FX has once again struck gold with the new series LEGIT starring the hilarious Jim Jeffries. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard of him either! In 2009 while bored and channel surfing I came across the HBO special “I Swear To God” and within moments I was laughing so hard there were tears.
This outrageous Australian is politically incorrect, socially jaw dropping and with family dysfunctions that make most of ours look delightful. For the past several years he has brought 2008 “Jim Jeffries: Contraband”, 2010 “Just for Laughs”, 2011 “Funny As Hell” and in 2012 “Jim Jeffries: Fully Functional” to American television.
Now, taking his stand up off the road and on to FX, I was thrilled to be able to talk with both Jim Jeffries and Peter O’Fallon who are both co-creators and co-executive producers of LEGIT.
Hi guys, thanks for chatting today.
Jim and Peter: Sure
How did the idea for the series came about Peter?
Peter: John Landgraf is a good friend of mine at FX. I worked with him before on the The Riches and a couple other projects in the past. I had lunch with him one day and I said I really want to do the comedy thing that he’s doing, particularly the Louie model. At the time, he said go find me a comedian. Then I went to my agency, which was CA, and looked a whole bunch of different comedians and came up with Jim. We met a couple of times and watched almost all of his stand-ups and saw him do a bunch of stand-ups live and ultimately came up the idea for the pilot, which came directly from a stand-up, so that’s basically how Jim and I met together and figured out we could work it out.
Jim: Yes, that’s basically it. There is not much more I could add to that question. The pilot episode was directly mixed out of my third DVD, Alcoholocaust, and a true story from my life about me taking a friend with muscular dystrophy to a brothel, so the way we came up with the idea is we just did true stories, I guess.
Peter: The other thing, like with Jim’s manager, Lisa Blum, who is also an executive producer on the show, we met with her and—I met with her alone and she said what do you think—and I said I think there is a pinprick of a heart in there. One of the things Jim told me after he did this stand-up, particularly the muscular dystrophy—the thing about taking him to the hooker or the brothel—is that afterwards, parents, brothers and sisters—those kind of people would walk up to him and say how can I do that for my brother. So, for me, there was a kindness to this incredibly raw, incredibly abrasive and difficult humor, but at the core of it was a kind act—not necessarily heart but it was a nice thing to do to somebody. So in my mind, that’s what kind of sparked the idea for me of trying to balance the difference of this really dark humor with ultimately someone trying to do a nice thing.
Jim, doing stand-up you get instant feedback from the crowd how has it been different than doing the show on FX?
Jim: Not as pleasurable, of course. It is better to hear it live directly instead of doing something and then waiting three months to see if people are laughing at it. But I have never acted before, so I’ve enjoyed the process very much.
Peter: Although I will add that we all laugh like … on the set.
Jim: We do laugh on the set …but I’ve enjoyed it. I find the whole acting process to be a little bit more than the … I traded my stand-up career.
FX is known for giving shows such amazing freedom to produce their storylines. Are they giving you the same freedom?
Peter: Let me start with that one, Jim. One of the reasons I wanted to go to FX is from working with other networks and stuff was that idea and the concept that John has, which is a brilliant concept in my opinion, especially with these comedies, is trying to keep them at a low enough budget that there is not as much pressure and there is not as much heat, and because of that, there is a lot more freedom. One of the things that I found really amazing with FX, and this really isn’t me blowing smoke—I found them to be the best example that Nick Grad gave me. Once I was complimenting them on their notes and he said, yes, we like to be more like a book editor than an actual network. I think that’s a really great analogy because as we went through the process, there were a couple of notes they gave us on the script, initially, and it was about the basic heart of the script. I don’t mean the heart of the show but what the show was about. They kept pushing us to push further and further into what the show was actually about. They were great notes, and it actually did help us find the rhythm and find it. And then in the editing process—again, their notes are big and overall. It isn’t like cut here and cut here. I thought this would be funnier and I thought this would be more touching or whatever. Those are bad examples. But in the big pictures, I have really loved the process. The freedom is tremendous and when you need it, they’re there, which I think is great.
Jim: I agree with Peter. But for me, the notes don’t really apply that much to me because they never really questioned any of my jokes.
Peter: None of them.
Jim: They never question my jokes. They sometimes say is this not a bit risky, and then we always say we’ll shoot it and see how it turns out and if it doesn’t turn out, we’ll just cut it.
How did you come up with the 1950’s Dad’s voice?
Jim: I don’t know when we called it the 1950s. That was an ad-lib. That happened on set once.
Peter: He started doing it. I thought it was hilarious.
Jim: I think it was like me trying to do an infomercial commercial or just the dad off Leave it to Beaver. I just started doing the dialogue like that and I thought Peter would come in and say stop being an idiot. But they told me to keep going so we just worked it into the episode.
Peter: I remember we were just doing rehearsals just before we started shooting. There was a close-up of Jim and he turned to the camera and said, “Well, Billy, let me tell you how this works.” I fell over laughing and hollered out to him as we were shooting and said just keep going, and he kept going and then we started calling him. I said what is that. He said, you know it’s kind of like a 50s dad. The guy that talks about asbestos plants that he goes to work out. I said that’s hilarious. Let’s go with that. That’s a great example of what we were talking about a minute ago about FX’s freedom. We saw it on the set. We thought it was great, and we said let’s go.
Jim: FX gave us notes from that episode. They said we love 50s dad, a great bit from Jim’s stand-up. We never argued with them. That was never in the stand-up.
Peter: One of the things we do. I don’t know if you guys have heard this, but we try to get together on the set. We have a script. Scripts are good and they’re tight. But we try to get in there and we have really—Dan Bakkedahl, who was Second City, and Mindy, who is Groundlings, and D.J., who—everybody knows D.J., and Sonya—we have this group of extremely talented people that are really good at playing their instruments. I always like to use the music analogy. Jim gets tired of this one. We kind of jam. We get it going and things start working. We rehearse over and over again—like when we do the big master shots, we spend a lot of time trying to find the rhythm and things like 50s dad come out of it.
So is this acting lessons or winging it Jim?
Jim: I’m just winging it. I think I’ll take an acting lesson if I ever play a different character beside myself. At the moment, I think I should be able to play myself alright.
You really have pulled off some very cool situational comedy here.
Jim: Thank you.
Peter: That means a lot.
Do you think its difficult to top what’s on television now?
Jim: I don’t think it’s hard to top in the sense that it’s not hard to top live action. But when you’ve got to top something like Family Guy or American Dad or any of those shows because we can’t do what cartoons can do, but I think live action-wise, everyone’s got the same boundaries. I came and … off a person with muscular dystrophy. As long as you don’t see the pain and you see my hand moving and that’s the same rule that everyone has to play by.
Peter: What we’re trying not to do—at least what I’m trying not to do—is to continue the whatever outgrowths or— One of the things using the idea of American Dad and Family Guy is they are a lot of jokes. We’re a bit more of a story. In a perfect world, what we are trying to do is to make that whatever you do in life has consequences. So there is a very small—I don’t want to call it a moral because then it sounds like we’re trying to make moral judgments and we’re not but the idea of like what Jim just used the example of … of Billy. It was something he did because he had to because Billy needed it because he was a buddy and he has to do it. The comedy of that is I love putting people in difficult situations and watching them try to get out of it. But secondly is the idea that it is also a nice thing to do. That’s the balance that we’re trying to get. We’re not trying to get too crazy. Does that make any sense?
Jim, how do you like opening you life up like this?
Jim: It feels very odd, especially since a lot of these stories are 100% true. I’m really raking my life to get each story out. If we go to a second season, I’ve got a few stories ready to go. But it is odd. It’s like they say that when you know a person, you only know the tip of the iceberg and 90% of the iceberg is underwater. I think people know 90% of me and only 10% underwater. I haven’t held much back.
Peter: I love one time we were watching one of the shows and Jim turned to me and said, “Am I that much of a douche?”
Jim: I’m portrayed as … but it’s probably a fib.
What’s the process like bringing ‘stand up’ Jim Jeffries stories to the show?
Jim: The way to do it is you just have to act like a bit of a prick. That’s the only way to do it. Also, you have to have a false sense of confidence where you think you’re cool and the rest of the world doesn’t think you’re as cool as you think you are.
Peter: … I think is a really great thing to say. We’ve had a couple of people say it was really great but it wasn’t as funny as his stand-up. The thing about that was so important what Jim said is that a stand-up is—you tell them Jim.
Jim: It’s pretty bizarre that people go your stand-up is way funnier than the show. I’m like I hope so. Stand-up is just me trying to be as funny as possible in the most concentrated hour with me standing on stage with no storyline, no plot line, and no character development. Doing the TV show, you have to have the characters. We want you to root for them. We want you to have emotions for these people. It used to be people that I just explained on stage. So, obviously, it’s slower and it’s not quite as funny. But I hope the TV show leaves you a little bit more fulfilled than the stand-up does. Does that make sense?
So we are seeing your life in the show, will you bring your profession to the character?
Jim: I never really stand-up on stage, at least in this season. You’ll see me a couple of times in clubs. We were really conscious. We didn’t want to be compared to Louie, so we thought we’d end up doing stand-up on the show.
Peter: And also I believe—and it’s just my own little parameters I want to put in—one of the things that is easy about being able to do the stand-up is that you can—we used to call it the Wonder Yearstrick where at the end you say what we learned today was. By not being able to go to a stand-up and have us explain or tell the joke or try to illiterate the story, it makes our job a little bit harder, but I think it makes it ultimately hopefully a more satisfying show. What we’re trying to do is make little mini movies—little 23-minute movies. If you notice, there are no titles. The titles just come on. There is no theme song. There is no music going out to commercial or music coming in to commercial. The only music we use is needle drops. Every show is a little bit different. Every show there is no real pattern. One of the hardest things we’ve had marketing the show is what’s the show about. Well, it’s about Jim trying to become legit. So the good news about that is it opens up so much more for us.
This is a great vehicle for you Jim especially being on FX whose shows are on the cutting edge. Peter, you’ve done everything from The Riches on to Party of Five and Northern Exposure.
Peter: One of the things that has been interesting about my career, and it’s a thing that has only existed, I think, in the last few years is I always try to go for things that I find interesting. I did the first two episodes after the pilots of Northern Exposure. My agent sent it to me and she said you’ll love this because it’s weird. We went up there and we did it. I don’t know if you heard the whole story aboutNorthern Exposure years ago about how everybody hated it. The network buried it in the summer, and so we did whatever we wanted to, which was great. In that kind of freedom, the first show I ever did was Thirtysomething and that show as like graduate filmmaking school. After that I didAmerican Gothic and a bunch of other shows like that were—all throughout my career The Richeswere like independent films for television. It’s been really great and wonderful. I’ve really enjoyed it, maybe not as much financially as I could have, but creatively it’s been great.
Jim, getting together with Peter was there a strategy already in place?
Jim: I’ve sold a lot of sitcom premises and scripts over the years, which were always like I’m a taxi driver or I’m in a boy band. Actually there was one that I was the manager of the Thunder from Down Under in ‘Vegas, which wasn’t a bad one, believe it or not. In the end, I kept selling these scripts and I was like I have these stories in my stand-up and we can just do them. Originally, the concept was that from my standup we’d do these stories and then maybe the D.J. character would be in for three or four episodes. Then FX like it so much, they wanted him to be in the series regular. At first, I was a little bit apprehensive about that. But now I’m glad. It’s given us a definite B story or sometimes an A story that we always have to write through. Having to care for this character in a wheel chair and still make it funny is a nice little challenge weekly.
Saying there are things we don’t see in the show, is it edited because you think its not interesting or what?
Jim: No, no. It’s illegal. Obviously, I’m not allowed to say it.
So you don’t have a filter?
Peter: Jim lives his life like most people live 90%. I don’t know if you heard that other comment—the life underneath. I have found pretty much across the board Jim lives his life pretty much wide open.
So you two, what’s the best part of doing the show?
Peter: Can I take that one? You guys met Rodney last week. He has become a great friend of Jim and me. His name is Nick Daley, and he’s an actor with special needs. On our final episode—he absolutely loves fire trucks. So he came out at lunchtime and gave us this great speech telling us how special it was for him to be here. Our medic, who has worked with the LAFD, got the fire truck to show up at lunch and two fire trucks showed up. They dressed him all up. He got to drive around with the fire truck and do the hose and all that kind of stuff. It was just a really killer moment because it was so great for him because he kept bugging because I kept telling him we’re going to take you to the firehouse. For me that was really great.
Jim: For me, I’ll have to say meeting my girlfriend in the pilot episode.
Peter: There you go.
Was she one of the hookers?
Jim: No, no, no. She was Nick Daley, the mentally challenged guy on the fire truck. I just said girlfriend very loosely.
Can you tell us some of the stars you’ve brought aboard?
Jim: We can tell you guest stars, I think.
Peter: We have Andy Dick.
Jim: Andy Dick. We have Marlon Waynans.
Peter: John Ratzenberger.
Jim: Verne Troyer.
Peter: Well, we have Brad.
Jim: Brad Williams. Eddy Ifft from my podcast will be making an appearance.
Peter: We have some really crazy, crazy story lines coming up.
Jim: What about girls? Rachel—we have some pretty girls coming up.
Peter: Somebody sent me an e-mail—somebody online, which, by the way, you guys are the key to our hopeful successful. I think it’s because of you guys we bumped up last week. Please keep the buzz out. I don’t want to call us an underdog, but FX’s model—this actually comes from one of the guys at FX is they take their chickens, the make them, and then they throw them out of the nest and see what flies. As you’ve noticed, it’s mainly built on this whole concept of whether people like it or not. Right now …. The buzz on the internet has been great. The comments I get—all this stuff I’ve been getting has been really fun. The thing that I really enjoy about you guys, and I have to be honest with you, and, again, I’m not blowing smoke, is you guys get it. Really, it’s been encouraging and very fun for me to read a lot of these reviews where people say I was surprised by the heart. I always get scared by calling it the heart because it really isn’t heart, but whatever it is, I appreciate it. It’s really great.
So, your character is exploring the line between selfish and selfless.
Jim: Actually, I don’t think anyone has said it more succinctly as that.
Peter: That was very well put. In my career, what I’ve always tried to do, even like I made a movie a long time ago—Suicide Kings. I always can’t stand movie or anything that happens. In Suicide Kings, it’s quite violent. What I have the people do is when the violence happens, they all freak out and go crazy like we all would—like normal people would. The thing that we’re trying to do in this show is the same kind of thing. How do you react? It is funny, but it is also a difficult situation—with Billy in the wheelchair and Dan having trouble with work, all those kinds of things. There is just a hint of reality. So one of the things we love about the show is that somebody called it a bromance, which I think it kind of is. I think thinks it’s a really good analogy—selfless and selfish. Actually, that came from Jim, in my mind. After watching all of the stand-up and sitting down with him, it’s the same struggle I think we all have is how much are we out for ourselves and how much are we out for other people?
How do you manage the crudeness with being able to do what you want?
Jim: I think I’ve struck that balance my whole career with my stand-up so to me, it feels like a fairly natural way of telling jokes. I don’t see any other way to tell jokes, to be honest with you.
Peter: I think what I was saying a minute ago—with Jim and I—I think that is one of the things that has been a nice marriage for us is I believe that it’s really important to show, for lack of a better term, the consequences of your actions, even if they’re emotional or they’re simple little things in life. The thing that I think we’re hopefully doing well on this show right now is the crude and terrible humor but then the reality of life comes in. That’s where I hope that our plan is to make it funny as … and then suddenly surprise you with life, more so than heart. This is a real situation with a guy in a wheelchair. It’s really funny, but he still has to wipe his …which hopefully will work.
You are involved in so much of the show, how do you manage it?
Peter: Do you want me to take that, Jim?
Peter: The challenges are obviously I work myself to death—seven days a week and that kind of stuff because as I think we mentioned earlier, there is not a lot of money in the show. But the positive aspect is the ability to have one vision so that it ends up being pretty much what you want. It’s the amazing thing, again, about FX. I cannot say enough good things about them. Everything that has been on the air so far, Jim and I, hopefully also, are very proud of. It’s pretty much what we want—98% of what we want. The 2% may have been places where we crossed the line maybe too far, but, in general, it’s been really rewarding to, like I said a minute ago, to make these little mini movies every week. As a filmmaker, one of the things that I’m trying to do is I’m primarily known as the director. I’ve written a couple of movies in the past and I did my own series about 10 years ago, but one of the things that I always wanted as kind of a fantasy of mine was to try to make television a bit more of a film-maker’s medium. I have been able to do that with this one. It’s been really great—really fun.
How did you go about the casting process?
Jim: D.J. auditioned for us like a regular person. It was quite the prize when he walked in. I think it was just luck. I think Memphis had just been canceled that day.
Peter: We have this wonderful tracking agent.
Jim: Wendy O’Brien is very good.
Peter: Another Canadian.
Jim: Apart from that, we got John Ratzenberger because I do John Ratzenberger impersonations. When we wrote that character, whenever I would table read, I would say I’ll take Walter and then I’d just do a John Ratzenberger And then we were why don’t we just ask if we can get him. And then lo and behold, we got him.
Peter: D.J. is another great example. He came in and auditioned. Like I said, it was a bit of luck. And then he got cold feet. We were up in Portland and we shot the pilot in Portland and his manager called me up and said I think you may need to talk D.J. into this. So I got on the phone with D.J. and talked to him. I first started out with the obvious question—really, D.J., you don’t want to play a guy in a wheelchair? That’s what everybody gets awards for. And then after that, he was just worried and nervous about what he could do. Now, if you talk to him, he loves the choice he made. Again, he’s the hub we wheel around because the other people are more improv and comedy centered and D.J. is a really solid actor. Because he’s stuck to a chair and only can express with his face, it’s critical he is as good as he is and obviously is. Then we have Andy Dick, a good friend of Jim’s. He came in and he killed it. We have a show coming up you’re just going to love. He’s outrageous. He talks about his troubles and his issues that he’s had and talks about being sober and not being sober and it’s really quite funny.
Jim: When we want someone like Andy Dick who is playing themselves, we wanted them to be portrayed as they actually are, you know what I mean, rather than a glossy version of themselves.
Jim, when did you know you wanted to be a comedian?
Jim: I wanted to be a stand-up comedian since I was about 14. I started watching stand-up comedy on TV. I did some open spots when I was 17. The first one went rather well. Then they found out I was 17. In Australia, you have to be 18 to go to a bar. They said if I wanted to come back, I had to bring a parent. So I told my dad that I went off and did this. And my dad said alright, I’ll come out with you. I remember it was hailing and it was really bad. I went on stage and I bombed in front of about seven people. Just died on my … My dad was there. I was doing a lot of jokes about you know when you’re in school and this happens and that happens. My dad, in the car ride home, said I don’t think this is for you, mate. It broke my little 17-year-old heart. I went out and did it one more time and it just didn’t go well. I didn’t do it again until I was 23. Then I got up on stage. I’m 35 now. It’s been my occupation since I was 23 years old.
Peter: When I asked him the same question at first, what did your mother call you—The King of the ….
Jim: The King of the Idiots.
Does that work?
Jim: I think it’s appropriate. I’ve never been the type of guy that had a lot of friends or was part of the cool group. If I have got friends, I seem to be running the show.
Peter: As him mom used to say, they’re all a bunch of idiots. We’re just continuing that now with the show. Jim calls it the ugliest show on television.
You talk a lot about your family in your performances. Are you going to be bringing in family for yourself on the show?
Jim: That’s the plan I have at the moment for Season Two is to bring my parents over for maybe three episodes.
Your mother sounds hilarious.
Jim: A lot of stuff in Mindy Sterling’s character, which is lifted directly from my mother. Obviously, Mindy is not morbidly obese, but my mother’s a hoarder and Mindy’s character is a hoarder. There are a few lines where I’ve had arguments with my mother that I put straight into this script. I have an idea of a few actors I’d like to play my mom and dad that would be my dream cast. They’ll definitely be in the next season.
How do they feel about the show? Have they seen a lot of it?
Jim: No. I’ve shown some episodes to my brother because I like to get his feedback but not to my parents. They can watch it if it ever gets to Australian television. They’ve never laughed at anything I’ve ever said. I don’t think they’re going to start laughing now.
So is all the cast from Legit—is that your new family, then?
Jim: I hate to get mushy and say something like that, but I do believe we’re all friends. This is the first set that I’ve ever been on. I hear that’s a rarity. We all—me, D.J., Dan, and Mindy—have all been calling each other after each episode airs and see how we all feel. We’ve all remained friends.
Peter: One of the things, from my point of view, is I’ve been doing this a long time and one of the things I told John Landgraf and FX when I wanted to do this—one of the reasons I wanted all the freedom that FX gives you is that part of the problems with studios and networks and all that good stuff is they tend to oftentimes make things to be difficult. I try to go out of my way on this show to do everything that I’ve seen that there have been problems in the past to try to make it really fun and to try to have a good time. As we discussed, we’re on a fairly low budget. I’m making a tenth or whatever of what I usually make, but the idea is that you pay for it, hopefully, with fun. Part of that fun is the more fun you have, the more it becomes a group of people—like in a perfect world, what I would like to do is like make a troupe, like we could all go together and have more and more fun. So far, it’s been really great.
Peter, do you feel like FX is the perfect place for you? I think it is, but do you think it’s perfect place for a jumping board for this show?
Peter: Absolutely. I have no question.
Jim: I’ve said before that I like that they like their comedies as edgy as possible, but there are still some restrictions. I can’t say —– —- (side note: if anyone knows Jim Jeffries you can only imagine what the words here are…contact me if you don’t know), right?
I miss that.
Jim: If I had a show on HBO, it would just be a naked girl sitting on a chair saying —— —- over and over.
Peter: Jim has a good point. Even though there are very few rules, and you will see one coming up here next week is about Jim in an airplane where he calls the guy a …, and we beep it out. We beep it out in a really great way. It’s very obvious what he said. In some ways, it’s almost funnier that he actually said it and that we have to beep it out. One of the things that has been kind of nice about it is it does give us rules like a basketball court where you’re inside the court and you have to play within those rules. In some ways, it’s an odd way to say it, but I think it actually helps the stories. I think FX is also the perfect place for a number of reasons but also for the fact that they are—as I said earlier, this book editor thing. There are occasional times when it feels like we’re on our own for a second and then they come in and say I think this is working and you say good.
I think the show is going to be amazing. There are a student at UCSD, especially one named Brad Procopio, who is so thrilled that you are on TV, Jim. He went to Long Beach to see you perform so his dedication is absolutely there for you!
Peter: Tell Brad to tell all his friends in Tweet and Facebook and Reddit and all the other stuff you guys do because it’s all good. It’s all working.
Jim: Yea, yea – tell Brad to keep up the good work and get all his friends to watch the show.
Peter: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
We absolutely will. Thank you, guys.
As a reminder, Legit airs Thursday night at 10:30 only on FX. If your looking for some legit comedy with legit laughs and a legit comedian then Jim Jeffries and the who cast of LEGIT is where you need to be!
For more information on films and television visit Movie Maven.