Q&A With Comedian Tom Green

Former MTV star performs at the DC Improv this weekend as part of his return to stand-up comedy

By: Michael Gaynor

Funny man Tom Green is performing at the DC Improv August 26 through 28.

Comedian Tom Green has come a long way since his beginnings on public access television in Ottawa. MTV saw the promise in his unique brand of shock humor, launching him into nationwide notoriety with The Tom Green Show in 1999. Feature films, a rap career, and even a critically lauded special on his cancer surgery followed. Now returning to stand-up comedy for the first time in decades, he’s set to take over the DC Improv this weekend with five shows in three days. We caught up with Green during a tour stop at the Edinburgh Fringe comedy festival to talk stand-up, social networks, and the national debt.

How have you been enjoying Edinburgh?
I’ve just been having some amazing shows and an amazing time. I’ve been working pretty hard on my stand-up over the last few years and this is my first time at the biggest and most prestigious comedy festival in the world, where people who really know their comedy converge. Plus, it’s just such a beautiful city, I’ve never been to Scotland before.

It’s exciting for me personally because I’m going to countries that I’ve never been to before and people are coming out to my shows who know all the bits I’ve done over the years from my movies and my Web show. It’s just sort of neat when you see that these things have travelled all the way around the world and affected people. I think that it’s a big part of why I took up stand-up in the last couple years. It’s just such a feeling to go up there and actually interact with the people that really like what you do.

What’s it like coming back to stand-up after so many years?
I was 15 years old when I was doing stand-up in Ottawa before I stopped and started my television show on the public access station. I’m coming back to it now, but in a way it feels like I’m doing it for the first time. When I started focusing just on the television show, I think I was always secretly kind of guilty that I stopped doing stand-up, because I knew that it was something that I really enjoyed.

So a few years ago I was doing my Web show when suddenly I had this really wide-open window to the world where I was just getting millions and millions of people watching my videos online, and so much feedback from all around the world. It occurred to me that it would be a good time to start doing stand-up again. And I’m having fun doing stand-up, I’m writing a lot of new material all the time and really enjoying it.

What can you do in stand-up that you couldn’t on your show?
There’s a lot of things that you can’t do on TV that you can do in stand-up. First of all you have more time on stage—you don’t have a commercial break, and you’re not broadcasting. Instead, you’re speaking to an intimate group of people who have decided to come see you. So you don’t have to shave off the edge as much, you have 100 percent creative freedom, and there’s not the bureaucracy of television or film.

And that’s what’s exciting about it, right? Because there is no net, nobody there who’s editing you. And at the same time, there’s an audience that is just out there to have a good time and laugh. When you’re up doing this every night in front of people, it becomes very therapeutic and cathartic and fun. It’s an adrenaline rush. You become very addicted to that and experience it every time you get on stage, and you can’t stop.

Have you ever visited DC before?
I‘ve performed here once before, a little over a year ago and I had a great time. I love doing stand-up in DC. There are great audiences for stand-up comedy in Washington. The people are a little more aware of current events, and that fits right in with my show because I’m talking about not just outrageous and silly things but also some social commentary and funny things about our world. It’s important that people are stand-up-comedy literate, and Washington’s a great place to find that.

We just got through a big budget battle in DC. How would Tom Green have solved the debt crisis?
I came up with a solution to the debt crisis the other day, but I don’t think anybody took me seriously. I was thinking what we should do is we should sell Alaska to China. Just sell Alaska to China for $14.3 trillion! And then we can just start borrowing again! They can take Sarah Palin, too. I tweeted that and got quite a bit of good response, but I haven’t heard anybody consider actually applying it.

Are there any politicians you’re hoping to run into?
It might be cool to meet Anthony Weiner, that would be fun. I’m sure he’s out and about. I might see him at the gym or something like that, working on his pecks.

I suppose it would be kind of cool to run into somebody like that and ask them, “What were you thinking? Did you not think that anybody was going to see this?” That’s what’s so surprising to me about the way people just so blindly jump into these social networks and take photos of themselves doing ridiculous things and put them up online for everybody to see. Those never disappear. We’re gonna be the first generation of parents whose kids have absolutely no respect for us, because they’re gonna see how stupid we acted when we were their age.

I often think about how horrible it would be if Facebook had been around when my parents were in high school. Just seeing them sloppily drunk at some frat party making out with other people and making fools of themselves. I wouldn’t have been able to take anything they said seriously. Not that I did, but still, you know, there was an element of authority that they retained which would be completely lost.

What’s your stance on social networks?
I canceled my Facebook, but I do have a Twitter. I long ago gave up my privacy. I was shooting videos barging into my parents’ bedroom at 2 o’clock in the morning in 1994 and broadcasting it on the public access station. I filmed my cancer surgery, and made a special about my testicular cancer. So I’ve been an open book for a long time, and that’s something I chose to do artistically and creatively.

I think that’s why it’s given me this sort of perspective on social media, because I’ve seen the negative side of it. Trust me, I’ve had people commenting about my show for 20 years. I know that it’s not always a bowl of cherries. You put a picture of yourself online and now we’re suddenly living in this world where everybody is walking around with people sniping about everybody else on their Facebook pages.

In my show, I do talk quite a bit about our addiction to our cell phones and to Facebook and our changing world. I’m making an argument that things might have been better in a simpler time 20 or 30 years ago when there was more innocence and mystery in the world and we couldn’t instantly see any pornographic idea that popped into our heads. Every single movement we make wasn’t being broadcast to all of our friends. It’s a whole new world, and that sounds sort of cliche, but it’s only really about five or six years old. This idea of having so little freedom and everybody having a cell phone that can shoot video that they can then post for all their friends to see- this is brand new and I think the implications of it are so immense. I mean, it’s a scary time. The implications of it are much, much bigger than anybody’s ever acknowledged. These are the themes I’m exploring in my show, except I have punchlines and it’s funny.

What other projects are you working on now?
What I’m really excited and focused on right now is shooting my first stand-up television special ever, September 30 in Boston at the Wilbur Theatre. It’s gonna be the culmination of the last two years of writing and touring that I put into this one hour special. And I just have a few projects that are in development but aren’t really ready to start talking about, but I have a couple television ideas that I’m developing and a crazy, independent comedy movie that I’m putting together.

Tom Green is performing at the DC Improv August 26 at 8 and 10:30 PM, August 27 at 8 and 10:30 PM, and August 28 at 8 PM. Tickets ($25) are available at dcimprov.com.

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