The punchlines are always dark and invariably offensive to at least some consensus in the room.
Will his young nephew get to see his deceased gold fish in heaven? “I don’t pretend to know what happens to gold fish after they die, kid, but I do know one thing — there is no God.”
What about asking his “adoptive” parents why they picked him. Was he special? “Yes, Anthony, very special. Because of all the babies we had to choose from, you were the only one that was white.”
Whether the corresponding reaction tilts positive or negative, the Pittsburgh native stands tall in the pocket with an air of consciously inflected arrogance — he’ll never back down with an apology or soften the jagged edge.
“That was a great joke,” he’ll say. “Here’s another.”
Attitude is everything for the comic, who is working on his upcoming Comedy Central standup special, and is also set to host a “Talk Soup”-like series for MTV.
“I just have to keep going with it and be totally in charge,” he explains. “If I apologize, the whole thing falls apart. It gives people a reason not to like me.”
Of course, Jeselnik — whose last noncomedy gig was working as an accounting clerk on the set of HBO’s “Deadwood” — concedes a large percentage of the audience won’t end up digging him. “I’m a niche act,” he says. “I’m very specific.”
But at 29, the former Tulane lit major’s uncanny insight into comic nuance, coupled with his love for and aptitude with joke craft, has him developing a rep as a comic’s comic. Delicate comedy club dilatants may not go for his “specific” blend, but plenty of headliners do.
That polarizingly mean joke Sarah Silverman told at the Video Music Awards last year about Britney Spears accomplishing everything she ever will by 25? Well, Jeselnik was Silverman’s joke writer that night.
“I got into this wanting to be the best joke writer, period,” notes Jeselnik, who originally set out to be a novelist (he didn’t like the sitting indoors all day part). “I had no idea I’d be this good at it.”
“As far as comedians go, I look better than most,” notes Jeselnik, belying a bit of sincerity to the supreme confidence he conveys in his act. The handsome, clean-cut looks combined with the chops have yielded a number of auditions. But Dane Cook this certainly is not — he
demurs on many of these gigs.
“They often need to cast a cute fun guy, but that’s not me,” Jeselnik says. “I don’t have to do a sitcom. I’m really enjoying performing and writing right now.”