GRAND RAPIDS — “Turns out Bill Cosby is a rapist….If I was going to be raped, I’d like to be raped by Bill Cosby. I’ve been a fan of his for years. And how else are you going to meet him?” And so began an evening with Jim Jefferies at the Fountain Street Church (yes church) as part of the fifth annual Gilda’s LaughFest.
Throughout the better part of the past 10 years Jefferies has proven himself one of the most skilled storytellers in comedy– one who’s
unafraid delighted to tell a room of 1,500 strangers every last detail of his life. For Jefferies, the darker the better. And with the help of his five stand-up specials — his most recent Bare is now streaming on Netflix — dedicated Jefferies fans have come to expect nothing less from the Australian native, who reminded the crowd here that, no matter how much swearing he does during the show, much worse has been done to young boys behind closed church doors. (To be fair though, Fountain Street is a super-liberal, non-denominational church, so maybe he’s wrong about that?)
Regardless, what you don’t get by watching Jefferies on your couch at home is why his live performances are so special. While it’s more common in a smaller club setting, there are very few comics who go off-book for more than a few seconds during a theater show. And that’s why, in part, Jefferies is one of the most exciting comics to watch in a live setting. And because who else on Earth would have the balls to mine comedy from a real-life story in which a good friend suffers through the death of his newborn daughter?
While Jefferies ranted on hot-button topics — gun control, anti-vaccination parents, religion, sex — the caustic comedian, who downed about three pints of alcohol during his set (and admitted he was wasted toward the end), went into the crowd for some fun (and to scold two separate audience members who were allegedly filming his act). Targets included two different budding stand-up comedians who were sitting alone, a guy near the stage whom Jefferies roasted whilst petting his head for at least a minute and yes, even a guy in a wheelchair, whom Jefferies asked, “Have you been in a wheelchair all your life?” The man responded he was 17 when it happened. “Well, you had 16 good years,” Jefferies told him. On the surface, the joke seems mean-spirited. But Jefferies is all about treating everyone the same. In fact, his series Legit, which lasted for two seasons on FX and FXX, was praised by some in the disabled community. The show co-starred DJ Qualls, who played a wheelchair-bound 30-something year old guy named Billy with muscular dystrophy.
Judging by the line of fans (see below) who waited long after the show to take a photo with Jefferies, the Grand Rapidians who descended upon Fountain Street Church not only knew what to expect from the comedian, but embraced every moment of Jefferies’ hilariously dark reality.