Australian comedian Jim Jefferies slayed a painfully small audience at the William Saroyan Theatre Friday night, in spite of – or maybe because of – a few obnoxious people who seemed bent on derailing his new gut-splitting routine.
Jefferies – who rose to fame through strong TV/Netflix comedy specials, an under-appreciated TV show and the viral love shown for a gun control bit – was hilarious. He delivered 90+ minutes of jokes that would have made the raunchiest comedians ever to play Fresno before his visit blush. Religion, sexual orientation, race – nothing was safe.
But I was most impressed by the 30 additional minutes he spent ripping apart those in the crowd who felt it necessary to yell things or walk around during his performance. Jefferies quickly found out what I have known since my dad owned a comedy club in the early 90s: A lot of people in Fresno don’t know how to watch live acts – especially comedians. People in this city believe comedy is participatory. I have seen some great comedians tell them – with varying degrees of force – that it isn’t, but nothing like this.
The opener, Forrest Shaw, was solid. He mixed some pretty original jokes with traditional self-deprecating fat guy humor. The audience behaved pretty well, which is why I was so surprised by what followed.
It started innocently enough. A woman yelled something about getting a drink with Jefferies after the show within the first few minutes. Jefferies, whose loose style can make it seem like the funny guy at the bar wandered on stage, promptly savaged her. This is a common tactic for experienced comedians. If you brutalize the first one, the others will keep their mouths shut. On this night, they didn’t.
Jefferies started slow. He riffed on Fresno, expressed his confusion with the Saroyan’s new sound system and engaged in some friendly(ish) banter with the security guards. Once his planned act finally got going, his jokes were constantly interrupted by people saying things or getting up for some reason. One particularly rude guy stood up in the second row and seemed to be trying to flag his buddies in the fifth row to the open, slightly closer seats.
Jefferies tried different approaches. He was friendly to some interrupters. He interviewed them on the spot, as they clearly wanted to be part of the show. He loudly cursed out others. He ignored a few more.
One person was clearly filming him, despite being asked not to. This is a big no-no, as Jefferies has had his jokes stolen in the past before they could make it into a televised special. By his 100th minute on stage, it was clear he had to send a message.
When one guy in a loud polo shirt that screamed northeast Fresno/Clovis yelled something I can’t repeat in a family newspaper (it was bizarre and made little sense anyway), Jefferies sat on the edge of the stage and calmly tore this man’s entrails out for all of the 900ish in attendance to feast on. For 15 minutes, he mapped out the heckler’s entire life after the moment Jim Jefferies embarrassed him on stage. All of his future happy moments will be ruined by the twinge of shame from this one.
The guy, of course, didn’t learn a thing. He thought he and Jefferies were having a conversation. When the flaying concluded, he even stood up and took a bow.
“No no no,” Jefferies said. “I bow. You kneel.”
After all that, Jefferies had to threaten to throw the guy out just to get him to shut up. But it appeared to get the “no talking” message across in time for him to tell a few of his patented long, hilarious stories. That is his true strength as a comedian. No one tells a good story like Jim Jefferies. One of them was the basis for “Legit,” his TV show.
Jefferies delivered a great performance in his first Fresno show. A few political-ish jokes fell a little flat with the crowd. He very correctly called us out for not knowing what a big word meant. I’ll admit that I only know its definition because it is a card in Cards Against Humanity. But he was able to make an on-the-fly adjustment back to the raunchy sex stuff that had the crowd in stitches.
It was a marvelous show beginning to end, but I wouldn’t blame Jefferies if he chose not to come back. It was probably the smallest crowd he will see all year. If you didn’t catch it, you truly missed out. And you may not get another chance.