Published Sep 20, 2013In a virtuosic display of comic timing, Anthony Jeselnik brought his hyper dry arsenal of offensive one-liners to Toronto and destroyed a room that he spent a surprising amount of time working.
Inside Amy Schumer's Kurt Metzger did a brilliant opening set with bits about getting a jaywalking ticket in California (punctuated by an outlandishly intricate riff on fascism), and Montel Williams' book, Mountain Get Out of My Way. His presence and energy was kind of awkward belligerent and the material was strong and smart. In essence, he was the perfect opener for a Jeselnik audience.
"I used to have a son," Jeselnik said about five minutes into his set. "I used to have a little two-year old. He died. The same way Eric Clapton's son died. For inspiration."
It's difficult to convey how devastating this joke was in the room, not just for "Slow Hand" empathizers, parents, or people with moral fibre. It caused this explosion of laughter and likely the biggest reaction of the evening.
"That's a pretty good test of what you're going to see tonight," Jeselnik said, surveying the damaged crowd. "If you liked that joke, good choice Toronto. If you didn't, get the fuck out."
There are a few reasons why his Comedy Central show is called The Jeselnik Offensive. On the one hand, yes, he continually explores the sickest sides of inhuman nature (his narrative body count is off the charts, and there are countless victims of rape, child abuse, and domestic violence that make up his fantasyland) but on the other, Jeselnik unleashes an onslaught of well-crafted one-liners like few since Stephen Wright, whom he acknowledged on-stage as an influence.
And Jeselnik is all about timing. Chris Rock once discussed his own stage presence as being analogous to Muhammad Ali's footwork; he constantly laps the stage, dashing through his material in this rapid-fire manner. Jeselnik does this slow, calculated pacing and it's kind of mesmerizing. It's like an illusion of calm when each thing he says is so loaded.
"My uncle Tom runs a summer camp for kids about to be molested," Jeselnik said at one point to massive laughs. "Sounds awful. But he loves it."
Even though he had a lot of new material and even tested seven jokes out in Toronto, Jeselnik did a lot of crowd work at seemingly random moments of his show. Each ended up segueing into something prepared and the audience Q&A was pretty revealing (he acknowledged having a contentious, conflicted relationship with Comedy Central about his show) but it did seem like killing time. Maybe this was ok; Jeselnik owns time like nobody's business.