Friday, May 28, 2010

The BC Q&A: Jim Florentine on heavy metal, football, and A Little Help

Jim Florentine’s first exposure to a mass audience came thanks to a puppet. Florentine voiced the character Special Ed on Comedy Central’s Crank Yankers, on which puppets made prank phone calls. The show was canceled three years ago, and Florentine has moved on to That Metal Show on VH1 Classic, frequent radio appearances, and a new film, A Little Help starring Jenna Fischer and Chris O’Donnell.

But the compulsion to prank stays with him. He’ll release a new Terrorizing Telemarketers CD later this year on the late Ronnie James Dio’s record label, and he’s also planning another Meet the Creeps prank DVD with his Metal Show partner, Don Jamieson, for late summer or fall.

Florentine comes to the Comedy Connection Wilbur Theatre tomorrow. I caught up with him by phone this week.

Do you have to do any research for That Metal Show or do you pretty much know your history already?

Sometimes I have to do some research, just check up on some facts. Some of these bands have been around for twenty-five years, so I might have missed some of their mid-90s stuff that they did, so I’ll look up a little stuff. Most of the stuff I’m fairly familiar with. I’d say about eighty percent I’m pretty familiar with.

Are there any particular favorites from the shows you have coming up?

We have Rob Zombie and Alice Cooper coming up on the show, which is going to be great. We just had Zakk Wiyde on, Ozzy’s old guitarist, and the reunion of the band Dokken. They came on, so that was really cool. And then Slayer. You can never go wrong with Slayer if you like heavy metal.

How long have they been doing it now?

I think they put their first record out in ’84.

I used to sit at the metalhead table in high school, and I remember the Slayer, Metallica, and Anthrax t-shirts.

They were one of the original thrash bands.

Do you have anything against nu-metal? I know there was an introduction to one of the shows where you said, don’t be disappointed your favorite nu-metal band isn’t on the show.

I have no problem with it. I like a lot of nu-metal. The problem is, on VH1 Classic, it doesn’t fit the format. It’s more like classic hard rock, the videos they play. It’s like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Motorhead, Iron Maiden. Not so much the newer stuff like Lamb of God, Shadows Fall, Slipknot. I love all those bands, too. We’ve had Hatebreed on, so once in a while, we can introduce a newer artist, but [with] the format of the network, it’s not really our decision. It’s not really our call.

It’s been kind of a rough couple of weeks for metal. Is there anything you want to say about [Slipknot bassist] Paul Grey and Dio?

Yeah. Ronnie was a guest on our show, we were friends with him. We knew him well. We were out in L.A. about a month ago for the Golden God Awards, the heavy metal awards show, and it aired on VH1 Classic, actually, last weekend, and we’re doing interviews for the red carpet and Ronnie came up. Ronnie came out because he was up for best vocalist, which he did win. We talked and he said, yeah, I just had a little setback, the chemo’s kicking my ass, but I’m going to do summer dates, and I’m starting to slowly sing again. I’m going to beat this and I’ll be all right.

That was a month ago. And it’s just really sad. He was such a nice guy. He’s one of the nicest guy I ever met. He was just incredible. Everyone that was around him or any musicians will say the same thing. He was just a sweet guy.

And then Paul Grey from Slipknot, that was such a tragedy because that band was so close-knit. If one guy out of the nine can’t make the show they’ll cancel the whole show. It’s just like, look, this is our original band, and this is it. It really sucks, because I’ve known Paul for four or five years from being on the road and seeing those guys and hanging out with them. He was just a really nice, quiet, super guy too. It’s a shame, it really is. And was a main songwriter, too. He was a main writer in Slipknot, he wasn’t just the bass player.

People don’t realize how many nice people there are in metal. That might take some of the air out of it, but if you go to a really heavy show, people are nicer there than at a lot of the mainstream shows.

It’s true, and the musicians are, too. Maybe because they’ve been around a while or something, they’re not young punks anymore. And then you look, that’s probably the reason they got this far in their careers, is just being nice and not being a dick to people and not burning bridges and just treating people the way they would want to be treated. And it always comes back to you. I mean, Rob Halford [of Judas Priest], sweetest guy in the world. My girlfriend met him, my girlfriend doesn’t even like heavy metal, she’s into country, and she said, I can’t believe what a nice guy that guy is.

I don’t know if they don’t want to let that slip because of the reputation, there has to be something edgy about it.

Well that’s the thing with metal, it doesn’t have to be, “Raarw, I’m fuckin’ – I love heavy metal and that’s it,” and, “This stuff’s gay, everything else sucks.” You don’t have to be like that. Like I said, you can like a Stryper and you can like a Slayer. Even Kerry King from Slayer said, we mentioned Stryper to him, and he said, “Look, I’m not a fan of the band. Obviously I don’t agree with their lyrics, but, hey, whatever.” He goes, “We’re actually going to do some shows with them.” There were some offers to do some shows overseas. He said, “I’ve got nothing against those guys. Let them do whatever the hell they want.”

I think it can be that way in comedy, too. I think people are surprised sometimes when they see a guy like Brian Regan on Opie and Anthony or an edgier show like that. And there’s a real respect and mutual admiration between some of the comics who are edgier, and those that aren’t.

That’s true. Speaking of comics, I lived with Jim Norton for four years, we were roommates. And everyone’s like, “How’d you live with that guy? Oh my god, that must’ve been insane!” And I’m like, the guy was the best roommate I ever had. He was amazing.

I remember telling Norton in Montreal once, are people surprised when you’re a nice guy, and he said, I guess sometimes, but that’s my act, I’m not a monster.

You’re thinking, how can I bring Jim Norton to meet my family? That’s what people think. He’s totally fine. Totally respectful and everything else. He’s just got some strange things he’s into.

How big is your role in A Little Help?

I’ve got three or four scenes with Jenna Fischer. I play her love interest in the film. It was just in the Seattle Film Festival last week, and this weekend it’s in the Staten Island Film Festival. It’s a smaller film. They’re trying to put it in festivals, get a little buzz going for it. That was great. They’ve got a pretty good cast. Chris O’Donnell’s in it. I’ve got a really nice role in the film. It’s not a lot of scenes, but my role is pretty pivotal.

Is this something people might not expect to see from you? It looks like a fairly serious drama.

Yeah, but you know what, I guess they call it a “dramedy,” so there’s some comedy in it, too. My role’s pretty comedic in it. I would love to do a dramatic role.

Is that something that you’ve looked for or ever gotten offers for?

Yeah, I mean, I’ve done a couple of small films. As a comic, you’d love to have a nice film career. I think you can be a lot edgier in a film, and the characters can be more developed than in a corny sitcom or a reality show or something. I’ve always wanted to go that route.

Does the fact that your comedy is a bit rough hurt your chances for something like that? Do people try to pigeonhole you?

It probably used to be like that, that was the case, but then again, now you get famous if you’ve got a sex tape out there. You get TV shows from it. If you screw Tiger Woods you get a reality show. I think that’s all out the window now. Before it was like, this guy’s too crazy when he goes onstage. I don’t think that matters anymore.

But if you were looking to do more dramatic roles –

A good case is Denis Leary. He was a really edgy comic, was really out there, really crass and everything else. He’s had an amazing career, and it didn’t hurt him. He basically found his persona and made it work on TV and it’s great. His stand-up was really crass.

He did a lot of that by writing projects and creating projects for himself. Do you see yourself doing something like that?

Yeah. That’s how we got That Metal Show. We came up with the idea, it was mostly Eddie’s idea. Eddie Trunk. We thought it would be a good show, because we always sit around, us three, and argue about stupid stuff like that anyway, so why not put it on TV? Because a lot of people do.

Coming up, were you concerned with creating a “tight five” for late night talk shows, or –

Yeah. I’m supposed to be doing the Leno show, The Tonight Show, probably by the end of the year.

Was that a world you were concerned with when you were first starting, when you were finding your voice, or did you just follow your own path and ignore the industry concerns?

At first, I wasn’t. My stuff was edgier and a little raunchy and everything, so I knew that wasn’t going to be my path, Letterman and stuff. But as you get on in your career, it’s like, so what? You do five minutes, and it’s more exposure. You do five clean minutes, it’s on TV, and you pick up some more fans and let them come see you at clubs doing your own thing. I got no problem with that. As long as it’s material you really like doing, I’m not going to write clean jokes for the sake of writing clean jokes.

Does Special Ed stick with you? Do fans still talk about Crank Yankers?

Yeah. Absolutely. People still go crazy over the show. It’s been off the air for three years now, and for some reason, people are still obsessed by it. Which is cool. I got no problem with it. It put me on the map. It’s great. I love that. My goal in comedy was always to get people to come see me in a comedy club instead of just being the guy up onstage, “Hey, who’s this guy?” That was my thing, because then I knew at that point I could pretty much do whatever I wanted onstage, because people are coming to see me. And that character really helped me get to that point.

Do you plan on doing any more Meet the Creeps videos?

Yeah, we’ve got another one coming out. Me and my partner, Don Jamieson. We’ve got a bunch of stuff that we shot that’s been laying around that we’re going to put it together and put one out for later this year. The hidden camera stuff.

And then also we have these prank call CDs where we mess with telemarketers, called Terrorizing Telemarketers. There’s a volume five, we’ve put out five discs so far. It came out about a year ago, we put it out ourselves, and now Ronnie James Dio was starting a record label and wanted us to be on his label. So we actually signed to his label. It’s still going to come out, we signed a deal a while ago. That’s going to be coming out late summer or fall.

Is that label going to go forward? Are there people in place to do that?

There are still people in place to do it. I know Ronnie had a lot of stuff in archive that they’re going to release, some footage and video from the 80s and stuff like that. They’re working on that, anyway.

How did you wind up on Inside the NFL on the NFL Network?

They were looking for someone, I guess Wanda Sykes was moving on, they were looking for another comedian to do some sketches. The producer, this guy Brian Hyland, knew me from comedy or wherever. I came in and I talked to him, I told him I was a huge football fan and I got the gig. The show won an Emmy, so I’ve got an Emmy working on that show for a year. So it was great.

Do you have a particular allegiance, or are you just a fan of the game?

I hate to say this since it’s a Boston paper, but I’m a Miami fan. But I don’t hate the Patriots at all. I like that organization. I like the way it’s run, the coaching and everything else. I like the way Belichick goes balls up and doesn’t care about running up the scores and pisses people off. That’s the way football should be played.

Everybody’s trying to rip each other’s heads off and kill each other on the field, but then Belichick goes for another touchdown when they’re up thirty-one to seven, “Oh, my feelings are hurt.” That’s so stupid. I don’t get that. What’re you practicing for, why are you studying tape? Coaches are sleeping in their offices and not seeing their families, and then suddenly they’ve got to pull back when the game’s getting a little out of hand? Bullshit.

Any final thoughts for Boston?

I love coming up there. The crowds in Boston are always amazing. I don’t get up there as much as I’d like to. So I’m really excited. They’ve got that sarcastic, dry humor, because that’s the way they are up there, too. They don’t get offended easily. That’s what I like about Boston.

Do you think New York, New Jersey, and Boston might have more in common than any of them would like to admit?

Yeah. And throw Philly in the mix, too. Absolutely. That’s why a lot of great comics have come out of Boston. They know that if you’re not funny, they’re like, oh, this sucks. You’ve got to be funny coming out of a tough area like that. Some of the most amazing comics have come out of Boston.

You’ve got to impress the folks who are coming out from M.I.T. and the folks who just finished a pipe-fitting job.

Exactly. It definitely helps.