Written by Lar Vi
My phone interview with Tom Green starts like a prank call. Tom calls from his car to say he is heading into a parking garage where he might lose reception and asks if he can call me back in two minutes. I agree, but then he keeps talking, walking me through the step-by-step of how he is going to park his car, get out of his car, walk outside of the parking garage and then call me back. I thought we were about to hang up, so this extra lingering creates a funny tension of feeling the anxiety of hanging up, stretched out a bit longer than expected, not knowing when it will end but also aware it could end any second. This incremental pushing and pulling of societal norms is a trademark of Tom Green’s comedy, and clearly still present in his work today.
Green has been doing comedy for most of his life, he started doing stand-up as a teenager in Ottawa, performed in rap group Organized Rhyme, and started his own insane hijinx public-access TV program in the early 90’s. On The Tom Green Show, he approached everything from sandwich artists at Subway, to how art gets on display in the National Gallery, to where money in mall fountains belongs, with unbridled mischief – sometimes including his real-life parents in the filmed pranks. Tom Green circuit-bent collective synapses beyond imagined limits, which led to a show on MTV, and starring in films such as Road Trip and Freddy Got Fingered in the early 2000’s. Through all of his work, Tom has established his unique comedic style, taking punchlines into another dimension with idiosyncratic voicings, wild eyes, exaggerated expressions and repetition of the most absurd elements. Part of his comedy goes beyond the jokes and into a mind-melting realm where you are still laughing but don’t know why.
From the start, Tom has been a prolific innovator in the media: popularizing reality TV, anticipating the success of the podcast by being one of the first to have a DIY interview show in his own living room (Tom Green’s House Tonight), having one of the first websites with his own comedy video content at tomgreen.com, Tom has been a visionary (or Burning Feet Man) paving the way for independent media.
By the late 2000’s of ubiquitous reality TV programming, Tom appeared on big-budget reality TV show Celebrity Apprentice in 2009 and was fired by Donald Trump, in a strange arc he was rejected by the reality TV monster he helped create. Now in a surreal turn, his former “boss” is now a presidential candidate in the upcoming 2016 American election, something Green attributes to the multiplicity of media, “Shows are not as objective, having Donald Trump on is going to be good for ratings, so they don’t ask the tough questions.”
Watching videos of Tom’s recent standup, it’s fascinating to see such a fearless multimedia trailblazer starting a show asking everyone to put their cell phones away, and making fun of audience members for filming him. “We’re so immersed in technology, we use it so much, everyone is on their cell phones now. Tomgreen.com was one of the first websites affiliated with a TV show ever. In 1994 it was a niche thing, and I have seen how you can be driven nuts by comments and messaging and now to think that everyone is being driven nuts by it, it’s a scary thing. It takes away time to yourself, there’s a lack of privacy, there’s a lack of real conversations.”
Tom Green has always been at his best on his own terms, and things seem to have come full-circle for him now, returning to stand-up which he did as a teen, “comedy in its purest form” as he calls it, but with all the wisdom of a man who has masturbated a horse. Now on a comedy tour that “doesn’t have a beginning or an end” according to Green, on the phone from Los Angeles, he will be heading to Australia for a month following his upcoming gig on March 7 at Salle André-Mathieu in Laval. He finds doing stand-up and writing comedy cathartic, “I’m trying to change people’s minds about how they think about the world.”
Opening for Tom Green is Mike Ward, who recently appeared at a Quebec human rights tribunal hearing last week, in a very real conversation regarding free speech. At first glance, an able-bodied man defending his right to make fun of a child with a disability seems like a horrific entitlement to privilege, but when moving forward in laws to protect people from ridicule may mean that comedians are no longer able to criticize public political figures without getting sued, the issue gets more complicated. When asked if comedians should be able to do material on anything they want, Tom’s perspective seems to have evolved from his earlier days of comedy, “I think it’s important to make fun of the powerful, to make fun of the in-charge. I don’t try to talk about or be mean to the little guy, the less fortunate, I’d rather make fun of Donald Trump.”
That being said, Tom is resistant a narrative that he has changed, “My stand-up is still shocking, outrageous, ridiculous, absurd. Now I’m talking about things and issues whereas before we were doing things and filming their reactions. As I get older I see the world is complex, unjust, unfair, and I want to shed light on some of the hypocrisy in the world.” Combining his stand-up with storytelling, and sometimes even re-enacting parts from his films, Tom expects the audience to enjoy his outrageous delivery of the lines and wild physicality, just as much as his social commentary.
“I’m not a political pundit, I am a goofy guy. It’s gonna be a wild night.”
Tom Green performs Monday, March 7 at 8 p.m. at Salle André-Mathieu, 475 de l’Avenir Blvd. in Laval, with opening act Mike Ward. Tickets cost $30.50 and are available at the theatre, by calling 450-667-2040 or via salleandremathieu.com.