Pure dumb curiosity. That's what compelled me to watch Tom Green Live. The very idea that the oddball comedian who was responsible for The Tom Green Show and Freddy Got Fingered could do something as mainstream as stand up in front of an audience and tell them jokes for an hour was hard to grasp. And yet, that's exactly what we have here. Not only does Green do the whole stand-up thing, he actually fares quite well. Cohesive, silly, pointed and just a touch poignant; Green's act marks yet another turning point in his career.
It's hard to appreciate just how far Green has come until you give some thought to exactly where he's been. While Green traces his comedy roots back to doing stand up in small clubs as a teenager, his big break really came in the late 90s when he went from having a public access show on Canadian television to hosting The Tom Green Show on MTV in 1999. The show was an off-kilter blend of talk show mechanics and taped sketches that had Green pulling pranks on plenty of innocent folks (including his long-suffering parents). The antics were shocking but in a stupidly sweet way that showed Green wasn't evil...just slightly broken.
Green's show was halted in 2000 so he could deal with a very public diagnosis of testicular cancer. The prankster torch was passed on to the Jackass crew while Green made a few films including his horrifying magnum opus Freddy Got Fingered. Since then he's dabbled in music (a couple of rap albums...seriously), late night talk shows (guest-hosting for Letterman and segments for Leno) and more intimate ventures like an internet talk show broadcast from his living room. When it came time to reinvent himself again, Green looked back to his early days and decided to embark on a career in stand-up in 2010. After road-testing his material, he filmed a 2011 performance in Boston which now comes to us in the form of this release.
That may feel like quite a build up but I think it illustrates why I was puzzled as to what kind of show Green was going to put on. Would he still rely on silly shock tactics or would he present a more mature version of himself? Would he reference past glories or would he make a clean break and present a fresh perspective? The answer as it turns out is 'Yes' as Green manages to find the middle ground between his past and present, offering up a more weathered (and wise) performer who has no qualms about turning juvenile when the occasion calls for it.
Green covers a wide range of topics in his special, some of them quite unexpected. After a modest opening where he jokes about his flagging career which even saw him being fired from Trump's Celebrity Apprentice, he launches into a lengthy segment about the many ways in which technology is causing the devolution of the human race. He starts by railing against Facebook and leads us through the many ways in which direct communication has fallen by the wayside. By the time he talks of our future selves being fat shapeless blobs who suck applesauce through tubes, he has made a terrifyingly cogent (and hilarious) argument for why we need to get out more.
Of course, for every bit of valid social commentary, there is an equal measure of Green's lunacy on display. His play-by-play of what it would have taken for a teacher in 1975 to send a naked picture of themselves to a student lands with force precisely because of Green's attention to detail. The same pitch black perspective also boosts a bit about the morbid nature of funeral homes and all the scenarios that cause their business to flourish. For those of you concerned that Green may have grown up too much, rest assured that isn't the case. Barely 20 minutes into the special, we find him repeatedly screaming the words "COCK JOKE" at an unsuspecting audience. Context be damned, the provocateur is alive and well.
Besides providing wonderfully low-brow takes on high-brow topics, Green does a great job of injecting personal tales into the show without making it all about him. He talks about growing up on a Canadian army base where the fear of Communism was bred right into you. This leads to an easy transition into the sobering realities of adulthood. Later in the show he even candidly discusses his perceived failures (like Freddy Got Fingered) with a tone of good-humored acceptance. Of course, the segment about his battle against testicular cancer is grossly life-affirming in a way that only he can accomplish.
There aren't too many missteps during Green's set. While the second half doesn't quite match the intensity of the energetic motor-mouthed first half, the content remains refreshingly honest and intelligent (in a gloriously stupid way). Green speaks of his intent to stick with the stand-up thing for a while. If this show is any indication, I think he has chosen wisely. Old fans will be pleased to have him back and with material this whip-smart he'll surely pick up some new ones along the way.
Even as we watch him torment his poor parents (the image of the Slut Mobile will be forever burned into my brain), we're inclined to believe him when he claims that he approached the show as a social experiment. He also gives us a bit of historical perspective by reminding us that the show existed in the days before YouTube, Jackass and other reality shows. Back then pranking people was hard work. I doubt die-hard fans will find much here that they didn't already know, but for the rest of us it functions pretty nicely as a retrospective.