Remember the good ole’ days of being a kid, making prank calls and immersing yourself in music? Well, get ready for a heap of jealousy to take over because comedian Jim Florentine lives exactly that life. Initially modeling his persona after “rock star” comics such as Andrew Dice Clay and Sam Kinison – sans the dirtiness – Florentine got a huge break when Howard Stern began playing his prank calls with telemarketers on-air – something the comic originated out of sheer boredom. But when he started gaining some traction from them, and was eventually hired for “Crank Yankers,” there was no turning back.
Florentine talks to TSJ about comedy, hosting “That Metal Show,” and his hysterical experience on “The Apprentice.”
The Smoking Jacket: Aside from comedy, you’re quite the metal head, right?
Jim Florentine: Oh yeah! I’ve always been into metal. I used to DJ at a rock bar.
TSJ: Were music and comedy your two “things” growing up?
JF: Honestly, no. It wasn’t until I saw guys like Andrew Dice Clay or Sam Kinison get up onstage that I really started liking comedy. I saw that you could be a rock star onstage. I really wanted to try it out. I love bringing that rock mentality to stand up.
TSJ: You’ve gone full circle, hosting “That Metal Show.”
JF: Yeah, I know! It’s funny, when I was a kid I did two things: listened to heavy metal and made prank phone calls. Later on in life I had two TV shows: one where I pranked people and the other talking about metal. It’s pretty wild. Now if I could just find a show that talked about masturbation I’d get the hat trick.
TSJ: [laughs] Is it hard not to nerd out in front of these metal bands?
JF It is, but it’s cool because I know so much about the bands so I can really dig deep and ask them questions that are meaningful… not surface questions. And I think they like that.
TSJ: Don’t you open for bands in rock clubs too?
JF: I’ve done it a couple of times, yeah. I opened for Slayer for a month and just finished opening for Megadeth.
TSJ: I’ve heard you tell a couple of stories about that. It sounds like an experience.
JF: They’re tough man. Luckily, most of those guys know me from the TV show. Sadly, that only lasts about a minute because you still have to make them laugh. They can easily grow sick of you.
I’m never up there for a long period of time, three or four minutes. When you do those types of things you realize you need to get to the punchlines fast, and keep it on topics like drinking, drugs, and sex. I make fun of hip hop; that always works.
TSJ: Are they harder than comedy clubs?
JF: Oh, 100 times harder. They’re not paying to see a comic; they’re paying to see a band. It’s tough to mix comedy and music.
TSJ: So why put yourself through it?
JF: It’s for the challenge. I really like the challenge.
TSJ: Is it preferable to comedy clubs?
JF: No, not at all. [laughs] I’d much rather a comedy club. At these theaters, people are screaming and stuff. You’re playing in front of a lot bigger crowds – like 10,000 people. I’d much rather be in a 200 or 300 seat comedy club and to take my time in between jokes and not have to be filthy. You can’t go up to a Slayer audience and be like, “So, anybody married?” That won’t fly.
TSJ: You’re a Jersey guy. New Jersey gets a very bad wrap in comedy. Why do you think that is?
JF: I think it’s just an easy joke to pick on; I love when people say they’d never live here. When people ask where I live and I say Jersey, they’re like, “Sorry.” It’s like, “Buddy, you live in Kansas. I feel bad for you! You’ve got nothing going on.” I’m 25 minutes from New York City, an hour and half from Philly, four hours from Boston and DC, and three from Baltimore. When people rag on Jersey I’m like, “Good, one less person living here.”
TSJ: It does seem like Jersey is a great place for comedy, considering it’s location to all of the different markets.
JF: Absolutely! I think you really need to be in New York, New Jersey or California. I go to LA for special occasions but there’s enough going on around here to keep me busy.
TSJ: The story about how you got onto Howard Stern is really incredible. How much do you think that helped your career?
JF: It was huge! I got everything from just being on his show. He started playing these prank phone calls I did. A few months after that was when Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Carolla were looking for guys for “Crank Yankers.” They basically heard my stuff on Stern and hired me on the spot. None of that would have happened if it weren’t for Stern. No one would have known who I was.
TSJ: It all happened by chance, no? You were pranking telemarketers?
JF: Yeah, I was just bored during the day as a comic. I’d love fucking with telemarketers for the fun of it, just trying to keep them on the phone for as long as possible. Then once I started recording them I put a CD out. It got into the hands of the Stern show and the next thing I know he started playing them. It was incredible! That got me headlining big rooms. I never would have guessed any of that would have happened. I was just doing it because I thought it was funny.
TSJ: You used to do a one-man show. How did you enjoy doing that?
JF: It was hard, but I loved it. It was kind of nice not having to worry about getting laughs all of the time. It was basically storytelling, and was out of my comfort zone. I’ve always loved taking chances. Theater doesn’t work in comedy, usually. I was really able to try something new with the one-man show. It was tough in the beginning because I’m so used to going for the laugh ever 30-40 seconds, and here you are going two or three minutes without one. It’s weird, but I hope to do it again!
“When people ask where I live and I say Jersey, they’re like, “Sorry.” It’s like, “Buddy, you live in Kansas. I feel bad for you!”
TSJ: You mentioned before that seeing guys like Dice or Sam Kinison made you want to get up there. It’s interesting that you are not dirtier.
JF: I know. [laughs] It’s kind of funny. I used to be dirtier but I was just ripping off them. Maybe I get a little dirty now but I get bored with it. If I do a 45-minute set, maybe three minutes are dirty. I find that there’s not much dirty shit going on in my life now that I’m older. When I was younger things were much, much dirtier.
TSJ: Last question, is it true you did “The Apprentice?”
JF: [laughs] Yeah, it was the last episode – the live episode – and they needed a comic for a fundraiser. At the time, George was still there. You know, that old guy? The guy in charge told us it’d be live and do not pick on George and his wife; they’re in the front row. Naturally, I went right for it. I asked if he still had sex with his wife after 55 years of marriage, if he wears a diaper – all of that. It was brutal. Also, it was a black-tie event, which made it even better.
At first, people were taken aback, but eventually I got them. George was laughing the whole time; so was his wife. Once I saw that I was like, “Fuck, I’m doing it.” After the show, the guy asked what I was doing up there. I told him I ran out of material. He said, “You didn’t even do any!” He was right. [laughs]