skateboarder, I watched a lot of skate videos, I listened to a lot of hiphop music, and I always sought things from outside the mainstream. Back in the 80s and 90s that wasn’t as normal as it is today. There was no internet, so people were watching TV, and listening to the radio, and being told what to listen to. I was on the cusp of that generation of people who were making an effort to find things from outside of the box.

Image courtesy of Tom Green

LC: Why do you think your humour translated so well over here in Britain?

TG: When I come to England a lot of people think I’m American. I say I’m not, I’m Canadian, and they say “Oh, that’s the same thing mate”. It’s funny, because it’s really not the same. When you grow up with Monty Python, and Benny Hill, and the more absurd British-influenced comedy then that gets injected into everything you do. The Tom Green Show was not very American. It stood out in America for that reason.

I add a lot of physicality into my humour, and a lot of absurdity. It’s not just angry ranting about politics, which is more of an American style, there’s physicality and silliness. When you don’t grow up in America you’re more aware that there are different styles of comedy. I’m aware of the fact that there’s a whole world out there, and people look at the world differently than Americans do. I pay attention to that when I’m writing - I’m always thinking universally. I try to think of jokes that apply to global audiences, not necessarily things that are just going to play in the States.

LC: What are your other cultural highlights at the moment?

TG: I recently set up a nice record player and started buying some vinyl. I’ve spent my whole life listening to hiphop music, 90s hiphop mainly, but I wanted to start getting into some new ‘old’ music. I’m starting to get back into punk rock. I picked up a couple of records from a vinyl store in LA - The Angry Samoans, The Spits, GBH, Sex Pistols, and some California punk rock. I feel like with everything that’s going on politically right now - with Donald Trump, my old boss, being the president - it’s time to listen to some more protest music.

Tom Green’s European Comedy Road Trip is at the O2 Academy Islington on June 17, at 6pm and 8pm. Tickets are £26.