Whatever you recognize Tom Green for, there’s more to him than that. The Canadian comedian rose to fame in the late ’90s and early 2000s with “The Tom Green Show,” the MTV sensation that gave Green an outlet to unleash shocking, disgusting and often surreal pranks on the unsuspecting world. This culminated in 2001’s shocking, disgusting, extremely surreal “Freddy Got Fingered,” the only film to date that Green has written, directed and starred in.
In the second half of the decade, Green established himself as a jack of all comedic trades. From 2006 until this year, he hosted “Tom Green’s House Tonight,” a pioneering Internet talk show in which Green interviewed celebrities in his own living room. As a media personality, he’s popped up everywhere from “The Tonight Show” to “America’s Got Talent.” His latest endeavor is touring the world as a stand-up comedian — something he’s been wanting to do for his entire career. After nearly two years of globe-trotting, Green will now make his way to Rochester’s Comedy Club for shows on Friday, Sept. 9 and Saturday, Sept. 10. We got to speak with Green about his stand-up comedy and the long career that preceded it.
You officially kicked off your stand up career last January when you embarked on your first world tour. How have the past two years been for you?
It’s been amazing, man. I’ve had so much fun. I’m in Dallas right now doing shows, and it’s going excellent. I was just in Scotland at the Edinburgh Comedy Festival and had an amazing two weeks over there doing shows. It’s been going good worldwide. I’ve gotten to tour all over Australia, Afghanistan, I was in London, England, all over Canada and the U.S. Its just been a really great experience.
Stand up is a notoriously hard profession for anyone to find success in. Did your preexisting celebrity make the transition any easier?
Well it’s not so much about anything like that. I think it’s got more to do with just what I’ve been doing for the last 20 years. I mean, I did standup when I was younger, and I’ve of course been doing very ridiculous television and films for the last 20 years. So that kind of stuff lends itself to stand up. I would a lot of stand up type material on my show on MTV, and it’s been an easy transition to do it full time. If anything, I just wanted to do it full time for a long time. I finally found myself with time available to go off on the road and it’s perfect. It’s been great, it’s been going excellent, I’m having a lot of fun doing it. And the shows have just been off the chain, man! It’s been ridiculous. So everybody better come down and expect to have some fun.
You’ve said that standup is something you’ve been waiting to do for a very long time. What are some other things that you still haven’t gotten around to and would love to do?
I wanna dress up as a sasquatch and play a saxophone on top of the pyramids. Pretty much that’s the only thing I have left that I want to do.
Now that it’s been ten years since “Freddy Got Fingered,” and the film has been distanced from all the hype about being “one of the worst films ever made,” it’s actually picking up a cult following — it’s like people are just catching up with what a surreal and singular work it really is. What was the vision you had for the film while making it?
It was obviously supposed to freak people out, and it did. It achieved that goal. It kind of makes you realize as you get older that the mainstream media can sort of behave like a pack and not necessarily speak the truth. The movie was just as ridiculous and just as funny now as it was then. It’s the same movie. It’s obviously not everybody’s cup of tea. It’s supposed to confuse and freak people out. But that’s the story there — it’s a crazy film. I was trying to make a crazy movie and it worked out, so it’s been cool.
So at the time that you were making it, were you even thinking, “I want to make something that will stand the test of time”?
Of course we were. We were trying to make the craziest movie ever made in the history of Hollywood, and some people say that we accomplished that.
When people were attacking the film when it first came out, did you feel that it was being misunderstood, or were they playing into what you were trying to do?
I think it was definitely being misunderstood, yeah. I had always assumed that people that analyze films for a living would have understood — not everybody, I knew that some critics wouldn’t get it, but I wasn’t expecting (the reaction) to be quite as venomous. But I think there was a lot of other stuff going on at the time in my personal life, and with regards to me just sort of being new in the media. People were a little, I think, freaked out by the fact that someone that just came onto the scene would make a movie so shocking and ridiculous with their first big movie, that I think they overreacted a bit to it. People gotta lighten up, man. People gotta lighten up!
There’s been a lot of revisionist reviews lately, with people coming out and defending it years later.
You’ve got to keep in mind that when the movie came out, The New York Times gave it an amazing review.
Right, they were one of the few defenders of it.
So it doesn’t really matter what some local paper said somewhere. The New York Times, probably the most important newspaper in the world, gave it a great review. So even at the time, it had people that understood it. It just took people that were a little bit smarter and were able to see through the media attack that was going on at the time.
There was a review on The A.V. Club not that long ago that said it was similar to the early films by French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard. I’m guessing that’s the kind of thing you never expected to hear ten years ago.
Well, we always took my show very seriously. We worked very hard at making surreal moments, both on the show and in the movie. It wasn’t stuff that we just slapped together and did. I obviously worked very hard at making an insane film that was really going to get a reaction and push people’s buttons. So I’m happy that people have discovered the movie again, because it’s a lot of fun. It’s a crazy movie, it’s fun to watch.
Speaking of your film career, are there any updates on when we can expect your newest film, “Prankstar”?
You know, that’s kind of like a top secret thing. You’re not even supposed to know that film exists!
Someone let the secret out.
Due to the power of the Internet, it somehow wound up on IMDB, but that movie’s still kind of getting worked on and I’m not sure when it’ll be released. But it will someday. It’s a crazy one, too. Definitely will be a nice follow-up to “Freddy Got Fingered.”
Do you want to share the basic premise of the film?
I can’t. It’s top secret. When the movie comes out, I’ll be happy to talk to you about it. I’m just really focused on standup right now. I’m shooting my first standup television special on Sept. 30 in Boston. I want everybody in Rochester to come down to that show too, and have a great night at the Wilbur Theatre. I’m really, really focused on just performing and doing standup and getting back into this traditional medium.
In the past few years, you’ve been involved in entertainment that’s a lot more accessible and mainstream than the stuff you did on “The Tom Green Show.” Is it still hard to get past your controversial reputation?
Not really, no. Because people know me, and they know that it was just me doing — you know, it’s acting. In “Freddy Got Fingered,” I was acting. I’m not really crazy. Same with on stage — when I do my standup, it’s a crazy show, but then after the show I’m a semi-normal human being. Also, with my talk show on the Internet, I’ve had lots of great guests that have been happy to come up, and I do a different role when I’m hosting the show. I let the guests talk and it’s not all about me being crazy. So I’ve never really had any problems getting past that. Sometimes people, when I meet them, may be a little surprised at first that I’m kind of down to earth and normal. But with how long I’ve been doing this, people have gotten to know me and see a different side to what I do.
So these days, what do you primarily want to be recognized for?
You know, I think just more for the body of work I’ve done over the years. Collectively, everything I’ve done. Someday, when I retire from being a comedian, with Youtube and all the ways you can adjust media now, people can look back and watch all the different stages of my life. I’ve definitely tried to keep changing and doing different things. That’s why I’m doing standup now, it’s giving me an opportunity to stand on stage for an hour and 15 minutes every night and just talk and really chat with the audience on a more personal level. So I hope people will look at everything.
For so many of the people who were famous on MTV around the time that you were, time has not been kind to them. But you’ve always managed to maintain an audience, and with the standup, it shows that people are very devoted to what you do. What do you think has been the secret to staying successful?
I think you’ve got to stay positive, work hard and you can’t quit. That’s what I tell anybody who wants to get into show business: You can never quit. You’ll find disappointments in your life that will make you want to quit. In the beginning, middle, towards the end — you’re always going to run into things that don’t go the way that you want them to go. You’ve just gotta keep going, keep trying to come up with new things and surprising people. As a comedian, I like to surprise people. I’ve never tried to do the same thing over and over and over again. That’s all I can say, you know? I’ve been very fortunate, I have people all around the world that have really responded to what I’ve done and have really loved what I’ve done, whether it was “Freddy Got Fingered” or my show or my web show or my standup or other movies like “Road Trip.” There’s lots of things I’ve done, so people have been very supportive of it and I’ve certainly appreciated it. I think that’s actually part of the reason why I started touring and doing standup. I wanted to go around the world and meet everybody who has supported what I’ve done all these years, and just be in the same room and celebrate it.
Silverstein is a member of the class of 2013.