An edgy, hilarious, American comedian who âgetsâ Aussie comedy, and whom
Australia âgetsâ? As Ifft!
Tuesday, September 08, 2009
âIt frustrates me, sometimes, that nobody really wants the truth. They say they want the truth, but they try to hide from it constantly. Look at the most popular comedians: they usually arenât the ones that are that edgy.â
Eddie Ifft, a comic hailing from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, late of Los Angeles, California, and frequently calling various parts of the world âhomeâ for significant periods of the year, speaks the truth. Ifft is a comedian who doesnât like to hold back on stage, and while he doesnât begrudge any working comic an audience, has been known to react to some comediansâ material much like that annoying emoticon on the banner ad that used to grace MySpace pages: âJust say something!â
Eddie has plenty to say. But itâs not just outrage for outrageâs sake. The shocking statement will convey a message. More importantly, it will be a joke: a remark that isnât necessarily what he thinks about the subject, but certainly makes you think about it from somewhere other than the popularly held notion, by making you laugh either at his position or the truth heâs revealed to you about your position. But Iâm sure this is too high-falutinâ a concept for you to deal with a mere few paragraphs into an interview, so let me give you an example: Eddieâs take on Michael Jackson.
Iâm so sick of people going, âHe was the greatest entertainer of all timeâ. Youâre forgetting about the fact that he was a child molester. And people always go, âHe was alleged; he was only alleged, he was never convictedâ.
OJ Simpson was never convicted, either. He was never convicted of murder. But weâre not gonna be celebrating him at his funeral.You like Michael Jackson because you like his music, and he didnât touch your kid. He f*cked kids, and the only reason he didnât get convicted is because he paid the families 25 million dollars. Twenty-five million, to each family. And I will tell you this: for 25 million dollars, I will drive my entire family and let him have sex with them. I would drive them in a bus, drop them off at Neverland Ranch. Iâd be like, âGranny, get off! Iâm going to Cambodia and buying a whole new family!â
(c) Eddie Ifft
âI like to get the audience angry, and then turn it around on them and make them laugh and realise they were being jackasses for their opinion or perception,â Eddie explains. This Michael Jackson routine is a prime example. Kiddy-fiddlerage is no laughing matter. Or it shouldnât be. But if itâs impossible to discuss anywhere other than in sensationalist media reports, broaching the topic under the guise of âcomedyâ enables issues to be raised and considered â giving the weaker-willed an âoutâ to dismiss it (it was âonly a jokeâ or âa rude joke, not to be repeated in mixed companyâ or âsomething that oughtnât even be joked aboutâ), but those with stronger convictions to acknowledge âactually, thereâs something in thatâ¦â.
Eddieâs happy to report that audiences mostly fall into the latter-most category with this Michael Jackson joke. âPeople go, âYouâre right; twenty-five million dollars is enough money to wipe those sins awayâ. Everybody likes to think, âNo, no, no, I would fight that to the death; there is not a price you could put on itâ¦â But then, when a guy has you outside court and heâs going to give you twenty-five million dollars, youâre going, âWell, you know, we can put the kid in therapy; he already did f*ck him, so, uhâ¦ yeahâ¦ letâs take thatâ¦â.â
Truth is, it is the comedianâs job to explore this territory. Sure, there are audiences who donât want to forced to think about this stuff; the âI paid to be entertainedâ crowd, who are seeking a genuine escape, who are not paying to be reminded whatâs wrong in the world. The truly talented comedian letâs you do just that: pay for the escape, lull you into thinking this is the escape, and yet revealing truths about the world â the way that comic sees the world â to you. And because itâs done with humour, you are genuinely entertained, discovering the truth about how the world is. Well, thatâs the ideal. It can, and often does, get watered-down a little along the way. And it sometimes has to be: the pure, unadulterated message can be a bit hard to handle for audiences who think comedy is only that funny stuff recorded, edited and packaged for television. But that stuff is only one part of comedy. Thereâs stuff that happens live on stage that is amazing â that youâd never know about if you never went out to see live comedy. The work of Doug Stanhope, for example, that Eddie finds hilariously inspiring.
âI watch Doug Stanhope and just go, âHeâs rightâ¦! Heâs rightâ¦! Heâs rightâ¦!ââ Eddie says. âYouâre laughing because youâre going, âHow f*cked up is the world?â And âWhy arenât more people revelling in this?â I think what happens is people just shut him off and go,âI donât want to listen to it; I know itâs the truthâ¦â Itâs like someone getting a bill in the mail and not opening it. âI know thereâs a bill in there but I just donât want to open it.ââ
Iâve suggested thereâs more âcomedic truthâ on the live stage than
on the screen, but that isnât necessarily the case. There are
times when comedy is captured well for movies or television, usually in
a documentary that mixes performance with a look behind the scenes,
like in Paul Provenzaâs masterpiece, The Aristocrats. Eddieâs working on a documentary at the moment called America the Punchline,
and he quotes from comedian Lewis Black in it â on striking the
balance between delivering a message and making an audience laugh:
âAt the end of the day Iâm trying to get the laugh,â Black tells Ifft, âand
the joke might start out preachy but it doesnât stay in the set unless
it gets a big, big laugh. The important part is, âHow do I get the
point across initially?ââ
Chris Rock, who also appears in America the Punchline, says, âI
write down what I want to talk about, then I make it funny.â Eddieâs
approach is the same:
âI put down all the subjects I want to talk about and then I find whatâs funny in them. I was probably talking about Michael Jackson for two weeks, saying, âWhy are we celebrating him?â And then I finally found that angle about driving my whole family in the bus to Neverland Ranch and dropping them off, and getting massive, massive laughs. Iâd found their âhotâ button: once you paint the picture in their head of something so silly, and me being so honest â that I would give up my entire family for money â by then the whole idea becomes funny.â
Itâs the idea thatâs funny, not the underlying issue â which is an important one. Comedy enables the serious topic to be broached in a way that it can be discussed, and â youâd hope â that leads to reflection and debate. âPeople go, âOh, you shouldnât joke about that stuffâ,â Eddie acknowledges. âYes, you should. You should joke about it. You should talk about it. You should make points about what is right and what is wrong.â
At the moment, Eddieâs working on a routine about a current trend of incarcerating teenagers for having sex. The inspiration is the case, outlined in a recent issue of The Economist, of âa 17-year-old girl who gave a 16-year-old boy a blow job, and went to gaol for itâ. Meanwhile, argues Eddie, âyouâve got a guy who is eighty-something years old, whoâs got a mansion, and we watch a TV show where he bangs 18-year-olds. That, to me, is a lot creepier than a 17-year-old giving the 16-year-old a blow job. Where are our moral standards there? Itâs okay for Hugh Hefner and we celebrate him? Why?â
Another one of the inspirational comics Eddie likes is Louis CK, a âphenomenalâ comic who âcan say anything and it's funnyâ. According to Eddie, Louis likes to take âthe edgiest route you can goâ. He had a routine about how most people mistakenly believe molestation to be the worst thing that can happen to your child. âI have two kids,â Eddie says, paraphrasing Louis, âand if somebody called me to say my child had been killed, that would be the worst thing ever. And the child molesters kill them because they donât want to get caught. I would much rather get the phone call from the guy going, âHey, ah, listen â I got your kid, I just molested him. I know heâs got football practice, so Iâll drop him off there. You can pick him up.ââ As Jim Jeffries, a fellow uncompromising comic, has pointed out, âLouis has this way of taking a subject that if not done correctly, you could walk an entire audience out of the room on a jokeâ. As for Eddie, he has his own take on the situation: âWhen you see someone who is so amazing, you walk out and go, âI'm a fraudâ.â
Whoâs your Father!
Of course, Eddie Ifft is authentic, and always has been. His whole life has been about challenging authority with funny ideas. And although he reckons he turned to a life of comedy because he âcouldnât do anything elseâ, Iâm not so sure.
âI was a failure at everything, I really was,â he insists. âI wasnât good in school; I wasnât particularly good in sports at a young age. Those two really are your only options. To get attention I turned to making the class laugh and being the class clown.â
Possibly. But there was intent in the boyâs actions. Raised âyour typical, hypocritical Catholicâ, Eddie clearly had ideas about how to make that funny. Because, as an altar boy, there is a clear path to getting ahead without having to be good at sport or academia â just toeing the religious line. Not Eddie. Dressed in those vestments an altar boy wears, he knew, âif I stood over the fan, my gown would blow up and make everyone laugh in the churchâ. Sure, the priest got angry and Mama Ifft got angry, but Eddie loved making the congregation laugh.
Despite playing his faith for laughs, Eddie somehow persevered until he was ânearly 30â, going to church every Sunday. âI was always a typical, hypocritical Catholic,â he says. âIâd get up and go to church on Sunday, after having been on stage to tell a story on Saturday about having a threesome with two girls in a tent at a music festival.â
Hmm. A threesome with two girls in a tent at a music
festival isnât necessarily typical of Catholic hypocrisy; in fact, nor
is telling a story about it. But, taking the point, you can only assume
the priests must have relished their turn hearing Eddieâs confessions,
surely? Not so, according to Eddie, who recalls his last attempt at
confession, as an 8th Grader:
âThere were two priests who would hear confessions: the nice priest and the evil priest. They divided us up, one group to go to one priest, one group to the other. I was on the side to go to the evil priest. His name was Monsignor Kraus. He was a mean f*cker. I was a little bit nervous: âWhy did I get this side?â
âI went in and I kneeled down on the kneeler to start telling him, and the nun came in and pulled me out and walked me over to the other side, knowing that otherwise, you were never gonna see me again!â
Good on the nun, who possibly saved two souls with that one action. Still, not a lot has changed since Eddie Ifftâs days as an altar boy. The authorities, responsible people, powers that be, might all prefer he didnât say the stuff he says, to the people heâs saying it to. But Eddie still makes congregations laugh. Indeed, there are parallels between the stuff priests do and the stuff comics do, as Eddie knows. He used to be a volunteer ski patroller, and one of his fellow volunteers was a Catholic priest who confessed to watching âa lot of comedyâ in order to come up with ideas for his sermons.
I know! Eddie was dumbstruck, too. But the priest had an explanation:
âIf you think about it, comedians have their finger on the pulse of the nation and the pulse of the world. They have to. They have to know whatâs relevant. So for me, watching comedy, I get my idea of what my sermon should be and how to relate to the people. But Iâve been watching Def Comedy Jam a lot. Those guys say âmotherf*ckerâ way too much.â
Eddie Ifft has been coming to Australia at least since 2006, and returning frequently â a couple of times a year. âI love it here,â he says. âI love the people, I love the surfing. I love everything about it. Iâve got an Australian cattle dog back in LA named Noosa.â Thatâs pretty Aussie. But Eddie can go a step further: heâs been coming here for so long, heâs getting aspects of our humour that you virtually have to be Aussie to truly appreciate. At the recent Sydney Doinâ it for Dave show (an all-star fundraiser for Oz comedy stalwart Dave Grant, one of a handful of local comics who understands the art of comedy intimately and loves passing the knowledge on), Eddie finally understood Carl Barron.
âI found myself laughing hysterically at Carlâs stuff,â Eddie says, fittingly describing it as âan acquired tasteâ not unlike another great cultural icon Australia holds dear. âYou know when youâre young and you drink beer, and you almost donât like it?â Eddie offers. âYou drink beer, and you drink beer, and you drink beer, and then, all of a sudden, it clicks and youâre like, âI love this stuff!â Carl came together for me like that, that night.â
Proof that Eddie is, pretty much, one of us. But that was already obvious: itâs why he keeps coming back. Although people back home donât quite understand. They reckon heâs âhurting his career in
Americaâ by spending so much time downunder. Eddieâs answer? âWhat?
The career you want me to have? How do you know this isnât the career I
want to have?â Eddie likes spending time on
both continents. âThe truth is, Iâd much
rather be in Sydney in Australia than in Branson, Missouri,â he explains, and although I can only commend Ifftâs decision
from a parochial position â why wouldnât you prefer Sydney? â he has a far more logical rationale:
âAmerican comics are working hard in all the shit towns in America so that some day they become really successful and have enough money to vacation in Australia. Iâm sitting here thinking, âChris Rock just got to come to Australia; Iâve been here ten times!â So I try to make my life the life I want. I surf and I ski a lot, so I try to get as many gigs as I can in ski resorts and places with good waves.â
Ah, Iâm quick â and foolish â to point out, you can get both of those hereâ¦
âYeah, wellâ¦â Eddie begins. âLet's not talk about your skiingâ¦â
Yeah but â isnât there a snowfield comedy circuit? Jindabyne, Perisher Blue, Thredboâ¦
âIâve done the snow,â Eddie explains. âFor an American with the Rocky Mountains, itâs kind of insulting to call that âskiingâ, just as I would call our waves âsurfingâ compared to the amazing surf you have here.â
Well, okay â Iâll grant him that. But only because he added the bit about the surf. Which makes me a bit kinder than Eddieâs Aussie âsnowfieldâ audiences. When he kept making fun of âthe snow â what they call âthe mountainsâ,â the punters were a little proud and got somewhat restless. âI was like, âAw, câmon, you call this rock with a dusting, a sprinkle of snow, âskiingâ? Youâre kidding yourselves.â And theyâd boo me for it.â
Rules (and Laws and Regulations) of Comedy
Despite the typical negative reaction of an ignorant and prejudiced crowd to a comic admitting heâs American with malice aforethought, itâs quite an interesting position to be in: travelling the world, speaking the truth not just about America but also the parts of the world youâre visiting. Thatâs essentially what Eddie does â not quite âinnocentâ abroad, more like âguilty, as chargedâ. Fact is, we love it when he speaks the horrible truth about his culture and country, even more than when he speaks of ours (although there are times when the differences between âhisâ and âoursâ are virtually nonexistent). Heâs been doing that for a while now â Eddieâs show for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival a couple of years ago was called Anti-Septic Tank, playing on our rhyming slang, âseptic tankâ for âyankâ, and setting the record straight.
âIt was all about the perception of Americans around the world and why people feel the way they do and what itâs like to be an American and travelling.â Subsequently, Eddieâs expanded the idea, and has started to turn it into that doco heâs making, America the Punchline (currently in post-production).
Last yearâs show was Disorder to Chaos, in which he was drawing on what it is, the broadest sense, that he does: whereas laws attempt to bring order to the world and prevent chaos, Eddieâs job is to question that process. âI go âF*ck off! I donât have to abide by your rules, all I have to do is live and die and pretty much make myself happyâ. All my jokes involve me questioning authority and questioning rules and laws and regulations.â
This time round, Eddieâs working up his next festival show to be called either I Shouldnât Have Said That or Evolution to Revolution. And, as youâd expect, heâs doing what he does so well: questioning authority. âHere we are at this point in history and we havenât evolved as human beings,â Eddie explains. âWeâre still abiding some of the stupidest religions and the stupidest regulations. We fall into these dumb, stupid laws and we havenât evolved. And the only way to evolve is to revolt. This is the basis of that show that Iâm gonna do at the next Melbourne International Comedy Festival.â
Eddie loves the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, and Sydneyâs Cracker Comedy Festival. Weâre lucky we are to have such a wealth of festivals, given also the upcoming World's Funniest Island Comedy Festival and Adelaide Fringe. There are no equivalents in America.
âWe have the Aspen Comedy Festival â thatâs an elitist thing â and we have the Las Vegas Comedy Festival and that, in a sense, is an elitist thing also because itâs $150 a ticket to most events and thereâs no real variety. If you go to New York there are a million comedy clubs, but you're gonna see a lot of the same.â Go to Australia's comedy festivals, though, and what you see is âa lot of varietyâ. Just as you can love different types of music â and Eddie does â you can also love different kinds of comedy â and Eddie does. âI can enjoy David OâDoherty and then walk across the street and enjoy Jim Jeffries and then go enjoy Tim Minchin or go enjoy Arj Barker...â
And of course, you can enjoy Eddie Ifft. Because when he first came to Australia, he pretty much hit the ground running (perhaps âlanded on his feetâ is a better metaphor for a stand-up comic), doing material about us, to us, that was insightful and hilarious. Although, there are still gags in development and transition. He tells me about the Crocodile Hunter â how, years ago, Steve Irwin material was âhackyâ in America, no matter how good your impression was, or astute your observation.
âI always found it funny that, coming to Australia, people would think everyone in America loves the Crocodile Hunter. So one time somebody asked me on the radio, âAre you a big fan of the Crocodile Hunter?â â kind of like taking the piss out of me. And I said, âOh yeah, I watch the show every day, but for different reasons. I watch it hoping every day will be that day!ââ
Thatâs a brilliant take on the Croc Hunter. Or at least, it was, until that day arrived. âNow, people boo me,â Eddie says. âWhen I said that before he died, hilarious! Now when I say it, even though I tell them, âI said this before he died, not knowing he diedâ, people shut down on me. To me, itâs a real study of the mentality of people. Even though they know I was just joking and didnât mean it, the fact that it just happenedâ¦â
Again, the role of the comic. Risking your life foolishly and getting away with it makes you a hero, and itâs okay to make fun of heroes âcos theyâre invincible. But once the foolish hero risks his life that last time, only someone as foolhardy as a comedian can take the risk of mocking. Even though the heroâs behaviour didnât change, nor that of the comic knocking him, for some reason, once heâs gone, the hero attains a status some feel should be beyond the probing light of comedy. Itâs true of all the mediaâs duffers. Remember the reverence afforded Ronald Reagan? Much greater in death than during life. Eddieâs got a theory about that.
âIn America, itâs all about âbrandingâ,â he explains. Regan âbranded himself as the guy who ended the Cold War and made peaceâ. The theory is, America bankrupted Russia âjust by building weapons and building weapons and building weapons â Russia couldnât keep up and eventually bankrupted their entire countryâ. But, Eddie points out, look at the current state of the American economy: âAmerica spends 51 cents of every tax dollar on defence. We had a trillion-dollar war because we have to justify all the weapons that we made. Whoâs bankrupt now?â
This tendency, to rewrite societyâs attitude towards people after they passed away, is what got us to Michael Jackson in the first place, so weâve essentially come full circle. A good place to end our interview. But just to make sure, I ask that one last âhousekeepingâ question: is there anything Iâve overlooked, that fans might need to know?
âUmâ¦ letâs seeâ¦ What do fans need to know?â Eddie thinks aloud. âWell, Iâm in room four-fifty-â¦ No!â
What fans need to know is that Eddie's at the Comedy Store, Tue September 1st to Saturday September 12th before heading to Adelaide.