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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Jon Lajoie interview

Jon Lajoie – November 19, 2009

"I tend to gravitate towards extremes, I guess. Either violence or extreme sexual references superimposed onto something that's really beautiful I find kinda funny. I find extremes are funny." – Jon Lajoie

Guy MacPherson: I know you were going to be here a few months ago but you had to cancel because of a new series.
Jon Lajoie: Yeah, we had to postpone a few shows.

GM: How did the shoot go? I saw some clips. It looks good.
JL: It was so much fun. They really hired me because they liked my sensibilities and what I do, so they kind of hired me to do what I do, which was the ideal situation for me. There's a lot of improv and stuff and it was a bunch of funny guys. We had a blast shooting it. The ratings are doing well, it got some good reviews, and we're hoping it gets picked up for a second season because it really is so much fun to shoot. I've never really done something like that.

GM: How many episodes did you do?
JL: Six episodes the first season.

GM: Do we get that here? I've just seen it on-line.
JL: No. You guys will probably get it some time next year, if Showtime or the Movie Network picks it up or wants to air it. Usually shows on FX get there about a year after they air here, and then if they keep airing them then it'll be in sync with what's going on here. But we'll see how that works out.

GM: I like how you say "you guys" now. You're still Canadian!
JL: I know, I know. I'm just saying, like, I watched it on my American television in my American apartment. But if I'm in Canada, I'm like, "Hey! Us guys, altogether!"

GM: Where do you live now?
JL: I still have my apartment in Montréal and I'm there quite a bit, but I have an apartment in Los Angeles.

GM: Did you move there because of the series or were you there even before that?
JL: I've been on and off for about a year and a half, but I got my own apartment in February of this year. I'm a new immigrant.

GM: With the birthday song you sang in The League, were the kids really there when you were singing?
JL: No. Well, they were, but I'd only mouth the words to the bad stuff – the 69 stuff and the ejaculate stuff. Whenever it was a bad word, I'd just mouth it, and they'd just go close on me for the actual... When you see me singing those words, it's a close-up and the kids aren't there. Which is good. It was really awkward doing that. At first, the director, Jeff Schaffer, and the people who write and direct the show, were like, "Nah, it's fine. Say it. They don't care." I'm like, "No! I don't want to!" They're like, "Fine, just mouth the words, I guess."

GM: You come from a family of nine kids, right?
JL: Yeah.

GM: What's the age range? You're third oldest, right?
JL: Yes. And it's 19 to 31, going on 32.

GM: Obviously a Catholic family.
JL: No, surprisingly enough. I guess my parents for another reason didn't believe in birth control. It was not Jesus telling them not to do it. But for some reason they just kept going.

GM: Do you have funny siblings?
JL: Uh, I don't know. Yeah, we've all got kind of a weird sense of humour. We grew up on Kids in the Hall so at a very young age we were exposed to very strange and absurd, crazy stuff, so we kind of gravitate towards the absurd and the strange stuff, and the dry humour. But yeah, I guess everyone has a decent sense of humour. My dad has the worst sense of humour in the world. We definitely don't get it from him.

GM: How so?
JL: He's cute and everything. It's cute what he finds funny. But, like, if a guy has to take a shit, that's like the funniest thing in the world. Or the guy has to fart and he's holding it in. Basically, I could stand on stage for 40 minutes and do that and my dad would love it. It's great. He's very cute and a very nice man, but no...

GM: Is that the difference between the French and English sense of humour? The French is broader?
JL: (laughs) It depends. I mean, it's like everything. There's good and there's bad. There are some French-Canadian guys... especially one that I really love, but he's very British in his sensibilities. Very dry, absurd sense of humour. His name is Jean Tamar Gavain(?) and he's, I think, one of the better stand-ups out there, but at the same time you'll have someone else that is just ree-diculous and I hate them, but, you know, they have this huge following and everyone likes them. But I think it's like that with everything. There's everything in the United States from George Carlin to Blue Collar Comedy Tour and all that stuff. So it's like there's a little bit for everyone

GM: What's your dad do?
JL: He just retired. He worked in insurance at Sun-Life Insurance in Montréal for a long time.

GM: Are you bilingual?
JL: Yeah, of course. You kinda have to be where I'm from. The thing is that's funny that the rest of Canada doesn't necessarily understand is if you're an English-speaking Québecker and you don't speak French, you're a bit of an asshole. In the rest of Canada it doesn't really matter, but in Québec you're an asshole.

GM: Your father's French, too, though.
JL: Yeah, yeah, yeah, of course.

GM: So you were speaking it at home.
JL: Elementary school was French. Well, from zero to five it was English; elementary school French; and then high school English. And theatre school and all that stuff.

GM: Do you perform in French, too?
JL: I have a show booked in Québec City and I'm trying to think if I can translate some of my jokes. But it's mostly English. It's not in my routine to do something in French but if I'm in Montréal or Québec City then I'll play around and I'll talk to the crowd in French. But most of my jokes, it's more natural to tell them in English because that's how I wrote them.

GM: How long have you been doing the song videos?
JL: The first video I put up on YouTube was June 2007. It's been a little over two years. The first ones are very negligible. I was kind of learning how to do it. Just messing around. But no, it hasn't been long. I mean, I studied theatre and I was on a TV show for a while in Québec, but really doing comedy it's only been about a little over two years.

GM: What was the TV show?
JL: It was a Monday night hour-long kind of dramatic, somewhat light-hearted soap opera-ish kinda thing. It's the furthest thing from what I do now. When you're an actor in Canada, as every actor in Canada knows, if you have work you're happy and you hold onto it. I was very thankful to work with that gang for a while.

GM: English show or French?
JL: A French show. I was the English dude on the show. The anglo.

GM: So you were an actor when you started doing these videos. It's not like you were some guy off the street.
JL: Yeah, I did three years of theatre school and did Shakespeare and all that stuff. And I was on TV for a bit. In Québec, and I guess in Canada as a whole, if you really want to do what you want to do, you're better off just doing it yourself and not waiting around and sending your scripts to the CBC and this and that. Just do it. You can. The technology is cheap, the internet's there, it's at your fingertips, just do it. So I was like, Okay, fine, I'll give this a shot. I had fun doing it.

GM: It's crazy the way it's exploded in only two years. Were you expecting anything like that? Did you have any expectations or did you just think it was something fun to do? Were you thinking it might lead to somewhere?
JL: At first I was thinking, I had a summer off, I'm gonna write a bit of sketch comedy because growing up I watched Kids in the Hall and the thing I've always wanted to do is to have a sketch comedy show or something like that. So I started writing a bit that summer and I just realized it was just so hard to write comedy in sketch without showing it to people. So I was like, you know what? I'll put together a few things, I'll shoot them, throw them on-line and show my friends kind of as examples of what this TV thing would be if I had a TV show and stuff. So I just really started being creative and shooting stuff and sending it to friends. I really had no expectations at all of it getting where it is. It's really insane. As an example, when one of my first videos reached a thousand views I was blown away. I couldn't believe a thousand people had watched one of my videos. Like, wow, that's amazing. Never in a million years would I think that a few years later I'd have, like, 130 million views on YouTube alone. Even 10,000 views a couple years ago was so out of reach and insane for me to even think of that now it's like it's just snowballed out of control and I'm just like, okay, whatever, just go with this and ride this wave and do what you can with it. But it came out of nowhere for me, too.

GM: Funny the evolution because probably at the beginning you were checking the numbers every day and now it's like there's no point.
JL: Oh, yeah. I went on vacation for a week and I came back and I checked my account and one of the videos was like a thousand and maybe 70-something and my heart dropped: What the--? People are watching this! It's crazy. And I was like, Oh, cool. It really does encourage you: Oh, I'll do more, then. And then slowly 30,000... 100,000... And then it just gets to a point where you're like, Aw, man, this last video I put out only got 500,000 views! That sucks! You adapt so quickly as human beings. It's funny.

GM: At the time you started making them, were some people thinking you were wasting your time?
JL: Oh, yeah. All my friends thought I was a weirdo. They were like, What are you doing? Why are you in the forest with your camera? Because my band broke up, I broke up with my long-term girlfriend and I just had time on my hands. So I'd go and shoot stuff alone and edit it on my computer and show it to people. And people were like, Are you okay, Jon? Everything okay in your world there, buddy? I'm like, Yeah, I'm just having fun. They're like, Alright. And the first videos weren't very good to begin with so there was a lot of, Uh, yeah, good stuff but maybe you should do something else and stop embarrassing us. (laughs)

GM: You said your band broke up. You were in a legitimate band?
JL: Yeah. We put out a CD a few years ago. We really didn't get anywhere. It was a band called Fluid Rouge and we were kinda like old school rock-n-roll.

GM: I love that in your comedy videos, you play it so straight so that it works as music, too. Some of the lyrics are over the top, but if you weren't paying attention and just heard it in the background, it would work musically.
JL: Well, thank you. That's kind of one of the things that I've always wanted to do. I always wanted musically for it to sound like a real song, and the way I perform it to kind of look like a real song. I mean give or take. Like, in Show Me Your Genitals you have to look ridiculous. But generally speaking I always thought it'd be funny if a guy like James Blunt, who took himself really seriously, was singing about Two Girls, One Cup or being stoned out of his mind or something. I think it kind of punches the joke a little bit when it's delivered seriously.

GM: I realized how out of touch I am. It wasn't until I was researching you and I saw Two Girls, One Cup. How could something get that famous without me even hearing of it? So then I went backwards from your song and saw the reaction videos, and then finally tried to look at the original video and lasted about three seconds.
JL: Yeah, the same thing for me. People were showing me the reaction videos. It was about a year or so ago and it was huge. I was like, Really? What is this? And they're showing me the reaction videos, then they showed me the video and yeah, I lasted about until the first moment and I was like, All right, I'm done. And I just realized over the next few days everyone was telling me about this thing. I thought it was so funny and absurd that something of that nature is what becomes popular on the internet. As a social tool, the internet is an infinite well of information and of knowledge and all this great stuff, and the one thing that everyone knows is two girls shitting on each other. I mean, like, you know what? I'm gonna write a song about this.

GM: So you haven't seen the whole thing either?
JL: Ah, no. But I'm pretty sure I'm guessing where it goes. I think I made it to when they puked and someone was vomitting the fecal matter back onto the other young lady's face. I think that's when I stopped watching.

GM: But it's a beautiful tune you put to it.
JL: I'd never really seen someone love someone that intensely before. That's a different kind of love. So, unlike the Plants and Animals song, I decided to write a song about that different kind of love that seems so beautiful and intense.

GM: I wonder if those girls are sitting there watching their hits: "Look, we're famous now!"
JL: (laughs) Probably! Them and the sneezing panda.

GM: What's your musical taste? I know you parody rap and love songs. Getting away from your career, what do you listen to?
JL: There's so much great stuff out there these days. And I used to be like a bit of a musical snob. My favourite stuff is still like Dylan, and the Beatles have always been a favourite of mine, and all that stuff. The Kinks. But in terms of stuff that I listen to now, I don't know if you know Plants and Animals. They're a Canadian band. They're from Montréal. They're great. I listen to Camera Obscura, which is great. A lot of indie kind of rock-pop-folk stuff. Fleet Foxes, I'm a big fan of them. A lot of that stuff. Man Man. A bunch of bands that are really interesting that'll never really get radio play but a lot of interesting stuff. If it was the late '60s, these bands would be getting a lot of air time. Great young bands coming out, I find. A band called The Veils from New Zealand is one of my new favourite bands.

"Hip-hop has a certain style and there's a lot of great hip-hop that's not about 'I got a Hummer and had sex with eight girls last night.' But I mean a lot of it is hip-hop culture and a lot of people that listen to it like the beats, they like the flow, but they don't necessarily care that the guy has a bigger Hummer or got shot three days ago or whatever." – Jon Lajoie

GM: Your raps, like the Everyday Normal Guy rap, this was in response, obviously, to the big talk of rappers so you just took it in the other direction, right? Rap fans can be pretty gung-ho about their music. Do they take it the right way? Do they actually like it as rap? You're kind of making fun of them.
JL: Yeah, they don't want to get insulted like I'm making fun of them or anything. Hip-hop fans, or the people that have responded to my stuff, they like it. I mean, hip-hop has a certain style and there's a lot of great hip-hop that's not about 'I got a Hummer and had sex with eight girls last night.' But I mean a lot of it is hip-hop culture and a lot of people that listen to it like the beats, they like the flow, but they don't necessarily care that the guy has a bigger Hummer or got shot three days ago or whatever. They just kinda like to listen to it. And when they hear Everyday Normal Guy, or at least the people that I talk to that like that kind of stuff, they're like, Oh, it's kinda like the stuff I listen to but it sounds more like me so it's funny. And I try to make it sound good and flow well. Because I do like a lot of hip-hop and the stuff that's not about how many ho's you had sex with last night and all that stuff. But there are a lot of good rappers out there. I hope they don't take it the wrong way... Well, I don't know if there's a right way to take it.

GM: I'm a stay-at-home dad. Your song is spot-on there. Do you have kids?
JL: I don't have kids but I have a few friends that have kids and that song was based on one of my friends in particular. He likes, like, Limp Bizkit and Rage Against the Machine and that kind of stuff. So I was like, I'll write a song that was kind of describes this guy's life in the musical style of the bad-ass that he thinks he is. I just thought it'd be kind of cute. And I had a baby. Well, I didn't have a baby. I mean my friend had a baby, and I was like, Oh, can I use the baby in a video? How can I do that? Then I was like, Oh, here we go.

GM: You work well with kids.
JL: I got eight brothers and sisters. There's always a baby around growing up.

GM: And I guess you've got nieces and nephews.
JL: Only one so far.

GM: What's the one video that put you over the top? Where you noticed a difference between a few thousand people and, bang!, everyone's watching.
JL: Funny enough, it was my first song that I did. It was High As Fuck, which is weird saying in an interview. But yeah, it was that. The first song that I did got featured on a bunch of websites and I went, Oh! Musical comedy! I was in a band and everything and I love writing music and everything, but shooting video is fine in low budget but capturing the audio with mics and stuff is really just impossible if you don't have a budget and people you're working with. So I figured out, with my whole low budget thing, I was like, Oh, if I pre-record something, then I can just match up the clips to it and then it'll sound good. It'll be good audio. So I was like, Oh, I can record a song and do that. So I wrote High As Fuck and then I went out in the forest and shot it, then came home and matched the lips up to the song. And that was basically the thing that pushed me to do musical comedy, me going, All right, I've got a crappy camera and no sound equipment to record sketches. So I was like, Oh, I'll give this a shot. And I did that and the response was huge. It got featured in a bunch of places – a couple hundred thousand views as opposed to a couple hundred. I was like, Oh, okay, I get it. And so I started writing a few more songs, which was fine by me because I didn't have to worry about audio when shooting videos and then I just started having fun with it. I was like, Cool, what else can I do? And kind of went in that direction. And then even the commercials that I do about not giving a fuck or pedophile beard, after that I would pre-record the audio and then match up the visuals. I just bought a mic and stuff so now I can do more. But up until now it's been, How do I shoot a video without actually having to take too much audio from my camera microphone?

GM: So the production quality is going to improve now that you can afford it.
JL: Yeah, I went up a bit. I went to a camera store, this big production place, to buy a really big, nice professional camera but then I was looking at it and they were like, You gotta get this lens and this thing, and it was going to be like ten thousand dollars, and I was like, You know what? What's your best user-friendly camcorder? So I went and I got a really good camcorder that anyone can buy. It's like almost professional but not really. You can buy lenses for it and everything. I was like, Yeah, this is fine. Because I'm not shooting for television. It's for a small screen. Because if you start getting into stuff that's good for hi-def television, really, I'm gonna spend like three days shooting one scene and that's not really how I work. I love getting out there, shooting and then editing through the night and then putting it out in the morning. That's more my style.

GM: You're R-rated so you're not going to get airplay, except for on the internet.
JL: Yeah, exactly.

GM: Even your Radio Friendly Song is not radio friendly.
JL: (laughs) Probably the least radio friendly of all my things.

GM: So two questions out of that. 1. Will you try to do something that can get airplay? and 2. Is there pressure to keep up the R rating? To always out-do yourself?
JL: I have a wide variety of fans that like my stuff for different reasons. Some people do like the stuff where I say a lot of bad words. Some people get the second or third layer that I try to put in there. But no matter what, I don't feel like I have to swear in something or talk about pedophiles to necessarily be something I like. But Stay At Home Dad I purposely did not put one curse word in there. It was even funnier if he doesn't swear. I have a bunch of other things I wrote that are cleaner. It's my sense of humour, it's just, for some reason, the one's that I put out are just peppered with a lot of that stuff. I don't know. I tend to gravitate towards extremes, I guess. Either violence or extreme sexual references superimposed onto something that's really beautiful I find kinda funny. I find extremes are funny. So I think, yeah, I think maybe that's why I go pedophile, rape, genitals, shit. I just think it's funny to see people's reactions with that kind of stuff. But hey, I don't have to do it. And we'll see, we'll see.

GM: Your dad must love that stuff.
JL: Oh yeah. They can't wait for me to get cast in a Disney movie. They cannot wait. They support me. They're really supportive but they just can't stand hearing their son say all these horrible things. Even though they get there's a different layer and I'm not just saying it for no reason, but they're still like, When are you gonna get a role in Aladdin or something?

GM: I hear you're sold out in Vancouver. I don't know about the rest of the tour. Does that blow your mind, that putting videos up on-line can get you this huge following?
JL: Yeah, it's just insane. It puts kind of pressure on me, which I try not to think about. Because I'm like, Yeah, they like me for the stuff that I do. But then I'm like, Oh, my God, I'm going to stand in front of an audience of a thousand people and do my show. It better be really good. And I do make sure it's a lot of content that people don't know so they don't go home going, Yeah, it was funny but Everyday Normal Guy the video is funnier. So I do try to make sure that there's a bunch of songs that people don't know, and most of my stand-up and jokes people don't know. It's pressure but I feel like it's easier to perform anything in front of a thousand people who are fans, people that like you or get your sensibilities or like your stuff to begin with than to stand in a comedy club in front of thirty people that don't know you. It's a lot easier to do the thousand people. I've been in both situations and I much prefer the thousand people and it's a lot easier to just let yourself go and put on a good show. But yeah, it does blow my mind. It's insane. I was in a band for four years and our draw was like 25 people.

GM: You've done stand-up, you say?
JL: I've put a bit of stand-up in my show but what it basically is is me saying that I'm not a stand-up comedian but I've gotta try because people want me to do stand-up comedy routines, so I'm like, "Rule number one of stand-up..." I kind of dissect what stand-up is while doing stand-up.

GM: You said you've been in both situations – the big theatre and little clubs performing to thirty people.
JL: Yeah, I've done stand-up in clubs. I've been going around. Like here, I'm in Iowa. Yesterday we were at a theatre but tonight it's in a comedy club. It depends where I am. I've played New York in Time Square at Caroline's and it's a beautiful room and I did about five shows. Four of the shows clearly people with my sensibilities and fans of mine. It was great; people loved it. And then there was one show with all regulars that go to see stand-up comedians. They were a bit older. They're the regular crowd that it doesn't matter which comic is there, they're going to see the show. And I was up there and was like, Oh, boy, these people do not like this stuff. And I just felt like going, You know what? I don't like what you like; you don't like what I like, but I'm sorry guys. I got 15 more minutes and I gotta keep going.

GM: Is there much production quality in your show? Or is it you just coming out with your guitar?
JL: There's a bit of video that I shot for the live show, and there's backing tracks, but no, it's really like... It's funny if you watched me walk in. It's me and my brother. I've got a suitcase with my costume changes, a DVD, a few CDs, and my brother to help me run the show up in the booth, and that's about it. In a rental car driving across the country. That's basically what we do.

GM: That's show biz.
JL: Yeah, there you go. I'm definitely not pulling up with an 18-wheel tour bus.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Comedian he is talking about is Jean-Thomas Jobin.

Good interview!