The irreverent comedian known for his unique brand of observational humor – and for putting his bum on things – is back on the road, including a visit to the Chameleon Club in Lancaster tonight.
If there’s one choice that Tom Green has made that has had the single biggest impact on his life, it’s probably the decision to paint the hood of his parent’s car with an obscene sex act. Labeling it “The Slut Mobile,” Green hid in a wooden box outside of his house early in the morning to catch his parent’s reactions to his creation, capturing the moment on videotape as his father walked down the street threatening to call the police for vandalism and his mother chided him for engaging in such a childish act.
But it was that childish act that took his Canadian cult-favorite program – The Tom Green Show – to an international audience when MTV picked it up and launched his fame into the stratosphere.
Green made the art of trolling (capturing unsuspecting people in uncomfortable and awkward situations) a household commodity well before the term gained internet popularity. He created skits like “Undercutters Pizza,” where he followed a delivery man to a house and tried to offer his pizza at a discounted price, and “Soccer Hooligans,” where he ran onto the field of youth soccer games, stealing the ball, all while holding a boom box that played the song “America” from West Side Story.
His notoriety was as big as any comedian in the early 2000s, leading to the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, a stint as the host of Saturday Night Live and a steady stream of acting gigs in movies like Road Trip and Freddy Got Fingered. It was Freddy Got Fingered that won Green the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actor, Worst Director, Worst Screenplay and Worst Film. (Green played along with the mock awards, being the first Razzie nominee to actually attend the ceremony in Los Angeles, as the film has gone on to become a cult classic since its release in 2001.)
Green’s entertainment career is as varied as it is sustained. On his most recent show – Tom Green Live on AXS TV – he’s interviewed everyone from Steve Carell and Dana Carvey to Buzz Aldrin and Larry King, using what he calls “the subtle skill of being able to sit back and listen” to interview his guests in a serious manner. He even has his own beer – The Tom Green Beer – made by Beau’s All Natural Brewing Co. in Ottawa.
Green’s tour comes to the Chameleon Club tonight. We caught up with the O.G. of trolling by phone as he was coming out of a business meeting in Toronto.
Michael Yoder: Will this be the first time you’ve been to Lancaster?
Tom Green: It is, actually – first time I’m performing in Lancaster. But it’s always fun when I get to perform somewhere for the first time because it’s good going to new places and seeing people from different cities I haven’t been to. I’ve been touring pretty much non-stop for the last several years and being almost everywhere, but not quite [laughs].
MY: Is there a place you haven’t performed that you would like to go to?
TG: As far as the stand-up comedy world goes, I’ve played in most of the big English-speaking cities in the world now. I’ve been to the Edinboro Festival in Scotland and London and New Zealand and all over Australia. I’ve been to every major city in the U.S. and Canada, but there may be some other fun places. I almost had the opportunity to perform in South Africa last year, so that might be cool. For the most part, I’ve been everywhere in the U.S., man.
MY: Do you have a least favorite city to perform in?
TG: No, I don’t. I always have fun. When I’ve been on stage, the crowds have been very enthusiastic and really fun and exciting. Sometimes the smaller markets and the off the beaten track shows are some of the more fun shows because people are excited to have you in their town. I try to stay positive and have a lot of fun in every city I go to.
MY: Do you ever get butterflies in front of an audience in a city where you haven’t performed before?
TG: When you’re traveling and touring and doing 300 shows a year, it doesn’t change your performance just because it’s a new city. But I do get a standard sort of level of butterflies and nervousness that I always get. I think most performers will tell you if you’re not getting nervous, then you’re not thinking about it enough. You want to have some nerves, and I think that’s what makes performing fun – the excitement and the adrenaline rush that you get from getting up on stage.
MY: Have you created a routine before a performance to help you deal with nerves or to psyche yourself up for a show?
TG: Sometimes I do a few push-ups – try to get some exercise during the day. The mistake some performers make is they have a drink. I try not to do that because that takes the energy away. I tend to just focus on what I’m going to talk about and focus on any new material I’m working on – any new ideas. Usually once you get up on stage and you get your first laugh – which is usually right away – basically all those nerves go away.
“I have my own point of view, as everybody should have their own unique point of view. My style is definitely combining a lot of serious subject matter with a sort of over-the-top, silly and goofy, but high-energy performance.” – Tom Green
MY: Are you writing new stand-up material all the time?
TG: Yes, I am – always, always writing new material and always adding new ideas to my show. I guess the reason for that is you have to keep the show fresh; you have to keep improving and growing as a comedian. It just keeps it interesting and fun. I’ve done one comedy stand-up special and working on my second one now. I’m finishing up all the new ideas for that. I’ve really been enjoying the process of writing for the special.
MY: Is the new special going to be straight stand-up, or will you mix in some sketch comedy as well?
TG: No, it’s 100-percent stand-up – as my first special was. I shot my first special at the Wilbur Theatre in Boston, and it aired on Showtime. With my stand-up, obviously I have my own style. I have a very high-energy performance that I do. I speak about lots of traditional subjects, but also lots of out-of-the-box and over-the-top subjects. I have my own point of view, as everybody should have their own unique point of view. My style is definitely combining a lot of serious subject matter with a sort of over-the-top, silly and goofy, but high-energy performance – trying to make people laugh at some of the physicality of what I do, but also think about the subjects I’m talking about at the same time. It’s exciting coming up with new jokes because I like to think of things that are going to connect with people.
MY: You’ve said in the past that you get you get the feeling that your life has been one big troll. Do you still feel that way?
TG: It’s funny. When I started trolling, the word “troll” didn’t really exist yet. When I was a kid, I started phoning in to radio stations and pretending I was an adult, and I’d be 12 years old getting into these outrageous conversations with the radio DJs on talk shows. My TV show, of course, was essentially trolling the public at large and my parents. I think trolling is just a new word for comedy, in a lot of ways. Because of the Internet, there’s so many places that people can go be shit disturbers, so to speak, in this day and age. But what I’m trying to do with my stand-up is follow in the footsteps of the traditional stand-ups who have come before me. You can call them trolls, too, but I’m trying to speak truth to power and make people think about the world that we’re living in and question authority a little bit. If that’s trolling, then I’m still trolling.
MY: Was there any stand-up in your early days that made you want to pursue it as a career?
TG: I had so many influences growing up. I grew up looking at the big comedy shows – all of the great comedy shows that we all grew up watching like Monty Python and Saturday Night Live and SCTV. When I was a kid, I was really in to a lot of Canadian stand-up comedians that I’m still in to like Norm Macdonald and Harland Williams, who I was a fan of before they became movie stars. I used to go down to the comedy club in my hometown and watch them perform, and I’d think, “Wow, that’s amazing to be able to tour around the country doing jokes. That seems like the most amazing thing ever.” And, of course, I grew up watching David Letterman and The Tonight Show and found inspiration in so many places. It also boils down to the fact that I’ve always been a little bit of an extroverted, goofy kid who liked to get a laugh from my pals and decided to turn that into something I would do for a living, and it’s been fun.
MY: Was there ever a moment in your career where you had to pinch yourself because you couldn’t believe what was happening?
TG: Fortunately for me, I’ve had a lot of those moments. I’ve had the opportunity to host Saturday Night Live and host Late Night with David Letterman, to be a guest on Letterman and The Tonight Show. I’ve been on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. And recently, I got to go drink my beer with Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show. It’s been very cool and exciting. I’ll always remember what it was like when I was a kid just dreaming of being able to get up on stage at the comedy club and tell some jokes. I look at it like, “Well this is pretty exciting that I get to keep doing these things.” I have a lot of pinch-me moments, and I still continue to do so.
MY: What ever happened to “The Slut Mobile?”
TG: The hood of “The Slut Mobile” is hanging on the wall of my garage in Los Angeles. It is something I get a good chuckle at every day when I pull into my garage. That was a big part of my life – to be able to pull that prank on my parents the first time. When I did that, it was really a life-changing thing. That was probably the single bit that was instrumental in getting the show picked up by MTV in 1999 and getting my comedy piped out around the world. And now it’s allowed me to do stand-up comedy around the world. So it’s an important prop to me, and I’ve made sure to keep it in a safe place.
MY: I was hoping it wasn’t painted over.
TG: No, it was not. The way we actually did that bit – the way we pulled it off, which is not widely known – was in order to have the paint dry in time and in order to effectively surprise my parents and to also make it less of a mean joke than people realize, we actually purchased an alternate hood. We had the painting done a week in advance, so in the middle of the night, we swapped the hood out. When my parents got up and saw the car, they saw what they believed was their car that had this painting on it, but really we just swapped out the hood. After we got all the reaction shots and everybody was sufficiently upset, we surprised them again off camera and put the old hood back on, and everything was back to normal within minutes.
MY: So they never actually made a phone call to the police?
TG: They never actually had to call the police. They just threatened [laughs].
Catch Tom Green at the Chameleon Club (223 N. Water St., Lancaster) tonight. 8 pm. $20. Limited seating is available. Click here for tickets.