If you are a fan of heavy metal or listened to ‘The Howard Stern Show’ over the past few years, chances are you’re familiar with the razor sharp wit of comedian Jim Florentine. Partnered with radio icon Eddie Trunk and long time writing partner Don Jamieson, this trio of metal aficionados from New Jersey are headed into yet another rockin’ season of VH1 Classic’s “That Metal Show.” With the growing success of “That Metal Show” and a slew of stand-up gigs around the nation, Jim Florentine established himself as a comedian to watch in the years to come. He recently signed a record deal with the legendary Metal Blade Records to release his brand new comedy album “Cringe ‘n’ Purge.” With a successful television series under his belt, an album on the way and his popularity on the comedy scene growing by the minute, Jim assures us this is the tip of the iceberg! Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with the comedian to discuss his metal roots, what drove him to pursue comedy as a career, his podcast, his upcoming one man show and what the future holds for one of comedy’s brightest stars!
Let’s give everyone a little background on you. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in New Jersey and have pretty much lived there my whole life except for when I had moved to Florida for a few years, so I am pretty much a Jersey boy.
What drew you to comedy initially and made you take a shot at it professionally?
Ya know, I was always a big hard rock and metal guy. I wanted to be in a band. I grew up around music and all of my friends were in bands. I just couldn’t play any instruments! I didn’t have that talent. I just saw all of the girls that they were pulling and thought, “That’s the job I want!” I couldn’t play guitar and nobody could teach me because I am a lefty. They were like, “I don’t know what to tell you, I can’t just turn the guitar around. Go find Tony Iommi! He’s the only other lefty!” Then I started DJing on the radio, so I was doing that in college. That kinda morphed into stand-up, getting up on stage and doing it professionally.
Who were some of your early influences comedy-wise?
I was never really sure that I wanted to be a stand-up comic until Andrew Dice Clay and Sam Kinison came around. They brought a rock ‘n’ roll style to stand-up comedy that was never there before by playing arenas, Sam would pick up a guitar and Dice had the leather jacket on. They made it really cool and that is when I started thinking about doing stand-up. I realized, by seeing them, that you could be almost like a rock star instead of some corny white guy in khakis and a bad sports jacket!
What can you tell us about the way you write comedy for your stand-up act?
In the beginning, you just write jokes, just trying to think of funny scenarios and stuff like that. As you get more comfortable on stage, you find your voice. Now, I pretty much just talk about my life, what I know and what I experience ,and hopefully people can relate to it. That is the easiest way to do it, ya know! It takes a while to figure that out! It took me a little while to figure it out but once I did, my stand-up has definitely improved!
You have been in the comedy game for years now. What is the biggest challenge for you as a stand-up at this point in your career?
Not offending people. Not that I try not to but the world we live in now is really so politically correct and everyone gets in trouble for everything that they say. It is almost at the point where a comedian on stage is getting in trouble, which never happened before. Now that people are videotaping someones act at a club and putting it up on the Internet and saying, “Hey, he is offensive!” Then the comedian has to apologize, which is ridiculous. Lenny Bruce went to jail for this! He did it so that people could curse and say what they want.
That is a really good point. It is hard to believe that we are almost taking a few steps back at this point in history.
Yeah, the stand-up stage is the last public stage where you can hear inappropriate stuff. That is why people go to the comedy club! Actually, I take that back. The Strip Club, you can still say inappropriate things and not get in trouble! There is no Human Resources Department at a strip club. If there was, I would get pulled up to the office all of the time. It would be, “Did you tell a dancer in the back room while you were getting a lap dance that you want to eat her like a ham sandwich?” And I say, “Yeah, I did.” Then it’s, “Well she got really offended by that.” But getting back to my original point, it is really weird that that is happening now. When you go to a movie, you don’t go, “Well, I’m offended by this movie because this person got shot or killed … ” or “They made fun of Mexicans or Blacks or gays.” Things like that. Now, all of a sudden, comics like Tracy Morgan or Kramer [Michael Richards] or Gilbert Gottfried for making jokes on Twitter or Katt Williams, who got in trouble telling jokes about Mexicans, it’s really unbelievable. It is weird that the PC Police just pick and choose what they find offensive. That is what I don’t understand. “This was OK!,” if I am sexist and treat women like objects on stage, that’s OK! They don’t have a problem with that but if I make fun of gays, you’re coming after me!
It is definitely a pick and chose society these days isn’t it?
Yeah, it is amazing what is going on. That is the biggest challenge these days but I don’t care! I just do my thing. If you are offended, go fuck yourself.
You have a new album coming out called “Cringe ‘n’ Purge” and I assume that title was inspired from the current climate that we just discussed?
Yeah, because that is what it is now. All of a sudden, any comic that is a little edgy on stage or a little raunchy is considered a cringe comic. You do a joke and they cringe like, “Oh, Oww!” So they made up this term and I got lumped in with these other comics. I was like, “Fine! I go with it. So here, cringe and then go fuckin’ throw up after you hear a joke! Then get ready for the next one!” Maybe I am fuckin’ old school or something but anyone can be offended by anything. That is the thing in comedy when you are up there telling jokes. I can make a joke saying that my Honda Accord is a piece of shit, right? Someone in the audience could have been molested in the back of a Honda Accord when they were younger. That could have dredged up some really bad memories for them and all of a sudden they are offended that I brought that up and I ruined their whole night! You don’t know! How the fuck am I supposed to know? I could say that my dad was an alcoholic and there could be 10 people in the audience whose fathers were alcoholics who died of alcoholism or beat them when he was drinking. That can set people off but how the fuck do you know?! Ya know what I mean? Do I have to say, “Look, I am gonna do a joke about my alcoholic father. Is anyone going to be offended? Should we raise our hands?”
This is your first outing with Metal Blade records. What has that experience been like for you?
It is really nice to work with professionals who know what the fuck they are doing! It is amazing to be at a record company where the people actually care about their jobs, they come through, really know what the hell they are doing, are very efficient and really care about the product. You don’t see that too much anymore. These days, you get signed to a label and the project just gets buried or they promise you everything in the world in terms of promotion and then you get nothing. But at Metal Blade, they are right on the ball and it has been a great experience.
How do you prepare for doing an entire album of material?
“Cringe ‘N’ Purge” is my third disc. The last one that I put out was probably about three years ago. I always write a new one about every two to three years, always working toward doing another album. It is just a matter of accumulating the material and honing it in at the clubs every night and just working on it. A lot of times you add stuff or take things out. You change a couple of jokes that you have been doing for a while because they aren’t working. It is a whole process. Then you just basically say “OK, I am doing an album.” That is when you better get your shit together because you are going to record it.
Looking back on your earlier work, how do you feel you evolved as a comic since starting out?
I have definitely evolved with the writing because it is more personal. I was always afraid to take chances on stage in fear of alienating people. I didn’t know how to win them back if I lost them. I was always petrified of that. I thought, “Oh, shit! If I lose them what am I going to do for the next 40 minutes?!” But as you get more comfortable on stage, the less you care. You think, “Well, if I lose them, they will be right back with me on the next joke.” They aren’t going to, “What the fuck!” and walk out or anything! That is why I started writing more personal stuff because I wasn’t afraid to alienate the audience on a bit. That is how I have definitely evolved.
A lot of people are going to know you from your work on “That Metal Show.” How did you first get into metal?
It was my old brothers that got me into it. They were four and five years older than me. When I was a kid, they were pounding Ted Nugent, Black Sabbath, Aerosmith and AC/DC into my head growing up. I just fell in love with it. I had no choice! I would drive around with them and they were older, they would let me drink beer in the back of the car when I was 13 or 14 as they cranked some Sabbath! That’s the thing, once you get into metal, like I tell these little kids that come to the “That Metal Show” tapings or that I run into at shows, once it gets in you, you will be a metal head for life. You can’t get rid of this! You may stray away for a few years in your late teens or early 20s because you want to get laid! You usually can’t get laid when you listen to Slayer and it is all that you want to talk about with chicks. They don’t care! So, you may want to stray away for a little while and get into hip hop or whatever the music is at the time. One day you will come back! And when you are 50 or 60, you will be telling everyone that you went to all of these concerts back in the day. You are always going to love it!
Are you surprised at how far the show has come since you first went on the air?
Absolutely! We never thought it would become much of anything. Eddie Trunk had the idea. He has been doing radio in New York for 30 years. He would have guests come up to the studio and they would just sit around and talk about metal for an hour. He was playing an hours worth of music and only talking for a few minutes on air. So he said that we should pitch a show to the network like that where we would sit there, have some guests come on and shoot the shit about metal! He had an in at VH1 Classic because he was already working there and he pitched the pilot. Once they saw it, they were like, “Yeah! Let’s make the show!” That was eight seasons ago! We are working on Season 9 starting in October 2011.
You guys have had a lot of amazing musical talent on the show. Who has been your favorite rock icon to interview?
Every season it is somebody different. The first time, we had Lemmy on and that was it. Then we had Rob Halford and then the late, great Ronnie James Dio. Then it was Geezer Butler and Bill Ward. Then we had Kirk Hammett and this year it was Sammy Hagar and Lars Ulrich! It has just been one after another with bands and guys that I have idolized coming up. We have had Slayer a couple of times, the guys from Anthrax. Every season amazes me because there is always somebody new and always someone I am a big fan of. No one has been a dick or had an attitude. They are all just happy to be there! Eddie has had relationships with a lot of these guys for a long time, so that helps to break the ice but everybody has been really nice!
Is there anyone that you are really looking forward to bringing in to be on the show?
We would love to get Ozzy on the show. We would definitely love to have the guys from KISS on, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. The Van Halen guys would be great too, Eddie Van Halen or David Lee Roth. Steven Tyler would be great and James Hetfield would be unbelievable.
Who is the biggest diva on the the set of “That Metal Show?”
Ya know what, I would tell ya but I really don’t think any of us are. I think all we really want is a couple bottles of water. If we are taping a show, we just want a few bottles of water. Just make sure there are fuckin’ waters there and that is it! Other than that we are ready to rock, let’s do it!
I figured that it might be Don [Jamieson], due to the sideburns. Those guys with the highly manicured facial hair tend to be a handful.
Yeah, I don’t see that side of it, when you go in for makeup in the dressing room. I don’t really see that part. I hate putting makeup on, I fuckin’ hate that! I am a guy and we are talking about Judas Priest, so I shouldn’t need to put foundation on! I guess it is TV but every year I am like, “Please! Use the least amount! I don’t want to do anything.” They say, “Oh, but you’re shiny!” Well, I don’t give a fuck! Some guy in Texas watching “That Metal Show” isn’t going to say, “It was good but Florentine is all shiny! I can’t watch that show anymore.” Nobody gives a shit! This isn’t “America’s Next Top Model,” we are three slobs from New Jersey, we are supposed to look sloppy! I’m wearing a $15 Iron Maiden T-shirt, so who gives a fuck about makeup?! I don’t know who is but I am definitely no diva! Just give me the bottles of water and I am fine!
With the popularity of “That Metal Show” growing, do you often find yourself encountering people who attempt to wow you with their music knowledge in hopes of you whisking them away to a co-hosting gig on the show?
Yeah, a lot of guys. You get bombarded at shows. For example, I am going to see Dio’s Disciples tonight, which I am really excited about. It’s Rudy Sarzo (bass), Simon Wright (drums), Craig Goldy (guitar), Scott Warren (keyboards) and Tim “Ripper” Owens (vocals), so I am really excited about that. People will come up to me after a show, we were at The Big Four show at Yankee Stadium last week, and it is insane. It is 50,000 people that all watch “That Metal Show,” so you get bombarded. People will come up to you and say, “I’ve got beef with you!” and I stop them right there, dead in their tracks. I’m like, “No, you don’t.” They say “Well, you picked … ” and I say, “So what!? So what if I like AC/DC’s “Powerage” better than “Highway To Hell? You like “Highway To Hell,” who gives a shit!?” [laughs] Does it really matter? They say, “Well, how could you … ” and I say, “I like that album, I’m sorry. I don’t know what to tell you!” People take it so personally because they are so passionate about it, which is cool, but there is no reason to get upset. Like if someone goes on TV and says, “I like Metallica’s Black Album the best out of all of them … ” I wouldn’t go, “What the fuck?! If I ever see him on the street, I am going to scream at him!” But I guess to each his own! Eddie gets it the worst because he is the trivia master. They always try to give me a question and I say, “I am not ‘Stump The Trunk,’ ask Eddie! I don’t fuckin’ know!” [laughs]
I imagine touring as a comic has a lot of similarities to touring as a band. Have you ever given any thought to sharing your crazy stories from the road as part of an autobiography?
Yeah, actually I have a book about 80% complete. I have been working on it for the past couple of years. No one is interested in it right now but eventually they will be so I have a lot of it written. It is a lot of road stories and stories about coming up as a comic. The experience is very similar to being in a rock band. I have some pretty interesting stories and eventually the book will come out. I will put it out myself if I have to.
Looking back on your career, what do you consider your most defining moment?
I would say that getting on “The Howard Stern Show” was my big break. Before that I was just a stand-up comic doing shitty gigs in bars and I had a prank calls CD where I was messing with telemarketers and I mailed it into the show. Don Jamieson knew the producer of the show, Gary Dell’abate, from back in the day. He was like, “Hey, my buddy has a CD of crank calls that is really funny.” Gary said, “Oh, well give it to us then and we will play it.” The next day they started playing some of it on the air! The next thing I knew I was a guest on the show and things really started happening from there. I got the “Crank Yankers” gig from that and I got to do movies and Comedy Central stuff, so that was definitely the big break for me.
When I spoke with Don Jamieson, probably about six months ago at this point, he mentioned that you guys were kicking around the idea of doing some sort of tour for “That Metal Show.” Is that still in the cards?
Yeah, that is definitely something that we still want to do. It is just a matter of our schedules being so crazy with Don and I doing comedy and Eddie has his book out and has been flying around all over doing book signings. We just haven’t had time to put it together. There is definitely interest on our part and it is something that we would love to do. We would love to go to a city like Seattle and do “That Metal Show” live in a rock club. We could do an hour and a half version of the show and whoever lives in that town, like Geoff Tate from Queensryche, could be our guest. Then maybe we could have the band play afterwards or something like that, ya know? But yeah, it is definitely something that we are going to eventually do.
You also did a film called “A Little Help” where you appeared on the screen alongside The Office’s Jenna Fischer. I interviewed the director of that project a while back. Is working in the film industry something you are looking to do as well?
I would love to do more film work! It is tough because I go on TV wearing an Amon Amarth T-shirt, so it isn’t like people are thinking, “Oh! We have to get that guy for our movie!” But the director, Michael J. Weithorn, who you interviewed, actually saw me on “That Metal Show” and thought that I would be good for the role. He knew of my comedy before but then he saw me on the show and thought, “That guy would play a perfect dick towards women!” He knew of all the prank calls and my comedy, so when he saw me on the show, it put a bug in his ear. He was writing the film at the time, so it was really cool of him to do that.
Obviously, you have worked side by side with Don Jamieson for years. Are there any other comedians you would love to collaborate with?
I toured with Artie Lange for a while. He is back out, getting his stuff together and touring, it seems. I would love to do some stuff with him again. Nick DiPaolo, Jim Norton and Colin Quinn are good friends of mine, even Doug Stanhope. And ya know, Brian Posehn and Craig Gass are big metal comics and I would love to do a tour with those guys. I am open to doing anything with other comics.
What other projects are on the horizon for you that fans should keep an eye out for?
Like we said earlier, “Cringe ‘N’ Purge” is coming out. The new season of “That Metal Show,” we are in Season 8 right now and Season 9 is going to start on November 11. I think that the seasons are going to run concurrently. I am working on a one man show. It is my life story. I have done it a couple of times in New York. I am putting it back up and it is going to run in New York and Los Angeles around November. It is more story telling and it is not all stand-up, so there is some serious stuff in there and it’s a really good story. I have done it a couple of times in New York and received good reviews. HBO and Comedy Central are interested in it. It’s called “I’m Your Savior.” I have been working hard on that so hopefully in November or December, I will have it back up. I will be out and about after we finish taping “That Metal Show.”
What advice do you have for anyone who is looking to pursue a career in stand-up?
When it comes to stand-up or music, it is the same thing. Don’t do it for the money! If you are doing it for the money, then just don’t even get involved because there is going to be no money for a very long time. But if you love it, it isn’t going to matter. Whether you are in a band or a stand-up comic, it doesn’t matter, just get up on stage and hone your skills, cut your teeth and do whatever gigs you can. That is the only way you are going to get better. Everybody starves. Metallica lived in cars and slept on peoples floors. Every band and every comic struggles. Jim Carrey moved form Canada to California and lived in his car for a year so that he could make it. Everybody has to struggle, so don’t figure that you can say, “Fuck that! I’m not doing that!” If you don’t want to tough it out like that, then don’t get into it. It is rough but it is definitely rewarding when you get to a point. Just doing what you love, even if you aren’t making a lot of money, who cares!? I always made enough money to cover my bills, so to me it was like I had already made it a couple years into my career just because I was doing what I loved. I was barely paying my bills but I was paying them. To me it was great!
What are the best places for everyone to catch up with you online?
My website is www.jimflorentine.com. I also do a podcast that you can get there or on iTunes! You can go to www.jimflorentine.com to get signed up for it. It is free and I put it out every week. There is some comedy on it and I interview some metal guys. Every week it is different. I am also on Twitter as @mrjimflorentine.
Speaking of that, how is the world of podcasting treating you?
I love the podcast! I am not good when it comes to working with others, never have been! For me as a comic, I am my own boss! I can do and wear whatever I want. I can basically go to work drunk while wearing an AC/DC T-shirt. I always wanted a job like that and in stand-up you have that. With the podcast, I basically turn on the microphone and talk. Then I upload it and throw it out there for people to listen to whenever they want to. It has been doing really well and it was in the Top 50 of comedy podcasts on iTunes for the first few weeks. I love it because it is whatever I feel like talking about. I don’t have to worry about commercials or what I say. I don’t have to worry about anything. I find interesting things to talk about like this girl who was at my comedy show a few weeks ago. Somehow, when I was on stage, I got on the topic of guys that have smelly balls. She yelled out that she loves smelly balls. I started talking to her after the show and told her I needed to talk about that on the podcast. I ended up dedicating the whole podcast on how she likes smelly balls and what they taste like. She has very particular thoughts on what they taste like — a little balsamic vinagrette mixed in with a pinch of asshole with some provolone cheese. It was very specific. You never know what you are gonna get. The next week I interviewed Corey Taylor from Slipknot.
That is diverse to say the very least.
Yeah! It was the sickest thing that I have ever heard but it was hilarious and informative. She was very passionate about her man having smelly balls.
Well, on that note, I will let you go! [laughs] I really appreciate your time and we will be spreading the word on all of your projects!
Thanks, man! I really appreciate it!