Q&A: Tom Green
Tom Green became the unlikeliest of MTV stars in the ’90s, with several incarnations of The Tom Green Show bringing his goofball-gonzo humor into millions of homes via cable television. He’s since transitioned into web programs, podcasting and his first love, stand-up comedy, which is the basis of his new residency at Bally’s. Green spoke to Las Vegas Magazine’s Matt Kelemen shortly before his opening night on the Strip.
So, you’re playing your last shows before your residency starts and Las Vegas has you all to itself.
Yeah, it’s going to be awesome. I’ve been touring the world pretty much for the last … almost 10 years now. I’ve been going all around the country, (sneezes) I’m sneezing, and so it’s going to be nice to settle down in Las Vegas and have some consistency in my life.
The word is out. So many performers prefer to play here and stay in one place for a while.
I live in Los Angeles, so it’s real close, and I’ll be able to go back and forth when I have my days off, and I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve performed in Vegas in the past. I have a lot of friends in Las Vegas, and we’re going to have a good time.
When you were on Marc Maron’s podcast, you mentioned that your internet-based productions and podcasting enabled you to build an international audience that you were able to capitalize on once you went into stand-up. Was Vegas only possible because of that?
Yeah, you know, everything leads to the next thing. I started doing stand-up comedy when I was a teenager over 30 years ago in Ottowa. That’s what initially got me up onstage a couple of times a week and performing, and getting the buzz for comedy. That led to me going to school for broadcasting and creating The Tom Green Show. The Tom Green Show being picked up by MTV was really a life-changing thing, obviously. I’d been doing my show in Canada. It was a cult following. MTV really blasted my show all around the world, so it’s been an amazing experience. I’ve got great fans all over the world. Las Vegas is an international hub for people from all over the country and all over the world, so it’s the perfect place for me, because I do have an international following. When I was performing in Las Vegas last time, people in the audience were from Australia and England, Canada and all over the world.
I think you tweeted that Vegas is the new worldwide hub for The Tom Green Show.
Absolutely, it’s the new worldwide hub for The Tom Green Show. I’ve spent the last 10 years going to almost every English-speaking city in the world doing stand-up, and now I’m asking all of my fans around the world to come use this as an excuse to take a holiday and vacation in Las Vegas. I’m going to be doing some fun stuff that I don’t normally do in my stand-up shows. I want to try some things that I can’t do on the road, like the multimedia video stuff onstage. I want to play back some classic ridiculous clips and some old clips. … I’m planning on evolving the show every week and coming up with all sorts of different ideas, make it sort of a nice room where I can do some experimental things. So, I do have my stand-up show that I do when I’m on the road. Tonight (in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.) I’ll be performing my full stand-up show. When I get to Vegas, I want to bring some video into the mix. I also want to ask some of my friends who are some comedians, maybe some people who have been on The Tom Green Show in the past, and other special guests will make some surprise appearances.
Was there a specific moment when you were asked to do the residency, or did you come up with the idea and explore it?
Initially, I did some shows at the Riviera, and then I was asked to do some shows at the Hard Rock. Also, I’m good friends with Andrew Dice Clay and Carrot Top, and I see what those guys are doing in Vegas and, I’ve got to admit, it looks like a lot of fun. (Laughs) I’ve always loved show business and the history of show business. I’m sort of a student of the history of comedy. I’ve pretty much read every book there is on the old school comedians. When I was down in Vegas the first time, I ran into Jerry Lewis in a restaurant and had a chat with him. I was just thinking, “Here is where I want to be. I want to be in a town that is known for entertainment and old school show business. Just seems perfect for me.”
What was it like for you when you first started transitioning back to stand-up?
A few of my friends were going on the road and doing stand-up, and I was getting a lot of encouragement from them. People like Harland Williams and Andrew Dice Clay, they were telling me that they thought I should go on the road and do stand-up. So … after writing for a few weeks I went to the Comedy Store and I did a five-minute set at the Comedy Store. … It was actually probably eight years ago. I, instantly, basically regretted not having done stand-up all these years that I had stopped. When my show was on MTV and when I was making Freddie Got Fingered and movies and things like that, I was very busy and just didn’t feel like I had time to go do it. In hindsight, I look back at it and I think, “Man, I really wish I had been doing stand-up through all of those years when I was on the MTV show,” because it comes very naturally to me.
What are the audiences like that come to see you?
I’ve got great fans, a really amazing energy from the crowd that is really positive, and it’s cathartic for me to be able to get up and get some laughs. I think that show on MTV really affected a lot of people who were in school and college … when it was on the air. … We were doing something really weird for the first time. A lot of people were experiencing something that was really strange and weird, and out of the box on TV for the first time, a lot like what you see on Youtube today. It wasn’t really like that on TV in 1999, so I think when I’m doing stand-up I’m able to bring that weird energy out of people. There’s a little bit of a nostalgia factor in it for people. When I started doing comedy again, jumping up at the Comedy Store and the Laugh Factory, and the Improv in Los Angeles, I got such a great response from the crowd because it takes them back to 10, 15 years ago when the world wasn’t quite as messed up of a place, and we were just kind of younger and laughing a little bit more.
You’re doing four nights a week with two shows on Sunday, and you’re currently scheduled through the end of February. Will you be creating a lot more material?
I’m always writing. I’m always creating more material as it is, but I think with less travel I’ll have a little more time during the day to really do some writing, and I’m looking forward to that. But I’m always trying to create new material anyway, so it’s just a matter of keeping that going. I think being in Las Vegas will be very helpful for that, plus just being in the same city every night, it’s just going to make me want to write even more because I want people to come back to the show. I want people who live in Las Vegas to come down to the show. I don’t want this to be just for tourists. I want people to come down every week. I’m going to try and do something different every time. I have a lot of different videos and things I can incorporate into the show, so it could be a fun thing to do on a semi-regular basis for the Las Vegas local folks as well.
I read an excerpt from your memoir, Hollywood Causes Cancer, where you talk about cracking the audience up during a debate, and the impression I came away with was the addiction started then and you were still chasing that sixth-grade gymnasium laugh.
Yeah, absolutely … that was definitely my first taste of feeling that adrenaline rush from a performance in front of my school, giving that public speech on comedy. I feel like I’m always trying to chase that rush, which I get every night, every time when I’m onstage, so it’s good.
I think people that haven’t seen you do stand-up yet might find your stage persona a little more intense than the Tom Green we’ve seen on TV. Do you feel a little more intense onstage, or do you find it’s more of a place to vent, or unleash some frustration or anger?
I’m glad to hear you say that, because sometimes people who aren’t paying attention assume it would be the opposite, because my persona was pretty intense back in the day on MTV, too.
It was different.
Yeah, first of all when you’re in front of a live audience and you’re just feeling the energy in the room from all of those people laughing, it really kind of amps you up. I am trying to … I don’t want to say I’m doing a character onstage because I’m not. That is who I am. I am speaking pretty honestly about all the things I’m talking about but I’ve always liked it when a comedian is not afraid to do a performance, to actually bring some silliness into their performance. I think a lot of comedy is people getting onstage and being angry, and ranting about things, which certainly I am and I do. But I always loved silliness in comedy, when I was watching Steve Martin onstage and being a wild and crazy guy. I always like those frenetic elements, like Robin Williams always being wild onstage. These were people that influenced me, and I always loved George Carlin, who had lots of things to say. I loved Richard Pryor, who had lots of demons that he needed to cure. I try to kind of keep an element of silliness in my show, which is in a way a sort of a character, which makes the show more fun for everybody, you know?
Do you think you’ll be visible at Golden Knights games this season?
I definitely, for sure, plan on making it down to a hockey game. Absolutely. I’m from Canada, so I played hockey my whole like. I’m a big hockey fan, and I’ve been meaning, actually, to reach out to the team. Hopefully I can meet some of the players. I thought it might be fun to do a skit where I go down and make a video with the team of something like that during their practice, because I love hockey. I played hockey and I’m excited that you’ve got a team in town. It’s going to be great.