Published on March 28th, 2014 | by Ernie Estrella2
Interview: Season 2 of ‘Legit’ hits close to Jim Jefferies’ life
I feel the need to climb to the top of a mountain and shout at the top of my lungs to watch Legit on FXX before it falls victim as another show worth your time that couldn’t find its audience in time. It’s smart, edgy, and sweet and comedies like this are few and far between.
Legit isn’t your typical comedy. Standup comedian, Jim Jefferies is trying to do something different, and bring his own sensibilities to the TV comedy realm. “When you’re with your friends,” he explains. “You laugh a little bit, you laugh a little bit, and then something big happens. I think a lot of network sitcoms it’s just laughs per minute. I don’t think they even care how big the laughs are. As long as they can pack so many into that timeline. We have episodes where there’s maybe five, six minutes where nothing funny happens, but you got to keep the story compelling is what I think. We try to have a few little laughs and then try of have one sort of—one or two real big moments. I think that’s how life is.”
That lower tally in laughs doesn’t mean the ones that are there aren’t enough to make their mark. Of course, you have to be open to a fair amount of dark, sexual, and vulgar material. Still, at its core, Legit is the story of a struggling comedian who is trying to work on his craft and become a bigger comic, and through all of his flaws, and his small circle of friends that he’s either taken in or leeched onto him, become a better person.
When critics say that he’s just playing an exaggerated version of himself, and that he plays a “ruthless asshole” it scratches Jefferies the wrong way. “It’s pretty close to me and I don’t think I’m an asshole. I think even when I watch it, I think the character on the show is a pretty decent guy all in all. I think for the most part he’s not evil or anything like that. He’s an idiot, but I think the nice things he does outweighs the bad. I don’t think anyone in society is completely nice or completely bad. I think that all of us are two sides of the coin. I just hope that it’s a fair representation of guys like me. I hope I empower other sleaze bags and assholes that they can be good people as well.”
In the first season Jim stumbled through his world but began to see the light when he reconnected with a friend from the past, Billy (DJ Qualls) who he hasn’t seen in a long time and suffers with muscular dystrophy. Jim showed him and his overprotective brother Steve (Dan Bakkendahl) that despite whatever life deals you, it can and should still be lived to its fullest. Sometimes those attempts resulted in tragedy, while most times, sweet victory waited for them at the end of the dark and cramped tunnel. Surprisingly, after crawling through all of the filth, there was a lot of heart and a lot of laughs. Much has been made of this odd formula, and that it’s a cocktail that features characters suffering diseases or mental disabilities and for whatever reason, that turns off some viewers, but those who really take time to watch it know that Legit treats those characters with respect, and like normal people.
He gave the character of Billy muscular dystrophy because Jefferies grew up with a friend who had the disease. “I took a guy with muscular dystrophy to a brothel before he was going to die. He was one of my best friends and he’s still alive, mind you, so that all really happened.” But because he wanted to create a full world around Billy, Jefferies wanted to populate his world with other disabled actors and offer a truer glimpse into Billy’s world. “It’s just organically where the story from my actual life started and where it built.”
As for Nick Daley, the mentally challenged actor who plays fan favorite Rodney, he is often celebrated and offers the most profound or funny moments. “I don’t think we ever do anything gratuitous or—we try to treat him like any other character on the show as one of the guys; but we also don’t make him like a sickly sorry character where you have to be sorry for him like a Hallmark movie.”
Eight episodes of the first season were largely based on Jefferies real stand up act, and that’s something he wanted to change in Season 2. “I hadn’t written a sitcom before and it was a little bit more fly by the seat of your pants,” revealed Jefferies. “This season there’s actually one episode based on a standup routine. The rest of it is a full linear story this year that we’ve organically come up with.” Jefferies admits that because of his naïvety, there were a small handful of episodes he wasn’t completely proud of. This season, there’s only one he’s not completely happy with, but he’s not telling which one on that chance that audiences like it. The new season promises several guest stars including Carrie Fisher, Bob Saget, Dr. Drew Pinsky, Eric The Midget from the Howard Stern Show, Tom Arnold and George Lazenby. That’s right, one of the James Bonds is on Legit this season.
So far the second season has Jefferies’ character has gone to therapy for his sex addiction, he might have sent one of Billy’s friends to the grave with his comedy, he dated a beautiful but vicious racist, he and Billy played chess to win back stolen goods, and Billy and Steve’s dad (John Ratzenberger) moves in. One thread that will run through the season stems from the fourth episode when he reconnected with a high school flame at his reunion who revealed a powerful secret that rocked his world. That last character, Katie Knox, (Jill Latiano) will be his love interest for the rest of the season, and is another storyline adapted from Jefferies’ life. “It’s never something that happened in my standup, but it’s something that happened to me in reality. A girl that I loved in high school I reconnected with for a very bad situation.” I caught up with Jim Jefferies to speak about the new season.
BuzzFocus: Hello, Jim. Nice to speak with you. The second season is off to a great start.
Jim Jefferies: Thank you.
BF: When you’re basing stuff off of your real life, is there any point when you’re in the writing process where you feel like I’m just going to exorcise this out and kind of play it out as it did in real life, or do you want to change it up or kind of put it into a fantasy point where you kind of idealize the moment?
JJ: No, I normally play it out pretty much exactly as it happened. If I can add a little bit of funny to it that didn’t happen, then I will. Sometimes you’re doing things directly from your own life, especially if they’re sad things, it’s very cathartic to actually make them into comedy, you know? But the only time I worry about it is if I’m hurting other people in my personal life. Normally I can change the name or I can change the location to say these things happened in America; they didn’t happen in Australia. There’s always enough change in it that people can even lie to themselves and go maybe he’s a talking about a different girl or different friend or a different thing.
Except for when it came to doing a storyline involving my parents and I’m using the exact dialog from what both of them have said to me in my life and some of it is a little bit harsh. My mother I know gets very upset by the whole thing because she thinks I only remember the bad bits of my childhood. I try to explain to her the bad bits are the funny bits and no one wants to watch a show about my good childhood or good things that happened to me with me and my parents. My parents have not seen the show. They’ll see it when it airs in Australia. I’m very nervous about them watching the episode that involved them, because I’m displaying a lot of their dirty laundry and maybe that’s not fair on them, but I’ve got to write a TV show for fuck’s sake.
BF: Good luck on that. I also wanted to ask too about the “Steve” character. Like you said you really put him through the ringer this season. For the fans of Steve, including myself, is there going to be any kind of uplifting moment or at least a taste of a turnaround for him this season?
JJ: He does have a turnaround. His life does improve right towards the very end of the season. I can’t say too much, but it’s not going to improve greatly and there’s going to be another dip for him right at the very end. If his life is going to pick up substantially, it will happen in Season 3, but at the moment no, things aren’t going good for Steve, which is sort of like where I like Steve being. Dan Bakkendahl plays two characters very well. He plays the guy in Veep that’s a complete and utter asshole, and then he plays like a bit of a loser on my show when he plays Steve. It’s sort the same way that Rowan Atkinson could always play a complete bastard on Blackout or a little weird guy of Mr. Bean. You have two gears in the opposite direction.
Dan plays an excellent drunk. I think he used to be one and he’s really channeling his past life. This season he becomes a full blown alcoholic, which progressively gets worse throughout the whole season. And not like a comedy alcoholic like from the movie Arthur, but like a real tragic figure, a guy who’s actually falling down the rabbit hole and he’s losing everything in his life. I think that’s a very interesting thing to put into a comedy, because often what you deal with addiction in comedy it is sort of a funny sort of like “here’s junky “Phil” who lives down the hallway;” but this one is the raw side of that. It’s still funny.
BF: I tend to think that he’s a very important part of the show.
JJ: For me the character Steve is even more the heart of the show than Billy is. I think most people would say that Billy is sort of the heart of the show, but the thing is I sort of explored this year about Steve is, Steve is based on a character from my life as well, the brother of the guy that had muscular dystrophy. It’s not just hard on the person with the disability. Sometimes a sibling when you have a severely disabled brother or a sister, the sibling will feel left out. They never got to go to fun parks. They never had holidays that were that exciting because they always had to have care at hand, you know what I mean? Maybe emotionally the parents didn’t care that much about whether they went to university or whatever, because they always assumed that that person was all right, and they were all right in comparison. We do explore the whole idea of what happens to the lost child in their family. What happens to the one whose dreams didn’t matter because they were so focused on making this other person’s life okay?
BF: That’s awesome. That’s some of the most powerful stuff on the show and sort of the most surprising aspects of the Legit. In Season 2 you want to be able to expand the scope of the series. There are some really nice moments with Walter and Ramona in the first four episodes. Will we see more and more development with these two characters, especially Ramona?
JJ: We expanded a role for Ramona, but to be honest with you, I’ve got a bigger idea for her in Season 3, which I wanted to spin into this season, but I don’t know if we’ll go to Season 3, but I’ve got a bigger storyline than I couldn’t quite fit in for her at the moment. Walter moves into the house this season and so there’s a lot more for John Ratzenberger to do who’s in about eight episodes this season. In fact his character separates from his wife for a while and moves in the boys, so the cast of three becomes a cast of four for a few episodes. Then also in this season, my parents come over to visit, so we introduce two new characters there. It’s all about figuring out time, but you will see Ramona develop a lot this season, but not as much as you will the next season. As I said, I’ve got a big idea for her coming up.
BF: Was the expanded idea with her kind of was born out being able to see what she brought to the table in Season 1, or was it—
JJ: Sonya Eddy is a super great actress. She’s like the nicest woman in the world. Yes, of course, I want to bring her character more out of just being a nurse. It seems that whoever meets Sonya casts her as a nurse; she’s in General Hospital and I just watched her in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and she was a nurse in a nursing home there, so the storyline she has now we’re going to delve a little bit more into her personal life, her romantic life, and not so much that she’s just a carer for Billy. She’s going to become more of a rounded person. I think in the first season there was a definite feel of maybe she was just a foil to our plans that would tell us that we’re bad people or whatever, but now she’s sort of more involved directly in our plans as one of the bad people herself.
Catch all the new wrinkles in Season 2 of Legit, Wednesdays at 10pm on FXX