The Tom Green Interview
Interview By Nick Flanagan, Illustration by Microraptor

I

t was hard to figure out how I would approach my interview with Tom Green. Would I speak to him as the fan that I am? Would I speak to him as a fellow comedian? Would I use the friends I have in common with him to ask him more personal questions? I decided on the latter, and contacted Neil Hamburger who, as it turned out, had shawarmas with him (Neil, who is ironically a vegetarian, had a falafel) the day before my scheduled interview.  In the end, I decided against my first words to Tom being "how was that shawarma you ate yesterday?" and didn't mention who I was or who I knew until after I had stopped recording.


I saw Freddy Got Fingered on the first day it came out in theatres.

Well that's what separates the men from the boys. Going to see it in a theatre.

Ironically I was a boy at the time.

That movie made you a man.

That probably was the thing that caused the drop, the nut drop.

Or it caused a lot of problems.

Good problems, first world problems.

It's funny that Freddy Got Fingered has become this amazing thing for me. When I'm touring around the world, people still love the movie. It's a nice feeling because there was a time right after the movie came out where I thought people didn't really like it and I never really could understand why people were so critical of it when it came out. It was hilarious to me and my friends. It was just the most outrageous, ridiculous thing we could imagine. Over time, when you get away from the weekend movie reviewers and people who are the negative naysayers of the world and just let it find its audience… people who are at my shows whether its Australia or London, New York City or Toronto, will know all the lines of the movie. It's become a cool thing.

At the time it came out it was the ultimate and largest expression of what you could do, or what you were doing, your voice. It's almost like people were trying not to let that audience broaden. I hated to see it because it was just funny. That's all it was about and people were reacting like you were trying to do something mean by putting it out, at the time. I was very confused.

It's turned into a really really positive thing. It's one of the things I'm very proud of. I've directed a movie that's being considered one of the crazier movies ever made and people consider it one of the most outrageous movies ever made.

Do you think there's ever a possibility you could make something crazier and top it, at this point?

Absolutely. I have already and I will. My stand-up show that I'm doing right now has been probably the most rewarding thing I've ever done, professionally. It's been nice to be able to focus on live performance and writing jokes and touring for the last two and a half years and not have to worry about if someone was going to pull the rug out from under me. When you have a TV show you're always dealing with a lot of extra things and not just the creative process. Are you going to stay on the air? Is the network happy? Is everybody happy? Whereas with standup, you'll be able to focus on the audience laughing. Are they laughing really hard? Are they laughing harder than last week?

That being said, there's a lot of great stuff about being on television. You have a big budget, a staff of people helping you make funny props and get costumes… The creative process is different. It's more like being a general of an army when you're running a TV show.

Like Patton!

There's a hundred people working for you and you have to make sure everyone knows what they're doing to make this crazy show every week.

You've always gone with the talk show format to some extent. With the show on MTV, I was wondering how vast the difference is with the process of putting it together and the control you have between it and the web show.

The web show is more like a radio show we've got cameras on. It's more of a hybrid. It's not a format that's like anything else. It's two or three people sitting in a living room and we're just talking. It's very much a free-form, conversational thing without a lot of pre-production or writing. No running stuff by networks or anything like that. It's more of a throwback to shows of the sixties. The shows like Jack Paar and Tom Snyder that I loved.

Were there any Canadian shows that ever inspired you? I'm trying to think of an old Canadian talk show…

Wayne and Shuster was something that was very inspiring to me growing up. The Kids in the Hall. SCTV. Canada didn't really have a strong talk show tradition. I loved Mike Bullard's show. He was a big part of giving me my break. That's where I met my manager that got me on MTV. It was one of the first shows in Canada that felt like what I traditionally considered a talk show. I grew up with David Letterman and the Tonight Show. There was never really a Canadian version of that growing up.

I wanted to watch a show for adults when I wasn't supposed to watch it. I think that was always something that I enjoyed about television and comedy in general was the fact that you felt like you were seeing something that was wrong that you weren't supposed to be looking at. That was really what I loved about it. It's such a double-edged sword when you start doing it professionally because you're trying to make something that you're not supposed to put on TV - and if it's not supposed to be on TV - it sometimes just doesn't get on TV. But really, thats the stuff I like the most. Things that are just a little bit off-kilter. You're just really wondering, how did that ever get through all the mechanisms involved in television that are there to prevent showing it to the general public? How did that get through all that? That was what was exciting about television to me.

I think that idea of trying to be fun and silly has been a constant in my enjoyment of your career. With Jackass and with other things… you're from the same cloth in a lot of ways. Skateboarding, a guy in the suburbs doing fun stuff… but there was always this silliness to what you were doing that was separate from whatever the crazy aspect was. To me, at least. I always thought there was a distinct comedic perspective.

My early inspirations were from comedy. I also loved skateboarding. I watched all the skateboarding videos and that inspired me to do the guerilla, raw video style comedy. That's where that came from. That was mixed with the desire to try and do something that I saw on Saturday Night Live or David Letterman. I was very inspired by Eddie Murphy and Steve Martin and all of these big comedy things that I grew up watching. So that was mixed with skateboarding culture and hip-hop music and more modern kinds of expression that were just coming out when I was growing up. New things. I combined all of that into The Tom Green Show. When I went on TV that's why it was like nothing anyone had seen on TV before. Before Jackass and before anyone had taken that kind of raw, guerilla video camera comedy, do it yourself Youtube type of comedy and put it all together in a package and put in on TV. It's interesting now how there's so much of it on the air that people don't necessarily remember how out of the ordinary my show was when it first came on. That's why I'm going back to stand-up. It seems to me that it's the most creative medium right now.


Originally published in Winter 2011, Issue 6.1.