There’s a moment in Goddamn Comedy Jam when Pete Davidson drops the self-assured demeanor of Weekend Update‘s “resident young person” and loses it. Not because Saturday Night Live‘s youngest cast member has gone crazy, per se, but because the author of the song he chose to perform, “Gangsta’s Paradise,” joins him on stage. What happens next is exactly what any other Coolio fan suddenly face-to-face with a surprise concert would do. Davidson yells “Coolio!” into his mic, screams at the crowd, and jumps around — cheering almost as loud (if not louder) than the audience.
While Davidson’s rendition of the tune made famous by Dangerous Minds (and, later, Pain and Gain) is great entertainment, the story he tells beforehand and his reaction to Coolio are what make the new Comedy Central special tick. Goddamn Comedy Jam isn’t just a platform for stand-up comedians to get up on stage and perform their material. Nor is it a place for the showrunners to pressure comics into doing something they normally wouldn’t do: sing. Instead, it’s the televised culmination of a popular live show in Los Angeles that creator Josh Adam Meyers has been organizing since 2008.
“When I explain the show, some people say, ‘Oh so it’s like comedians doing karaoke,’ and I’m like, ‘No,'” Meyers told us. “This is the farthest thing from karaoke. Karaoke is something that a 52-year-old woman does in a bar when nine other people are there and nobody’s paying attention to her version of ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ by Tiffany. This isn’t that. This is real rock star shit.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever had more fun on stage. Rock stars have it made, don’t they? What a wonderful experience that must be, singing in front of entire stadiums and stuff like that. Where everybody in the crowd loves you. We were in front of maybe just 800 or 900 people for this, and it felt great. I’ve done stand-up comedy in front of 30,000 people, and it didn’t feel like it had as much energy as this did.”
Jefferies began as a professional opera singer in Australia before medical woes — nodules on his vocal cords that required career-ending surgery — steered him in another direction. That his chosen path would have led him to tell a story about Noel Gallagher and follow it up with “Wonderwall” by Oasis isn’t something he could have guessed at. Then again, with DeVine’s belting out Blink 182’s “All the Small Things” and Leggero rocking Cheap Trick’s “Surrender” with lead guitarist Rick Nielsen, Jefferies’ calmer performance fits right in. It’s also quite good — the comic’s protests to the contrary.
“I’ve done the live show about three or four times. It’s a lot of fun. Yet when they asked me to do the Comedy Central show,” he said, “I was hesitant. I’m not super confident about singing on television, but I knew it would be a good laugh.”
Despite the long track record of success in Los Angeles, Meyers’ pet project wasn’t an overnight sensation. Instead, he slowly built it as a side show at the Unknown Theater, a venue familiar to L.A. comics that closed in 2010. Before, between, and after others’ sets, he would go on stage and perform popular songs for the audience, which consisted mostly of fellow comics. Eventually they started joining Meyers for his impromptu jam sessions, and chief among them was Bill Burr, who just so happens to be an amateur drummer.