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Tom Green on How His Comedy Will Make You Think, And How Facebook and Internet Porn Wreck Relationships

Tom Green.
Tom Green.
Marleah Leslie & Associates

​Tom Green has a tendency to get pretty cerebral. And yes, we're referring to the same dude who penned "Lonely Swedish (The Bum Bum Song)" and suckled milk directly from a cow's waiting teat. Green's comic efforts have always been quite genius -- and oftentimes exceptionally madcap -- whether the over-the-top guerilla comedy of his groundbreaking self-titled MTV show, any of his numerous online projects like Web-O-Vision, or his various stand-up gigs in recent years.

Get past the inherent silliness and shock value of anything Green has done comedy-wise and there's always some sort of deeper meaning or message at work (even with the crazier stuff). That was the case back in his MTV days and is especially true with his stand-up. He's pretty much a live wire or hyperactive tornado onstage (check out his three-night stint at the Tempe Improv this weekend to see for yourself), but catch him when he's not performing and Green's far more subdued and analytical.

See also: Kevin McDonald on Writing For SNL, His Favorite Characters, and Another Possible Kids in the Hall Tour

Such was the case when Jackalope Ranch spoke with the comedian recently via telephone. We covered a lot of ground during the talk, including how he's not so much into stunts any more, how he'll likely never show up on MTV again, and even why rumors of him dating tattoo queen Kat Von D. are false.

And then there's all the deeper subject matter we dove into, like how Green -- like his hero George Carlin -- hopes to entertain and enlighten with his comedy. Plus, he detests Facebook because of how it's changed people's lives (and not for the better) and ruined a few marriages. And he's really not a fan of online pornography. Not because he's a prude or nothing, but rather because of its over-availability has created both unrealistic expectations and wrecked relationships.

He may cover a lot of the same ground this weekend at the Tempe Impov, albeit delivered in outlandish, hilarious, and often interactive fashion to his audiences. When we spoke to him, however, it were a bit more serious but still plenty interesting.

So you recently re-launched your YouTube channel, correct? Yeah, I've been putting stuff on YouTube for awhile but I'm starting to organize it and put a lot of my old content on there and just having some fun with it.

Like your old MTV stuff? Well, the thing that most people don't necessarily realize is most of the MTV stuff I shot in Canada myself. I did the show for six years in Canada before MTV picked it up. It was a public access show, so I own all the copyright on that stuff. That's why the show was so crazy. We'd been doing it a long time. We had a real sort of distinct idea of what we wanted to do and they threw us on the air.

What else will you feature on the channel? I'm relaunching my Web-O-Vision show. I did this show in my living room for many years, which is a talk show that got really outrageous and strange with great guests and was just very raw. I stopped doing it because I just wanted to have my house back and have a place to relax, but I'm going to be rebuilding my studio in a little warehouse in Burbank. And we're going to be feeding all sorts of amazing interviews and comedy with really funny guests into the YouTube channel, my website, and also a whole bunch of other places. It's going to cool.

We hear you're also working on something with Andrew Dice Clay and Tara Reid called The Big Big Show? Yeah, that's going to be really fun. Its sort of like The Gong Show for the YouTube generation. Were like judges. It's like this crazy talent show.

And you're a certifiable expert in crazy antics, right? Yeah. This is going to be, in some ways, a traditional-looking show but then we're going to have really outrageous acts and goofy things on there that are just a little offbeat. More like The Gong Show than American Idol.

Any chance you'd ever do a show on MTV again? I definitely have several shows in development right now, but I don't think MTV is the logical place for me to do a show. My comedy is, you know, not for 14-year-olds anymore. MTV is a network for kids, right?

Or adults who refuse to grow up. It's a kids network, it's for teenagers. So I probably would probably be more likely to do something in a more adult setting. Like MTV just doesn't have people on air who are in their 40s.

Except for maybe the concerned parents on 16 and Pregnant. Yeah, exactly. I'm too old for that. It's just that was something that I did when I was in my twenties and I think my comedy's evolving to a point that it probably...because people often say, "Why don't you bring your show back to MTV, they often forget that MTV is for 16 year olds. We've all grown up a little bit here.

People who watched your old show when they were 16 are still fans, right? Yeah, but they're not watching MTV anymore. I would love to do more stuff with MTV but I can't foresee myself doing a show on MTV. I think the more accurate question is, "When's your show coming back to television?" And I'll have an answer for you in a few months. I've got a bunch of really cool projects sort of in the works. Next year's going to be a lot of TV stuff happening, but I've been doing a lot of touring for the last few years and really sort of immersing myself in that, but I'm gonna get back on the tube a little bit.  

An foil-covered Tom Green during his "Robot Walk" in Tempe in 2010.
An foil-covered Tom Green during his "Robot Walk" in Tempe in 2010.
Ryan Wolf

What do you have planned for your Tempe Improv gig this weekend? Well, my stand -up comedy. I've been touring pretty much full time for the last few years so I have lots and lots and lots and lots of jokes

Exactly how many jokes is that? Lots and lots. And it's just really crazy and anyone who remembers my old shows or movies is going to have a great time because its very outrageous. But its also really something that people who love stand-up are going to love because its definitely stand-up. It's not like I'm doing any stunts or anything.

Speaking of which, when you visited the Improv in 2010 you led a "Robot Walk" down Mill Avenue. Yeah, I did. I've been back a couple of time since then and haven't revisited the robot walk. It was a one-off thing. It was fun, we had a good time, but I'm gonna kinda stick to keeping the silliness happening at the club.

Do a lot of people come to your shows expecting stunts or the Tom Green they saw on MTV back in the day? I don't really think people are confused about what my show's going to be, because I'm performing in comedy clubs and people know I'm doing stand-up. And word travels pretty fast online and people have heard what the show's about and why it's great. People know what to expect. My special on Netflix has been doing really well and it was on Showtime.

What I just really want to surprise people with is the subject matter and I have lots of new fresh ideas when I come into a city. My old [stand-up] shows weren't a stunt show, it was a comedy show. When people come to a comedy club, I think they know they're not coming to see my movies or TV shows.

When I first started touring, maybe people weren't really sure and were wondering what it was going to be, but its been four-five years of me hitting the road non-stop. Its obviously still very outrageous show...probably one of the more outrageous stand-up shows there is.

So what sort of things are surprising about your stand-up? I'm just trying to surprise people with subject matter. I'm taking on authority, I'm taking on society, I'm taking on technology, the government, politics, and things like that, which is a little bit different than some of the physical stuff that I did on my MTV show.

But still, the show's very physical and high-energy. I'm probably the highest-energy comedian out there right now. I get very loud, I get very [much] in people's faces.  

There have been some articles in recent years that have stated how your comedy is different. Is that a correct description? I think what you're referring to is maybe an article that came out, which was accurate if it's the one I'm thinking of, that talks about how I don't pick on minorities or I don't do some of the traditional, typical targets. I try to sort of speak truth to power and some of my favorite comedians did the same. They were calling out the way our world works, which is what I do. But I do it in a very physical and high-energy and interactive with the audience sort of way.

But to say that it isn't zany wouldn't be really accurate [or] saying the show is now sort of a sedate new older version of me, which people have also written. I think that's sort of just the obvious thing to write because they thought, "Oh, its stand-up, its traditional and therefore its not as crazy as his old show." I actually think that what I'm doing is more edgy than anything I've ever done because I'm speaking about issues that are real and important as opposed to just doing physical stunts.

Why is there less of an emphasis on stunts? Well, I've always enjoyed staying kind of one step ahead of what people expect me to do, or what people expect comedians to do. And when I was doing all those stunts, nobody else was doing that. And that's why the MTV show was so impactful. There wasn't much reality TV [and] all of a sudden it was me, running around with a video camera in the street interacting with real people. That was like a surreal thing for people who'd never seen that before. There's so much of that on TV now that I'm not really that interested in repeating myself and doing things people are expecting.

I basically just want to do what I'm doing right now, which is a stand-up and YouTube stuff, and a podcast where I interview other comedians and bring the comedy out of other people. That's really what I enjoy doing. The idea of running down the street and covering myself with mustard and thrashing around probably would be a bit boring for me.

How come? Because I've done it already. I don't want to do something that everyone else is doing. It's boring. I want to do something that no one else is doing.

Like, say, joking about double penetration? Well, that was part of a bit about online pornography. And if you actually watch that bit, you'll see that there's a very deep subtext to it. We're living in a world where marriages are breaking up, where people are completely addicted to online pornography and sexually getting completely screwed up in the head because of it.

And I talk about how we're living in that sort of world where -- and never before in human history has that happened -- when online porn is so mainstream and available. It's actually a very socially conscious bit, driven home with some shocking storytelling. But it all points back to something that's actually meaningful. In a way, it was meant to make people think about what is happening in our world right now.  

That sounds downright Carlin-esque. He was my hero. I loved George Carlin. I loved the fact he was trying to make people change the way they thought about how they lived their lives. And keep in mind, when I started my show on MTV, I was doing the same thing in a different way. I was trying to make people think differently about television, trying to poke fun at television in a way. No one had ever seen something so loose and raw and strange on TV. Everything was so formulaic. I really wanted people to try and question what they were watching.

It was a beginning of sort of a whole new kind of broadcasting. It was pre-YouTube. Right now, people are very accustomed to seeing real people. Its kind of hard to remember how cutting edge it was when it came on MTV in 1999, because if you look at in now it looks so similar to so much stuff that we see on our iPhones. You really have to stop and take yourself back to 1999 to really remember that it was a groundbreaking show.

Has gross or previously taboo stuff like double penetration or ass-to-mouth just become part of the lexicon...because online porn is prevalent? Well, I don't know what "ass-to-mouth" is...you're probably more into this stuff than I am.

Oops. We may have said too much. Let us rephrase: Do you think over-availability of online porn has been to the detriment to society? That's one argument that I make, yeah, absolutely. I'm not saying I'm like some conservative prude who thinks it should be illegal or anything like that. I'm just saying that as human beings, we need to be aware of all the things that we put into our minds and understand that our behavior and the things we do in our life affects our behavior, affects our relationships.

And it's not just pornography. It's using our cell phones all day. It's using Facebook. It's putting photos up on the internet [and] becoming addicted to the attention we get from that. It changes the ways we live our lives. In 60 percent of divorces, the word Facebook is used in the proceedings at some point because it had an impact.

And you reportedly abhor Facebook and technology to certain degree. Yeah. I talk about it in my stand-up. And one of the points I've made is that we used to regularly have telephones in the house. I'm talking to you right now on land line. It's a rotary dial in my kitchen.

You Luddite. Yeah. And that's the way you'd speak and communicate if you were married, you'd have a phone in your house and you'd answer it and your wife would be making dinner. Or she's on the phone and you're making dinner, I'm not being sexist here. And everyone was all involved the same conversation. "Who was that?" "Oh, my friend from work." Everything was open.

And now there's all this back-channeling of information, all these anonymous relationships that we have. Its really messing with people's minds. And if you throw in the fact that you also have easy access to pornography, you create in your mind these impossible-to-attain images that you can't attain in a monogamous relationships with your wife.

In other words, people are getting desensitized. Exactly. When you see that kinda stuff, the brain creates dopamine and you get a rush off of it and you're chasing that rush that you can't get from your partner. There are a lot of people that are starting to talk about this more [and] purposely making a point to not watch pornography online. And not for any moral or ethical reasons but just because they physically want their bodies to return to the way it was before they were watching all this stuff. Like before that much dopamine was being pumped into their systems along with all that imagery.  

Tom Green on How His Comedy Will Make You Think, And How Facebook and Internet Porn Wreck Relationships
tomgreen.com

This is all pretty cerebral and deep for a stand-up gig. Obviously, these are themes that I use as the basis for a very high-energy absurd show because I want people to be laughing really, really fucking hard. But the fact of the matter is....you're not going to laugh as hard as you laugh at my show if you're listening to somebody that's not meaningful. Because I want people to feel it in their gut, I want people to be riveted to what I'm talking about, not just because they're there to have a laugh, but because they're actually listening and thinking about it.

So you have to find ways of capturing people's attention. And then once you've got them engaged like that, you hit 'em with an outrageous punchline or something silly. Because they're focused and paying attention, you get a much stronger response from the audience. And that's why I do it. I want to make people laugh uncontrollably. It's a real rush. But as much as I'm doing it to make a point, it's not like I wanna go around preaching to people.

In other words, you don't want to turn the stage into a pulpit? I don't really. If you actually watch some of my videos, you can see it's very silly. It's not like I'm being some very preachy [comedian]. I love guys like Carlin and guys like Bill Hicks, but I'm much sillier than that, much zanier than that. And I'll use the word zany. I'm a wacky comedian. I'm just trying to blend [everything].

And the other thing is, if you're surprised that we're talking seriously about things right now, you've got to look at the context. We're not on stage right now in front of a bunch of drunken people doing a comedy show. I'm just having an actual conversation. This is more kind of what I'm like in my real life. I'm very analytical. It's a craft for me, comedy. I think people sometimes, especially when my show first came out, the thought, "Oh, he must be crazy all the time."

We're sure you got that a lot. It was always amazing to me that people didn't understand it was all a performance. They thought they just put cameras on me and I was just always running around doing crazy stuff all the time. No. It was all very orchestrated and planned. It was just this character. And I think people didn't figure it out right away because it was so intense. That was the magic of it: to mess with people's minds a bit.

One of the most famous episodes of your MTV show was when you dealt with testicular cancer. How's your health these days? I am probably healthier than I've ever been in my life right now. It's been over 12 years since I've had cancer. And it was the most curable form of cancer, and it's completely cured. There's zero percent chance of any recurrence, thank god.

That episode was pretty riveting. It was a very intense and very positively received show that people all over the world saw. And a lot of those people who watched, their lives were saved because of that show, actually. I've had many, many people tell me they were diagnosed with testicular cancer. They would not have gone to the doctor otherwise.

We're not trying to lecture you, but there's a YouTube video of you driving around with Andrew Dice Clay and smoking? One of the top comments even says, "Looks like Tom wants to have cancer again." Yeah, well, I've quit. I was just smoking in the video sorta for comedic effect and just for fun a little. It's not like I buy cigarettes. I'm not a regular smoker, but after my shows people would often ask if I was having a beer with everybody. It's a real party atmosphere at my shows and you have a smoke, you have a beer. But I did find myself getting addicted to it, so I quit. I'm a non-smoker. Just because I'm smoking in a video with Andrew Dice Clay doesn't I'm a smoker again. It was just a prop. You can't believe everything you see on the Internet sometimes.

Speaking of which, it's been reported online that you and Kat Von D. might be dating. Is that true? No, not at all. And that's one reason why you see me talk a lot about the media in my act. And by the way, she's just a friend of mine, a very good friend. It's funny, someone takes a picture of you going to a movie with your friend and then all of a sudden it gets regurgitated on the blogs like we're in some sort of relationship or something. I mean, we've been friends for years. She's a great, really talented amazing person and has been a frequent guest on my shows. People are looking for stories and it sort of gets translated differently on the web.

Tom Green is scheduled to perform at Tempe Improv from Friday, September 6, to Sunday, September 8. Show times vary. Admission is $22.

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Tempe Improv Comedy Theatre

930 E. University Drive
Tempe, AZ 85281

480-921-9877

www.tempeimprov.com


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