Toward the end of my conversation with stand-up Anthony Jeselnik, the comedian admitted that he had previously “butted heads” with Comedy Central so much during the production of his previous series, The Jeselnik Offensive, that he “did an entire Netflix special about it.” Hence Thoughts and Prayers, the comic’s 2015 hour with the streaming giant, provided him with a platform to rale against the executives and standards and practices types at Comedy Central he once worked with.
Since then, Jeselnik has released a second Netflix special, Fire in the Maternity Ward, a move that — considering the streamer’s prominence in the stand-up world at the moment — wasn’t all that surprising. What is surprising, though, is the fact that the 40-year-old performer best known for crafting incredibly concise and inflammatory jokes about politically incorrect topics has gone back to work with the very network that canceled his previous series and gave him so much trouble.
Yes, Comedy Central signed Jeselnik to a multiplatform development deal late last year that, among other things, would go on to support his podcast, The Jeselnik and Rosenthal Vanity Project, and a stand-up-centric talk show that ultimately became Good Talk. This week, the first of the new series’ six episodes (featuring Big Mouth‘s Nick Kroll) will debut at 11 p.m. ET/PT. And while it is very much an artists-interviewing-artists program in the same vein as Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee and the like, Jeselnik’s version is by no means playing by the format’s rules. It means to break them.
I couldn’t help but notice that, at the beginning of each episode, the camera pans over a small bust of Shakespeare. Was that an intentional reference to your first comedy album?
A little bit, yeah. I had a Shakespeare bust at my house that my sister had given years ago, to commemorate the album, and I’ve been trying to get rid of it ever since. So I was like, “Let’s do this.” I wanted a mixture of pretentious and absurd. I thought having a Shakespeare bust on top of leather-bound copies of Chelsea Handler’s Uganda Be Kidding Me and Steve Harvey’s Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man would be really funny. But when we pan out at the end of the episode, it’s a bust of my face atop these classic works of literature.
When the show that became Good Talk was first announced with your Comedy Central deal last year, the press release mentioned you all would be digging through Comedy Central’s catalogs and talking to comedians about comedy. How did that concept evolve between then and the tapings?
The show really evolved. The original pitch was a clip show. I like those old Comedy Central shows that were simply a host rolling through one-minute clips of different comedians. As we kept going, we were like, “That’s not that interesting. What about bringing a comic on to talk about what they like, clip wise?” Then it became, “Why not just have one comic on, and instead of talking about clips, let’s just talk about what I would want to talk to them about?” So we almost abandoned the clips entirely. It was a pain to get the rights to them, too. It was just more fun and interesting talking to my friends.
Though you still include some clips. Sometimes they’re relevant to the guest, and sometimes it’s just a bunch of clips that happen to be about certain kinds of jokes. That, or they all include comedians doing the same thing — like taking the mic out of the mic stand. Were these bits something you specifically set out to do? Or, was it more random?