Legit (FXX, Wednesdays, 10/9C) was a dark and twisted surprise when it took the work of standup comic Jim Jeffries and got him to fashion it into a half-hour comedy. The show, about a standup comic and his best friends – an alcoholic sad sack and a remarkably cheerful quadriplegic – became one of those shows that dares you to redefine your definition of offensive.
This season, Legit moves from FX to its new sibling, FXX and (surprise!) gets darker and more twisted. It also begins to move away from Jeffries’ standup – though it does remain somewhat autobiographical. On Monday, Jeffries talked about the new season with a group of journalists/bloggers.
Jim, great to talk to you. I want to find out what first season mistakes you learned and how you approach season two going into it with the knowledge of how you finished the season.
Jim Jeffries: In the first season, honestly I hadn’t written a sitcom before and it was a little bit more fly by the seat of your pants in the sense that the first season is based, …eight of the episodes were based directly from my standup. This season there’s actually one episode based on a standup routine. The rest of it is a full linear story this year that we’ve organically come up with. I’ve just now watched all Season 2. Season 1 had, to be honest with you, maybe three or four episodes that I wasn’t super proud of at the end of it, but you never make an episode going “I’m going to make a … one.” You know what I mean? You want them all to be good, but there were little tricks and little things that I maybe was slightly naïve about in the first season, so there are three or four of them I wasn’t super happy with. Now this year I’ve watched…. I think it’s substantially better than Season 1 and this season there’s one episode I’m not completely happy with; and I won’t tell you which one, because maybe you’ll like it.
Also when you’re writing the first season, you haven’t even cast the actors yet. You don’t know what their strengths and what their weaknesses are. You don’t know where they’ll take the character themselves. But now like for instance the character Steve is very well defined now, what Dan Bakkedahl does really good on…, so with this season he’s very good at playing big, so this season he becomes a full blown alcoholic, which progressively gets worse throughout the whole season. And not like a comedy alcoholic like from the movie Arthur, but like a real tragic figure, a guy who’s actually falling down the rabbit hole and he’s losing everything in his life. I think that’s a very interesting thing to put into a comedy, because often what you deal with addiction in comedy it is sort of a funny sort of like “here’s junky Phil who lives down the hallway;” but this one is the raw side of that. It’s still funny.
My little follow-up is—
Jim: I don’t know if that answered your question. I’m not sure.
It certainly does, and as a fan of your standup and hearing that it’s not as much based on your standup, is the show going to allow you come do another U.S. visit? There’s a particular C word I really like the way it comes out of your mouth and you can’t do it on FXX.
Jim: Right. Are you saying does the show allowed me to say that word, or—
No, no, with the schedule of the show, are we going to be able to see you in the States, just you doing your standup?
Jim: I am on tour at this very moment. I just got back from doing—I was just at a gig on Saturday in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia on Friday. I did Atlanta last week. If you go on my website, I’ve got dates for the next three months and I had planned on recording a brand new special in Boston in two months’ time. I have a deal with a network, with a channel to release that, but I can’t tell you which channel yet. There’s a deal set.
(The Moderator can’t pronounce the person’s last name)
Jim: Jeffery is my middle name. I had to change my name from—my realtor name was Nugent,and that’s why the character in the show, the family in the show is called the Nugents because when I was living in Australia and started doing standup they used to introduce me as … or … Ted Nugent is not very popular in Australia; let’s just put it that way.
Not anywhere, actually. I was going to ask you, let’s see, I saw the four episodes that they sent out and they were really funny.
Jim: Thank you.
It’s one of those shows where you’re sort of going along and you go, okay, okay, that’s funny, ha, ha, ha; and then something happens and you just go oh my gosh, that’s so funny. I love when it does that.
Jim: We try to have a few little laughs and then try of have one sort of—one or two real big moments. I think that’s how life is. You’re with your friends, you laugh a little bit, you laugh a little bit, and then something big happens. I think a lot of network sitcoms it’s just laughs per minute. I don’t think they even care how big the laughs are. As long as they can pack so many into that timeline. We have episodes where there’s maybe five, six minutes where nothing funny happens, but you got to keep the story compelling is what I think. Anyway, that wasn’t your question, but that’s the question I’ll ask for you.
That’s okay. I was going to ask you, I think we’ve got four episodes. How many episodes are there total in the season?
Jim: There are 13; there are 13.
Thirteen. Now that you had the first season under your belt, are you finding are people recognizing you more? Are you getting more fan feedback about the show?
Jim: Yes, I wouldn’t say I’m getting recognized more or that I’m more famous. I was already recognized a fair amount because of my standup, but I’m getting different demographics of people recognizing me. I’m getting more all ages. It used to be that people that came to my standup were just sort of men in their mid-20s used to come and watch me perform standup; but now I’m getting noticed by the opposite sex and … couples will come up to me in a restaurant and say we just love your show. It’s never couples that enjoyed me. It was always just the guy with his friends who enjoyed me. I kind of think that the show—I think people thought when I was going to make a sitcom that it would just dirty or it would just be whatever, you know and it is. It is dirty at times, it’s very similar what I do in standup, but it’s also I think it sounds sweet, almost sickly sweet at times.
Yes, it’s well balanced between the really just sort of—I don’t want to say awful, but the really profane with the really sweet and I think that saves it in a way because you say I’m watching this really awful show, but it’s about a guy in a wheelchair.
Jim: Yes, I get slightly offended when people go obviously Jim Jefferies is playing an exaggerated version of himself where this guy is a ruthless … or something like that. And then I’m like I’m playing, I’m playing—it’s not that exaggerated. It’s pretty close to me and I don’t think I’m an …. I think even when I watch it, I think the character on the show is a pretty decent guy all in all. I think for the most part he’s not evil or anything like that. He’s an idiot, but I think the nice things he does outweighs the bad. I don’t think anyone in society is completely nice or completely bad. I think that all of us are two sides of the coin.
I just hope that it’s a fair representation of guys like me. I hope I empower other sleaze bags and … that they can be good people as well.
I wanted to know for Season 2 obviously you want to be able to expand the scope of the series. There are some really nice moments with Walter and Ramona already. Will we see more and more development with these two characters, especially Ramona?
Jim: What happens with Ramona did you say?
Are we going to continue to see an expanded role for Ramona …?
Jim: We expanded a role for Ramona, but to be honest with you, I’ve got a bigger idea for her in Season 3, which I wanted to spin into this season, but I don’t know if we’ll go to Season 3, but I’ve got a bigger storyline than I couldn’t quite fit in for her at the moment. We went a lot with Walter moves into the house this season and so there’s a lot more for John Ratzenberger to do; but then also in this season my parents come over to visit, so we introduce two new characters there. It’s all about figuring out time, but yet you will see Ramona develop a lot this season, but not as much as you will the next season. As I said, I’ve got a big idea for her coming up.
Okay. Was the expanded idea with her kind of was borne out being able to see what she brought to the table in Season 1, or was it—
Jim: Sonya Eddy is a super great actress. She’s like the nicest woman in the world. Yes, of course, I want to bring her character more out of just being a nurse. It seems that everybody, whoever meets that lady casts her as a nurse, she’s in General Hospital and I just watched … and she was a nurse in a nursing home there, so it’s not going to be—the storyline she has now we’re going to delve a little bit more into her personal life, her romantic life, and not so much that she’s just a carer for Billy. She’s going to become more of a rounded person.
I think in the first season there was a definite feel of maybe she was just a foil to our plans that would tell us that we’re bad people or whatever; but now she’s sort of more involved directly in our plans as one of the bad people herself.
Yes, definitely. That’s what’s making it so fun, so thank you.
Jim: Yes, we have an episode where she gets into—I won’t say too much, but she gets into a bar fight and I have to bail her out, so that wouldn’t have happened first season.
Jim, thanks for your time this morning. Congratulations on Season 2.
Jim: Thank you.
You’re welcome. A quick question, the idea of comics shattering sacred cows goes back decades, beyond George Carlin to the origins of comedy itself, whether we’re talking standup or your films, HBO specials, or the series itself. You seem to really wear that mantle well, so I’m asking you this morning, do you really embrace that? Do you really see what your comic writing is and your storytelling, is it about shattering sacred cows and is there one sacred cow joke that maybe you would never tell on the show or in a concert hall?
Jim: No, I’ve never made conscious effort to—I think I’m known for my standup providing a lot of maybe atheist related anti-religion stuff. I’ve only ever done it because I thought it was funny and also because I’m heavily influenced by George Carlin. Is there a topic I wouldn’t talk about? No, as long as it’s funny, I sometimes to the level of things that you’re making the level of funny has to come up as well. I know comics that aren’t as …, but when you watch them, you’re more offended because they think it’s just all dirty words or just saying the words right or talking about pedophilia or something. Those subjects you can’t talk about. You got to try or at least attempt to be insightful or to have some type of reference that makes sense.
As for sacred cows in the TV show, the only reason we had the character of Billy as a muscular dystrophy character is because I grew up with a guy with muscular dystrophy, and I took a guy with muscular dystrophy to a brothel before he was going to die. He was one of my best friends and he’s still alive, mind you, so that all really happened. Then when you have a character like Billy in the show, he has to have come from a home, and so you have to populate that world and so then you have to bring other disabled actors, and so I think people could watch the show and say that we have a hard on for having disabled characters in that show, but that’s just not the case. It’s just organically where the story from my actual life started and where it built.
I like to think that especially with the character of Rodney that we’re not doing anything—we have a mentally challenged actor, who performs regularly on our show. But I don’t think we ever do anything gratuitous or—we try to treat him like any other character on the show as one of the guys; but we also don’t make him like a sickly sorry character where you have to be sorry for him like a Hallmark movie. I don’t know if that answers your question, but those are things I’m happy to say.
You said that the second season isn’t going to be so heavily based off of your standup, but has working with your standup in the form of putting it into the sitcom made you more focused on the standup somehow, or like have they affected each other?
Jim: It made me focus on the standup in the extent that if I put all my stories into the sitcom, then I can’t perform it on stage, so it makes me write standup to do; but also I think writing a TV show, having that discipline where I have to go into an office every day for a few months until it was done maybe helped with the discipline of writing a standup as well. I used to never write my standup down. I still don’t write my standup on paper or anything; but I used to just organically do it on stage, have an idea, chatted it up a little bit. Now I’m keeping notes. I’m trying to keep up with the … of this world and try to bring out a special every year.
But this new season, as I said, is not really based on the standup. I had a few fans that enjoyed the show, but they were a bit pissy that it wasn’t all new material for the sitcom, so now hopefully we’ll be pleasing them as well.
I liked it. That was actually what drew me to it initially.
Jim: If you’ve watch my standup, there’s a story of a … where I go off to entertain the troops and that story will be played out this season in Episode 7, I believe.
Jim, good to talk to you again. By playing a comedian on the show, you get to show how people both in the business and people just outside of show business feel about standup comedians in general. Have you noticed a difference in approaching Season 2 how outsiders feel about standup comedians?
Jim: I noticed it not from the general public, but I sort of noticed it from the actors we have on. With the actors there are two types of actors. There’s the actors who can acknowledge that they could never do standup comedy. Then there’s the pretentious ones, who believe that acting is harder than standup comedy. I definitely don’t think it is. I also think making a comedy is substantially harder than making a drama. Maybe that’s arrogant of me to say that, but if I ask you right now what’s your ten favorite dramas of the last five years, you’d able to rattle them off easy. There are five of them on the air right now.
I was watching True Detective … The Americans are coming out. Brilliant, right? But if I ask you to give your top ten sitcoms over the last five years, you’d be struggling to even find at least ten that you like. There’s as many sitcoms or half hour comedies coming out as there is dramas, so this is my argument. You put more actors and more comedy actors in a drama, we do a better job than if all those dramatic actors came over and tried to do our comedy. There are actors everywhere who is going to read this and hate me for saying that.
But just in terms like I noticed over the weekend FX replayed the family episode where you’re doing a career day at the high school and just talking to kids about being a comedian. Even just from then to now I’m seeing so many other show pitches and treatments that revolve around standup comedy as a plot device.
Jim: Yes, I think standup comedy in its heyday, in my mind I think went through one in the ‘80s and I think it’s back again as popular as it’s ever been. But I find it weird that people go Louie … himself in a standup show, so this show is similar to Louie because Jim’s playing himself. My argument is no, no, no, Louie’s show was similar to Seinfeld and Seinfeld’s show was doing something similar to any other comic …. We use to give comics these fake occupations in sitcoms. We’ll make a show. We’ll call it the Bob Newhart Show, but we’ll give him a different job.
What’s the second point? Let the guy play himself and in a job that he knows being funny and that sort of stuff. There’s a run of these shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm, Seinfeld, Louie, Legit where it is a kind of a genre in its own right and I think it’s … great genre. I think it’s the best I do. What better way to showcase a person’s talent than to showcase their actual talent?
Jim: I hope there’s another ten of these shows and we all have a go at it.
Thanks for making the time for the call. I’m wondering when you’re not busy working, if that’s ever the case, what do you like to watch on TV?
Jim: I was a big fan of Breaking Bad. I’m really into True Detective and The Americans at the moment…are the three shows that I’m sort of watching. As for half hour comedies, there’s nothing out at the moment that’s really got my … I watch Louie. I really like the first five seasons of The Office, but then it sort of went south for me. This one is going to sound weird, but my girlfriend is really into this show and so we watch a lot of RuPaul’s Drag Race at my house. I’m quite the authority on what a good drag queen looks like and what a bad one does. I’m putting it out here right now that if anyone can write this in your article, they have guest judges, I want to be a guest judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race. I wouldn’t take … and I would it properly and I wouldn’t be rude or nothing. I just want to be a judge because it would make my girlfriend very happy.
I also watch a lot of cooking shows because I don’t want to be influenced by other comedies, so I’m a big Master Chef fan.
I was wondering in the last episode that they sent out, it seems like there’s kind of a turning point; maybe that’s why they sent us the four episodes, where he sort of had to decide what he wants to do next. I don’t want to say spoilers, but—
Jim: I know what episode you’re talking about. That character, played by Jill Latiano was the character Katie Knox, I can say this much, will become my … Episode 4 all the way through to the end of the season. It will be—a decision is made and that storyline is something that actually happened in my own life. It’s never something that happened in my standup, but it’s something that happened to me in reality. A girl that I loved in high school I reconnected with for a very bad situation. I just said that like Borat; so a very bad situation.
That storyline will be the major character action and Steve has his own problems with he’s getting his kid back until he gets a girlfriend. The character of Jim … Steve, their lives go down the toilet and the character of Billy, his life starts to improve and to get better. By the end everything comes to a big decision on the last episode. Like I don’t know if the show will be picked up or cancelled, but if you start watching it, please watch it to the end, because it does have a great ending to it.
Interesting. I was wondering when you’re basing a show on somebody sort of in real life, do you have to worry about, do you have to like get your old girlfriend’s permission to use her character, or you just hope she doesn’t see it or how does that work?
Jim: I didn’t use her name. Actually the name of that character is called Katie Knox, which is the name of the girl that my brother lost his virginity to. I don’t know how to get in contact with her or she probably won’t even know who I am, because I’ve changed my last name and my brother is a fairly forgettable guy. Hopefully we won’t get sued by her.
Jim, when you’re basing stuff off of your real life, is there any point when you’re in the writing process where you feel like I’m just going to exorcise this out and kind of play it out as it did in real life, or do you want to change it up or kind of put it into a fantasy point where you kind of idealize the moment?
Jim: No, I normally play it out pretty much exactly as it happened. If I can add a little bit of funny to it that didn’t happen, then I will. Sometimes you’re doing things directly from your own life, especially if they’re sad things, it’s very cathartic to actually make them into comedy, you know? But the only time I worry about it is if I’m hurting other people in my personal life. Normally I can change the name or I can change the location to say these things happened in America; they didn’t happen in Australia. There’s always enough change in it that people can even lie to themselves and go maybe he’s a talking about a different girl or different friend or a different thing.
Except for when it came to doing a storyline involving my parents and I’m using the exact dialog from what both of them have said to me in my life and some of it is a little bit harsh. My mother I know gets very upset by the whole thing because she thinks I only remember the bad bits of my childhood. I try to explain to her the bad bits are the funny bits and no one wants to watch a show about my good childhood or good things that happened to me with me and my parents. My parents have not seen the show. They’ll see it when it airs in Australia. I’m very nervous about them watching the episode that involved them, because I’m displaying a lot of their dirty laundry and maybe that’s not fair on them, but I’ve got to write a TV show ….
Good luck on that. I also wanted to ask too about the Steve character. Like you said you really put him through the ringer this season. There are a lot of fans of Steve, including myself. We were wondering is there going to be any kind of uplifting moment or at least a taste of a turnaround for him this season?
Jim: He does have a turnaround. His life does improve right towards the very end of the season. I can’t say too much, but it’s not going to improve greatly and there’s going to be another dip for him right at the very end. If his life is going to pick up substantially, it will happen in Season 3, but at the moment no, things aren’t going good for Steve, which is sort of like where I like Steve being. Dan Bakkendahl plays two characters very well. He plays the guy in Veep that’s a complete and utter …, and then he plays like a bit of a loser on my show when he plays Steve. It’s sort the same way that Rowan Atkinson could always play a complete bastard on Black Adder or a little weird guy of Mr. Bean. You have two … in the opposite direction. Dan Bakkendahl plays an excellent drunk, an excellent drunk. I think he used to be one and he’s really channeling his past life.
I tend to think that he’s a very important part of the show, so I’m excited to see what…
Jim: For me the character Steve is even more the heart of the show than Billy is. I think most people would say that Billy is sort of the heart of the show, but the thing is I sort of explored this year about Steve is, Steve is based on a character from my life as well, the brother of the guy that had muscular dystrophy. It’s not just hard on the person with the disability. Sometimes a sibling when you have a severely disabled brother or a sister, the sibling will feel left out. They never got to go to fun parks. They never had holidays that were that exciting because they always had to have care at hand, you know what I mean? Maybe emotionally the parents didn’t care that much about whether they went to university or whatever, because they always assumed that that person was all right, and they were all right in comparison.
We do explore the whole idea of what happens to the lost child in their family. What happens to the one whose dreams didn’t matter because they were so focused on making this other person’s life okay?
That’s awesome. That’s like some of the most powerful stuff on the show and sort of the most surprising, I think like you said the heart of the show, so good luck in Season 2.
First I’m loving the heart, because it’s just the contrast and the balance, but I was wondering if you’re getting John Ratzenberger back and if you’ve pushed or thought if you’re going to get George Wendt like you had mentioned before, another interview.
Jim: We got John Ratzenberger; he’s in about eight episodes this season. In fact his character, I’m not giving too much away, separates from his wife for a while and moves in the boys, so the cast of three becomes a cast of four for a few episodes of main characters. It is a joy to be working with…. I know he’d probably hate for me for saying that, but the way we got John Ratzenberger into the show is every time we wrote a script for Season 1 and we write that father character and we were doing a table read around with the two other writers, just the three of us would be reading the scripts, I’d always read the part of Walter. Whenever I read the part of Walter, I would do a John Ratzenberger impersonation. I always would just say, “hey, hey, you know what Jimmie? You got enough to do that anyway naturally.” In the end we just went, why don’t we just call him? Maybe he’ll do it. He jumped at the chance. He came straight on.
The guest stars we have this year I’m super excited. We have Carrie Fisher in an episode and she was just great. She’s not playing Carrie Fisher. She’s playing like an executive of the network. We got Bob Saget in the show. We got Buster Drew obviously is in the first show. We got the midgets from the Howard Stern Show who is going to be on. We got Tom Arnold to come in and do his thing. … and George Lazenby, he plays my dad, who is James Bond for one movie if you remember.
The George Wendt thing was mostly a joke; you haven’t reconsidered it?
Jim: Sorry, say that again. You were a little bit blurred, sorry.
George Wentz, putting George and John back together, you joked about it in another—
Jim: We considered that, but I was a little bit—I had a character and I thought maybe we could make George Wentz play the character, but then I wanted the show to have its own identity, its own feel. I don’t see the point in doing homage to an old show. As much as I’d love to see those two together and work with them, that would be awesome, but I watched—there’s like that show Kirstie on TV Land and it’s feels like every episode they’re trying to work in Jason Alexander or George Wendt or John Travolta, so they’re going, look anybody who ever acted with, look, they’re paired up together. It’s nice for a minute. You go…but then maybe it takes you out of the reality of the show you’re watching for a little tiny bit.
Whenever you watch It’s Sunny in Philadelphia, they don’t try to pair up Danny DeVito with Tony Danza, so they can have a Taxi reunion, so I don’t think we’ll be doing that. As much as I would enjoy doing it and making it, I just think for the quality of the show that might be a bad step.
That’s interesting. Thank you.
Jim: Thank you.
Photos by Mattias Clammer and Patrick McElhenney/Courtesy of FXX