Standup comedian Anthony Jeselnik rose to fame after roasting Donald Trump with jokes that would make those with even the thickest of skins wince – long before the Trump presidency. Jeselnik’s act, though edgy, doesn’t take sides: He’s an equal opportunity offender. He explains why, before heading out on the second leg of his Funny Games Tour, which hits Knight Theater Thursday.
Q: We’re in a moment where touchy subjects have become even touchier and divisive. Does that sort of collective shift toward a topic have any bearing on what you say in your act?
A: I kind of just address the culture and the culture’s reaction to things. I won’t talk about Trump, but I’ll talk about racism. I don’t talk about sexual harassment, but I talk about hyper-masculinity. You aren’t turning people off the way some people do. The point of the joke is to get tension out of the audience and release that. I just want to toy with them.
Q: When did you realize that this type of comedy was what worked for you?
A: I found it got the best response from the audience. If you laugh at a funeral, you shouldn’t be laughing. I find it’s best when people are a little bit scared. I’m the horror movie version of a comedian. I’m not comforting.
Q: Were there certain topics you wanted to address, that you built around, in this new show, Funny Games?
A: It was almost what I didn’t want to address. “Thoughts and Prayers” (his previous special) got personal. I felt the need to talk about why I do these dark jokes. This hour I want to be like a rock album – let’s just give these people a great show full of challenging jokes.
Q: Is there anything that’s off limits?
A: No, I do not care. I just want everyone to be able to laugh at the same awful things. The things I talk about are universally awful. You won’t hear me preaching about guns. I want people to think: “That was impressive, we laughed at everything. No matter what our beliefs are, we all laughed at the same horrible thing.” You should not believe anything I say. People think because I’m not politically correct, I must be a huge Trump fan. I’m actually a fan of political correctness. It’s an obstacle course you have to get through to make this joke still funny.
Q: Your first big break was roasting Trump for Comedy Central. Did you ever in your wildest dreams imagine him becoming president?
A: Not at all. Dennis Rodman had as much of a chance of becoming president then.
Q: There’s a lot of routes to take in comedy.
A: Standup is definitely my first love. If I sit down to write anything else, I think, “Why am I not writing a joke?” I’ll write a book if I break my leg. Maybe I’ll wake up after this special (which he’ll film in the fall) and want to give standup a break. Right now I wake up every day wanting to work on standup. When you have great jokes the way I think I do right now, there is no better feeling.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday.
Where: Knight Theater, 430 S. Tryon St.