5 Steps from Stand-up to Series from Jim Jefferies

Photo Source: Matthias Clamer/FX

Stand-up comedian Jim Jefferies has brought his successful brand of comedy to FXX with “Legit,” a comedy based on Jefferies’ life and experiences. “I play an excellent Jim Jefferies. I think if this character goes on to be a James Bond-like creature that we replace every few years, I’ll be the Sean Connery of Jim Jefferies,” he jokes.

The veteran of many stand-up tours and stand-up specials has put his focus on television with the second season of "Legit" which premieres today, Feb. 26. Jefferies may not have studied grammar or punctuation, but he knows how to tell a story. Over the course of writing the series, he’s learned more about structure and paying attention to using the characters equally in an episode. Writing the stories came easily because of his stand-up background, but little things, like keeping the scripts under 30 pages, proved more of a challenge to remember.

The currently touring comedian offered some advice on transitioning from stand-up to writing, and starring on a television series.

Hit the ground running.
“I think that I was more scared the first time I got up on stage to do stand-up comedy than the first time I walked on set,” says Jefferies. “I’m not saying that acting is easy, it’s harder than a lot of things in life, but it’s not as hard as stand-up comedy.” Starting in stand-up comedy taught Jefferies about performing. “When I started in stand-up comedy I used to leave the microphone in the stand, stand in front of it and just tell my jokes… then I realized it was more about performance and I’ve become a very good stage performer.” Translating the performance skills he’d learned to acting helped him to hit the ground running. “If I was just a shoe salesman it probably would have taken me a little bit longer to get confident acting. I’m not saying I’m a good actor yet, I’m just staying that without the stand-up I probably would have been really shitty.”

Adapt and build.
Coming up with the idea for “Legit” wasn’t too different from creating a stand-up routine. “I do long-winded stories on stage. Most comics do shorter jokes and such, but I don’t really do joke-jokes, so for me it wasn’t a big leap…eight stories in the first season were based directly off my stand-up,” says Jefferies. But Season 2 will be a little different “because we know the characters and we decided where we wanted these characters to go and we have a real defined story arc this season.”

Go after what you want.
Most of the show’s characters are based on people in Jefferies’ life, including Billy and Steve. Jefferies loosely based Janice (Mindy Sterling) on his mother and Walter (John Ratzenberger) on one of the other writers' fathers. About casting Walter, Jefferies says Ratzenberger was the obvious choice. “Whenever we read the scripts I would do a John Ratzenberger impersonation in that character and I thought why don’t we call him, maybe he’ll do it.”

Meet deadlines.
One challenging aspect of writing a television show was that it put a timeline on the creative process. “With stand-up you don’t have to meet a deadline. You can have a joke that sits in the back of your head for years before you get it right.” Jefferies appreciates the discipline television writing has given him.

Always create new material.
One thing that Jefferies has learned is that it’s very important to create a body of work if you want to sustain a career. “Keep writing material. Write as much material as possible. It’s not about being the funniest guy on stage. It’s about being really funny consistently.” In order to stay fresh and relevant it’s important to keep creating new shows. “People don’t want just one. You’re basically saying you’re a one hit wonder. Obviously, some hours that I do aren’t as good as other hours.” But Jefferies doesn’t want to disappoint the people that have seen him before. “I could perform an hour of stand-up comedy which is my very best hour which has all my best jokes all at once, jam packed into one thing, but what’s the point of that? I’d rather give you what I’ve been thinking of lately and what’s relevant to the time I’m living in.”