The sharp-tongued comedian known for his roles on The Howard Stern Show and Crank Yankers comes to Stitches Comedy Club in Lancaster this weekend.
I Survived a Phone Call from Jim Florentine
Have you ever been interrupted in the middle of dinner or a TV show by a phone call from a telemarketer? Instead of saying what’s really on your mind, you just answer their questions with a series of yeses and nos until you can politely make an exit.
That’s what most people would do, but it’s not what Jim Florentine does. Florentine takes those annoying telemarketing calls and turns them into comedy gold.
After years of performing stand-up on the stages of New York City comedy clubs and Jersey Shore bars, Florentine got a break. In 2001, aided by extensive airtime from The Howard Stern Show, Florentine’s first prank phone call record – Terrorizing Telemarketers Volume 1 – went to No. 2 on Amazon (the only album ahead of it was Black & Blue by the Backstreet Boys).
The success of Terrorizing Telemarketers brought Florentine’s work to the attention of Jimmy Kimmel, who was working on a puppets-making-prank-phone-call series for Comedy Central called Crank Yankers. On Crank Yankers, Florentine wreaked even more havoc via the phone lines as an alcoholic puppet named Bobby Fletcher and a very “special” puppet called Special Ed.
Since then, Florentine has recorded several stand-up comedy albums and TV specials and is the co-host of VH1’s That Metal Show. More recently, Florentine shined as a crass road comic in a guest spot in the season finale of Louis C.K.’s FX show Louie.
Florentine went from working construction jobs and listening to The Howard Stern Show to becoming a regular on the legendary radio show, where his brand of “guy-humor” was a hit with Stern’s audience. (Florentine even dated Stern’s sidekick Robin Quivers for a brief time.) He now hosts a podcast called Comedy Metal Midgets and a weekly radio show on SiriusXM where he spins his favorite metal songs. He has a cameo in Amy Schumer’s new movie Trainwreck that debuts this month and is about to release a comedy special called A Simple Man.
With some trepidation, we took a phone call from the legendary prankster and talked about his recent appearance on Louie and the thrill of working with Howard Stern. Then Florentine unleashed an epic rant about his hatred of the word “selfie.”
Mike Andrelczyk: Great job on the Louie finale. There’s a really great moment where you and Louis C.K. are talking, and your character says stand-up comedy is less of an art form and more of a bar trick. Is that how you feel about comedy?
Jim Florentine: Thanks man. Not really, but in certain situations, depending on the gig, I think it is. I open for a lot of metal bands, and I hit ‘em over the head with stuff that’s gonna get their attention and keep them focused. In those certain situations, it’s like, “Let me just get through this.”
MA: Your prank phone calls were what jumpstarted your career. How do you keep people going and getting reactions?
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JF: I think the key is to just pretend that you’re not messing with them. Obviously, you don’t want to laugh or anything like that. My whole thing is like, “Look, I’m just trying to get the information.” I always play dumb – especially for a telemarketer. They’re just happy nobody hung up on them or cursed them out. They’re just like, “Holy shit! Somebody’s staying on the phone.” If they call you out like, “Is this like a joke? Is this a prank call?,” it’s like, “Look, sir, no. I don’t know how this works. I’m just trying to get a pizza from you,” or whatever it is. Then they’re like, “Ok, I guess this guy is not fucking with me.”
MA: I remember this one call where you try to sell your stuff to the telemarketer.
JF: Oh yeah. I tell him I have cancer and I’m dying and I’m selling all my stuff. And he just feels bad. I’m looking around my apartment. I’m looking at anything. “I got paper towels. You can have them. I got a toaster. I’ll just give that to you.”
MA: So did you immediately have to call that person back and explain what happened and get permission?
JF: If they’re calling you, then you’re pretty much covered. With Crank Yankers, that’s an outgoing call, so you have to. We’d call back maybe a day or two later. They’re always fine. They’re like “Look man, this job sucks. I’m leaving in a week anyway.”
MA: I know you used to listen to The Howard Stern Show when you worked construction. What was that like to be a listener and then have him play your calls and later be in the studio?
JF: Nobody could put the power saw on until a commercial break. When I finally got in there for the first time, I remember during the first commercial break [Howard] was like, “Man you sound really good on the radio. It’s perfect what you are doing.” And I was like, “If Howard Stern thinks I’m funny, then I made it.” For me, he was like Johnny Carson growing up. Even to this day, that was probably the biggest thrill of my career. It put my career into another level once I started going on that show.
MA: What’s your new comedy about?
MA: Do you think you’re an angry guy?
JF: I am, but I can shut it off really quickly. I’m not a guy that carries it around all day. You could say the word “selfie,” and I’ll go off for three minutes. And then 30 seconds later, I’m back to normal life, and it doesn’t bother me.
You’re not going to lose a good friend if you don’t say the word “selfie.” You’re only just trying to fit in by saying it. That’s all it is.
MA: “Selfie” is a horrible word.
JF: It’s horrendous. Let 17-year-old girls say it. Let kids in college say it, like guys who are at a party, [in a dopey voice] “Hey you wanna take a selfie?” He’s just trying to get laid. It’s all about getting laid and trying to fit in when you’re younger. You’re not going to lose a good friend if you don’t say the word “selfie.” You’re only just trying to fit in by saying it. That’s all it is, if you think about it. If there’s someone you’ve been friends with for 20 years and you go, “Hey dude, I don’t have anyone to take a picture, let me just, uh, we’ll just take it of ourselves. I’ll hold up the camera, and I’ll just take it.” He’s not gonna go, “Dude, I’m done with you. We’ve got a long history. You were the best man at my wedding, but you didn’t say ‘selfie,’ so I’m gonna erase your number.” Never gonna happen, so fucking stop. There’s no reason after one of my comedy shows when I’m selling merchandise for a 40-year-old dude in a Rush shirt to say, “Can we take a selfie?” You’re wearing a Rush shirt, you’re 40 years old and you’re obviously not trying to fit in ‘cause you’re wearing a Rush shirt. There are not a lot of Rush fans – they got their hardcore fans, and I love the band. But you’re not trying to fit in, you’re 40 years old, so what are you doing? You can come by the merch table, you can take a picture but I have one rule: no guy is allowed to say the word “selfie.” Girls can say it. It’s a girl word. Girls over 30 shouldn’t even say it, but I’ll give them a pass. But no guys. I’m not taking a picture if you say it.
Jim Florentine performs three shows at Stitches Comedy Club (2300 Lincoln Hwy East, Lancaster) on July 10 at 9 p.m. and July 11 at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Click here for tickets.