Awhile back I was listening to a Jesse Thorn podcast of an interview with the much revered comedian and talk show host Dick Cavett, when Thorn raised the question of “comic voice,” the persona the standup comedian adopts when he gets up on the stage. Cavett suggested that early on in his career, his voice may have sounded to some like the hick from Nebraska, but that, of course, changed quite drastically as his career progressed.
Comic voices vary from the befuddled naïf to the wisecracking hipster, from the dispassionate observer to the angry critic, indeed to almost any character choices imaginable. At times the voice may be the comic’s real voice; one suspects that the stage voice of a comic like Bill Maher is much his real voice. At times the voice may seem to be obviously a creation for the show; one imagines that a Don Rickles off stage is not quite the insult machine he is on stage. More often than not there is no way to tell.
Whether the irreverent no-holds-barred character Anthony Jeselink adopts on stage is his own character or a creation for his act is then certainly up for debate, but in some sense it really doesn’t matter. He jokes about any and every taboo imaginable, and delights in shocking. It’s almost as if he’s saying, “Can you believe I just said that? Well, if you thought that was bad, listen to this.” He defies cultural norms with the glee of a naughty little boy. Whether he really is that naughty little boy is beside the point. He is an equal opportunity offender, and if you take offense easily, even if it takes a lot to offend you, Jeselink is sure to say something you’re not going to like in the course of his act.
His latest CD from Comedy Central, Caligula, is a case in point. He begins with a rape joke, and announces happily there will be more to come. And if joking about rape doesn’t bother you, he’s got jokes about the handicapped, child molesting, the Holocaust, and 9/11. Just in case you haven’t heard something to shake your head at, he ends his set with a little bad-taste bit about Casey Anthony.
He likes to set the audience up with what seems like a fairly innocuous story, and then pull the rug out with the punchline. You begin to laugh even before you realize what it is you’re laughing about, and then he’s on his way to the next bit. If a comic can get a laugh about the Holocaust, he has to be one funny guy. Besides, as he points out after one of his jokes, you came to see him. His act shouldn’t come as a surprise. Bad taste is his stock in trade; you must have been aware of what he does. So if you don’t mind finding yourself laughing at the dark side of humanity, you won’t want to miss Jeselink’s latest. If this kind of thing bothers you, you should have stayed home.
The CD, recorded live in Chicago, is an extended and uncensored version of the standup special that appeared on Comedy Central on January 13. It runs a little short of an hour. A DVD with bonus material including uncut versions of Jeselink’s performances on the network’s roasts of Donald Trump, Charlie Sheen, and Roseanne is also available.