AS THE erstwhile king of gross-out comedy, Tom Green was responsible for many notorious TV firsts, from humping a dead moose to drawing lesbian love-scenes on his parents’ car, to his claim that he’s the originator of the planking phenomenon.
This may be the first time in his life that he’s had so much in common with a director of the FBI: “Yeah, it’s pretty amazing; we’ve both been fired by the president.”
Like former FBI chief James Comey, who received his marching orders amidst a hurricane of scandalised comment in early May, former MTV star and stand-up comedian Green was also given the heave-ho by Trump years earlier, during a stint on Celebrity Apprentice, under circumstances every bit as insalubrious.
Green laughs at the memory: “He fired me because I went out drinking with Denis Rodman when I was supposed to be project managing. That’s pretty hilarious, to think I got fired by the president for going out drinking with a seven-foot-tall basketball champion.”
“I was in that boardroom that wasn’t a real boardroom. I walked past the paintings on the wall that aren’t real paintings and past the receptionist in the hallway who’s not a real receptionist, sitting behind a desk that’s not a real desk, and you sort of take a step back and realise everyone in America watching this show thinks it’s all real.”
“When you work in television and know how easily you can manipulate an audience, it puts a whole different spin on the presidency; you think, wow, he’s really the president now.”
Like so many US performers, musicians and comedians, Green has worked some Trump-era comment into his routine. The controversial presidency seems almost an inevitable topic at this stage, percolating through American cultural product as rapidly as it has through broader society; while Green isn’t preaching, and says that while he’s performing in “Trump territory: Phoenix, or Texas”, he’s keen for all audiences to enjoy his show, the 45-year-old feels it’s natural to tap into the rich vein of comedy that having a Reality TV star for a president provides.
“Unfortunately, comedy comes from places that are scary and we like to laugh at things we’re fearful of. If you can make a joke about death, you can make a joke about Donald Trump being the president.”
In conversation Green is measured, philosophical, and a far cry from the manic TV persona that catapulted him to fame in the 1990s. With his MTV series, The Tom Green Show, Green was ahead of his time. His show would pave the way for shows like Jackass, as well as arguably being one of the inspirations for a whole generation of pranking YouTubers, a herald of the era of democratised broadcast the internet would open up.
Absurdity hit a peak with Green’s 2001 feature directorial debut Freddy Got Fingered, greeted in some quarters as the worst film ever made and in others as a cult classic. Taking the shock comedy to new heights — or lows — the film was peppered with scenes whose only merit seemed to be shock value: he spun a newborn baby around his head by the umbilical cord, sprayed his screen father, played by Rip Torn, with elephant semen, and beat a paraplegic girl’s legs as part of a sex game.
To some it may be just poor taste, yet enduring lines from the film still get shouted at Green to this day at his stand-up shows.
In recent years, he’s been something of a critic of just how far some reality shows and shock comedy has gone to generate gasps, groans and audiences, and insists his work was always well-intentioned.
“I don’t think it was as aggressive as some of the people who copied it after me,” he says. “Here was always an underlying sweetness in the Tom Green show pranks; it was important to me and my crew to make sure it wasn’t too mean-spirited.”
“One of the underlying themes of the show was talking truth to power and speaking out to authority and that’s where a lot of those pranks came from, whether we were getting chased down the street by a security guard or goofing on my parents in the middle of the night.”
Briefly married to Drew Barrymore shortly after his battle with testicular cancer (he filmed his operations and his shredded, biopsied testicle for the hour-long MTV Tom Green Cancer Special and wrote an awareness-raising song called Feel your Balls), these days Green is happily in a relationship in LA.
Although he podcasts and has had various other broadcast projects, he also seems happy to have returned to stand-up comedy, which was where he began at the tender age of 15. His MTV years have provided him with a useful and near-global platform.
“I have been doing hundreds of shows a year for the past eight years and really nothing short of loving it,” he says. “It’s really exciting and amazing for me to be able to pursue the dream.”
Tom Green’s tours through June at Vicar St in Dublin (June 1), Dolan’s Warehouse in Limerick (2); Róisín Dubh in Galway (3); and City Limits in Cork (4). tomgreen.com