Comedy: Q & A with Tom Green

By Columbus Alive
From the November 8, 2012 edition

Most of us know Tom Green as the wacky guy who pranked his parents on “The Tom Green Show” and sang about putting his bum on things. But Green actually got his start as a standup comedian, and it’s always been his passion. Over the last few years Green has returned to standup, presenting a more introspective side by talking about social issues with as much reverence as humor.

Green spoke with me about his recent Showtime special, why standup should be funny but also enlightening, and how Facebook can be hazardous and hilarious. You might be surprised that he views Facebook in probably the same way your dad does.

Do you have a more mature approach with your standup comedy to things you’ve done in the past?

I don’t like to use the word mature because at the end of the day this is a comedy show, and I expect people to come out, have a good time and laugh really hard. It’s a high energy, funny, ridiculous show. But I am talking about subjects of interest to our lives and how our lives are affected by social issues. For that reason people might look at it as a different type of thing than I’ve done in the past.

It’s not this sort of preaching thing. It is very silly, fun and ridiculous. That being said, I am older now, but I don’t know if I’m more mature. I’m trying to live a life where I never feel like I have to be totally mature. I do enjoy talking about things that affect me in my life, that bother me or I find ridiculous about the world. So maybe that’s why people say that. I’m not attempting to go up there and be mister serious or anyxthing.

But the topics do have significance to them, though?

It’s important to me to be talking about things that are real. I think when people come out to see a comedian, they want to laugh but they also want to walk away with a different perspective on their own lives. That’s what I like about comedy. There are all sorts of different comedians; some are very outrageous and some are very political. I’ve always enjoyed both and I’m trying to make a mixture of the two.

Tell me about your first comedy special that recently aired on Showtime.

It’s pretty exciting because I started doing standup when I was 15 years old. I was a kid. I did it for years and then I stopped when I started “The Tom Green Show.” I’ve been out on the road, touring for the last several years, but nobody until this point had seen my standup on TV. It’s an exciting thing to have out there for people to talk about.

The cool thing now is, since the special came out, you have people who are just hardcore standup junkies come out, which is a great time having them come on board.

Why did you start getting back into standup?

One of my friends started doing standup again and I thought that’s cool. I started writing again and jumping up performing around Los Angeles. The second that I started doing that, it was a floodgate. It was a very emotional thing in a way because I’d always wanted to do it again and hadn’t been on stage in a comedy club in a few years, and see the response from the crowd. People have been very supportive of me over the years because of the show, and have a lot of fun memories of the show.

When I was a kid, it was something that I was good at. I’ve always been good at doing standup, getting up on stage and performing. It’s just a time in my life where it was good for me to focus on this 100 percent. The only way to do anything right is if you really concentrate on it. The last three years, I’ve had more fun doing standup than I’ve had doing anything in my career. I just became sort of addicted to it.

One of the topics you focus on in the Showtime special is technology and Facebook. Can you tell me about your approach to that?

I’ve always been a real fan of new technology. I’ve always used it. That’s how “The Tom Green Show” came to be. At the time I was one of the first to get a home video camera and decide to make a TV show on my own, guerilla-fashion independent television. When I was doing the show on public access, I started my website. I was blogging — it wasn’t called blogging then — I was just putting stuff up on my website.

Over the years, [since] the early ’90s I’d been putting electronic information about myself, personal information, online and on the public access station. I had become very used to this nature of the way humans behave on the internet. I’ve been very aware of the positive and negative side effects that people exhibit when they get online.

Because I’m a person that is trying to market my comedy, this is part of the territory. But when Facebook came along and everybody was doing basically a version of what I’d been doing for 15 years — taking pictures of themselves, posting videos, showing their location, being in everyone else’s business — it was a bit shocking. To think the experience that I’ve been through with the public at large is now something that every person is going to go through; I can’t help but think of the negative repercussions.

Everyone isn’t a touring standup comedian trying to get their name out so people come buy tickets to their show. Most people are just living normal lives, and aren’t even really sure what they’re signing up for when they get on to Facebook. They’re just doing it because everyone else is doing it. There is a massive psychological and negative side effect of putting yourself out there online like that. I think I’ve only scratched the surface in my first standup special; how we talk to each other as human beings, or how it’s effecting marriages, our addiction to pornography.

I think it can ultimately go much deeper than that. It’s an interesting subject to explore and as a fan of standup, I’ve absorbed a lot of standup over the years, this is one of those huge social subjects that nobody ever talked about before because it didn’t exist. It’s great comedy because people are so addicted to their phones and Facebook pages. I think they’re unaware of what they’re getting themselves into.

What do you feel are some of the detrimental aspects of these technologies?

When I was a kid and in high school and wanted to ask a girl out on a date … you had to call her house. You’ve got to talk to her father first. You have to have a certain element of decorum and respectability. The family unit is able to listen to this teenage guy calling their daughter and able to — just by the tone of their voice at least — understand if the person is a good person or not by how respectful he is.

It’s all gone now and that’s a huge thing to be gone, now that people can communicate anonymously in the background. You don’t know who’s talking to your kids, who your kids are talking to. You don’t know who your wife is talking to, who you’re husband is talking to. It’s a very strange thing. And then privacy is completely gone.

How crazy is it that no one is coming out there and saying, “Hey Facebook is bad, you shouldn’t be on Facebook.” I think part of the reason you don’t have the news and people in the positions to actually talk about something like this is because they all have their own Facebook pages they’re trying to promote. I don’t think anybody wants to look like they aren’t hip and youthful. They don’t want to look like some old stogie fogy coming out saying you should cancel your Facebook page.

That’s what I think is funny about me doing it. People don’t associate me with being some conservative person. So when I come out and take a stricter look at things, maybe it makes people think about it a bit more.