It isn't that surprising to hear Anthony Jeselnik say he's a huge fan of Craig Kilborn, former host of The Daily Show and The Late Late Show.
"I thought he was a genius," Jeselnik says, on the phone from Los Angeles. After all, both men have a flair for portraying themselves as snarky, snide, arrogant, coolly detached pretty boys whenever they're on camera. But Jeselnik says Kilborn taught him a lot more.
"Just mostly that I didn't have to be liked to be funny," he says. "You know, I thought that was just an interesting route to go with ... You could think he was a misogynistic, sexist pig, but still think he was a funny person."
Even though he comes off as pleasant and likable during our interview, Jeselnik has been making it his priority to be one funny asshole whenever the spotlight's on him. For 12 years, the 34-year-old Pittsburgh native has been tweaking, refining and perfecting his brand of dark-hearted, purposely offensive one-liners. (How offensive? He's been known to open with this one: "My family is exactly like The Brady Bunch: We might not be perfect, but my father did die from AIDS.")
It was only a matter of time before Comedy Central came to him about taking part in its periodic roasts. After he served as a writer for a roast of David Hasselhoff in 2010, he became a recurring on-camera roaster, going after Donald Trump, Charlie Sheen and Roseanne. Strikingly, he's put some tough talkers on edge: Insult comic extraordinaire Lisa Lampanelli said she was afraid of what he would say about her during the Trump roast. (Jeselnik took it easy, saying, "You're cool" and moving on.)
Ironically, his acidic jokes landed him a writing gig on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, a show whose host does everything he can to avoid giving offense. Jeselnik stuck around for a year before leaving, and while he has kind words for his former boss, he found the environment to be stifling. "I didn't get a lot of jokes on," he says. "But I was never like, 'Why isn't he using these jokes?' I understood. I probably shouldn't have been there, you know.
"But it gave me a lot of ideas as to what would I want to do if I had my own show. If I ran Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, what would I do? And that's what The Jeselnik Offensive became."
Comedy Central is where you'll find The Jeselnik Offensive, which premiered earlier this year and just wrapped up its second season. The weekly show is pretty much a half-hour of Jeselnik giving offense, whether he's doing a scathing monologue or rounding up audience members to play games like "Black Name Spelling Bee" and "Which Kind of Asian Is This?" He's got a strong guest roster of comics—Joan Rivers, Patton Oswalt, Marc Maron, Aziz Ansari and Amy Schumer—to join him in savaging topical stories.
As Jeselnik tours the country, he is waiting to see if Comedy Central will pick up Offensive for a third season. "I love dark stuff, but I want to be able to work in the absurd things," he says. "As the show keeps going, more of me comes out and you'll see more of that stuff."
So, Anthony Jeselnik is trying to be a funny prick—but with layers.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Repeat offender."