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Anthony Jeselnik Brings the Dark to Indiana

Kevin Noonan | Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The devil may have a talk show, but for tonight at least, he’s in Indianapolis.

Anthony Jeselnik, standup comedian and host of Comedy Central’s “The Jeselnik Offensive,” took part in a conference call with a number of college newspapers Tuesday, including The Observer, to talk about his current tour, his successful television show (which he describes as “if the devil had a talk show”) and his infamously dark sense of humor.

Jeselnik started his current tour, “Anthony Jeselnik: Live,” Sept. 12 in Tarrytown, N.Y., on the heels of the second season finale of his critically acclaimed late night talk show, which the A.V. Club’s Kevin McFarland said made him laugh more consistently than any show on television.

Jeselnik talked first and foremost about what to expect from his current tour.

“People who like the show, they like the offensive dark humor, they get exactly that from my stand up. It might not be as topical as the show would be, I try to keep my jokes evergreen and universal, so you can tell them to your friends for the rest of your life. I have a ton of new material since my last special, and it’s exactly the same kind of things; anything you think shouldn’t be joked about, I’ve got at least two jokes about it,” Jeselnik said.

One of the common questions Jeselnik gets is if there’s a line he won’t cross with his jokes; anyone who’s listened to any of his stand-up can probably predict what his answer is, even if his off-camera persona isn’t quite the edgy, uncompromising smarminess he embodies on stage (he actually sounds like a pretty nice guy).

“Everyone has their own line in comedy, but I don’t care about that. I’m trying to obliterate them all and make people laugh at a subject they normally wouldn’t. My goal is not to offend people or shock people, but it happens, because you can’t get everybody.

“But I want to surprise someone with a joke about autism that makes them laugh. And it’s not necessarily making fun of autism or making fun of people with it, but using that subject that heads into the joke so that the punch line can be that much stronger,” Jeselnik said.

With such a dark comic style, it’s no surprise that Jeselnik has drawn some flak from offended parties in his career. It’s not that his jokes are unfunny; a segment on the first season of his show that featured him telling cancer jokes to cancer patients drew widespread praise.

But when the Boston Marathon was bombed on April 15 of this year, Jeselnik’s sense of humor caused a firestorm of controversy.

“I like to tweet jokes the day of tragedies … I’m a comedian, and of course there’s nothing funny about the Boston Marathon, but when it happened I kind of take it as my duty to try to make a joke about it, make the best joke that I can and try to make someone laugh on a horrible day,” Jeselnik said.

The evening of the bombing he sent out a tweet saying, “There are some lines that just shouldn’t be crossed today. Especially the finish line.”

He said the reaction was mixed, but there was a significant amount of intense hatred for the joke, specifically from his bosses at Comedy Central. There was even talk of Jeselniklosing his show.

“There was a huge conversation over whether or not I should take the joke down, should I apologize. I would never apologize for a joke, and I had never had to take down a joke, which I hated having to do. But I did it for the betterment of the show because I’m not going to tell my cameraman that he’s fired because I wouldn’t delete a tweet,” Jeselnik said.

But don’t get too caught up in the controversy; Jeselnik’s personality off-stage (at least for the 20 minutes of the phone interview) is much less cutthroat than his persona when performing. The man’s a Notre Dame fan for goodness sake, he can’t be that bad.

“My dad went to Notre Dame, my sister went to Saint Mary’s, and my other two sisters went to Holy Cross for a couple years. I went to school in New Orleans, which is kind of the opposite, but I still love Notre Dame. I hung out on campus all the time when I was a kid going to games, and I’m still a big fan,” Jeselnik said.

Jeselnik performs at the Egyptian Room at Old National in Indianapolis tonight at 7 p.m. Tickets can be purchased through his website at anthonyjeselnik.com.