Comedian Q&A: Jim Florentine on heavy metal and prank phone calls

From the March 28, 2013 edition

When Jim Florentine called me for an interview I was a little worried. See, Florentine was a star on Comedy Central’s “Crank Yankers” and the mastermind behind the “Terrorizing Telemarketers” CD series. Thankfully, Florentine didn’t prank me and instead discussed opening for heavy metal legends such as Slayer, co-hosting VH1’s “That Metal Show” and of course effing with people via telephone.

When was the last time you were in Columbus?

A few years ago when I was on tour with these metal bands that played in Columbus.

How is it different opening for a metal band?

Comedy barely works in a comedy venue — everything still has to be perfect. When you put it in a venue with rock bands and people want to hear the music, it’s a little tough to pull off. Luckily, a lot of them knew [me], which helped.

You just do quick, short jokes, no more than 10 seconds before they lose attention. No storytelling, no working the crowd, no going, “Hey anybody married?” That’s not going to work — especially at a Slayer show.

Did you do a lot of prank calls growing up?

Pretty much my whole childhood was making prank calls and listening to metal. I grew up Catholic and was always in trouble, so I was always grounded after school. I would pick up the phone and make prank calls or if a telemarketer called, I would just mess with them.

So you get to work in what you loved doing as a kid?

Yeah, years later I’m working on a show where I make prank calls and [“That Metal Show”] interviewing metal guys. Too bad there wasn’t a show about masturbation, or I would have won the Triple Crown.

How much fun is it messing with telemarketers?

Telemarketers are so dumb and just happy that somebody stayed on the phone for more than five seconds and didn’t curse them out.

It came about just because as a comic doing a show at night, during the day I had nothing going on. If a telemarketer called I would try to keep them on the phone for an hour. How long can I waste this guy’s time? And eventually I just started recording the stuff. I never thought I was on to something. I was just being an idiot.

The first call I recorded … I played for my nephew who was 11 and my grandmother who was 70, and they were both laughing. If I can make [both of them laugh], I was on to something.

Do you integrate the “Crank Yankers” or “Terrorizing Telemarketers” stuff into your standup act?

The set I’m doing now doesn’t have a lot of that. But people really dug the “Crank Yankers” thing so when people come out and want to hear it, I got no problem doing it. There are some comics who’re known for something and don’t even want to talk about it on stage or acknowledge it anymore. But if that’s what put me on the map and [people] remember it from college when they were stoned and want me to bring it up, I got no problem with that. It all depends from show to show.

I’m basically just discussing all the stuff that’s going on in my life. Just personal stuff, stuff that happened to me that I can bring on stage. I’m working on a whole new set and … I put an album out about 14 months ago, so I’m working on new stuff. As a comic, people don’t want to hear all the same stuff.