Before His Improv Sets This Weekend, Prank Legend Tom Green Talks Cancer, New Projects And Why Owling is Complete Horseshit

Categories: Comedy, Q&A
Tom Green_Credit Marleah Leslie and Associates.jpg
Marleah Leslie and Associates
Tom Green is best known for livening up MTV with the weirdness of his Tom Green Show, tormenting his parents, strangers and, by having viewers request his "Lonely Swedish (The Bum Bum Song)" on the secretly-not-really-live Total Request Live, the network itself with pranks that ranged from bizarre performance art to self-flagellation to head-spinning randomness. The show ended when he began treatment for testicular cancer, which he turned into a one-hour special for the network. His success led to movie roles in Charlie's Angels, Road Trip and his own notorious Freddy Got Fingered. And there was that whole Drew Barrymore marriage thing too.

But Green, now 40, actually got his start in stand-up as a teenager. He returned to stand-up comedy last year after years away from that particular stage and comes to the Addison Improv this weekend. On September 30, he's shooting his first stand-up special for a cable network, which will also include behind-the-scenes clips and footage from the last couple years of touring Australia, England and performing for troops in Afghanistan. When he's not goofing off on Twitter (@TomGreenLive), he's got a couple of television shows in the works, along with a more "out-on-the-street, guerrilla-type video" film project that he's writing called Insane Prank Movie.

Just back from well-received sets at the Edinburgh Comedy Festival in Scotland and in anticipation of his Dallas shows at the Addison Improv tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday, he spoke to Mixmaster about why his bout with cancer still informs his comedy more than 10 years later, what Glenn Humplik and Phil Giroux are up to these days and how he invented what came to be known as planking.

What's it been like getting back to stand-up comedy after so long? Did it change your approach?
It's been a great experience. You have a lot more to draw on as far as your experiences and stuff you find funny. You have a lot more experience to draw on when you're older. I haven't been touring or doing stand-up for the past 15 years or so, but what I have been doing lends itself to it. I've been writing television, and ridiculous comedy television and film, and a big part of motivating yourself in that is also what you need in stand-up. You need to basically sit down and come up with something to say, how you're going to say it and know what you're going to do. So it's not a huge transition. And I did a lot of stand-up on the show, I did a monologue on the show. But it's a completely different thing because you're up there in front of an audience, and it's that live feeling that you can't replicate. So it's been great. The only thing is I wish I'd gotten into it again sooner.

Your battle with cancer is still something you talk about a lot in your act, and you still are a big supporter of cancer research and treatment charities. It's been more than 10 years since your surgery. Is it still something that's that much on your mind, or is it something you just feel that your audience needs to hear about, or wants to hear about?
Well, it's definitely something I experienced in a way a lot of people haven't. I have a unique perspective on cancer, how it's affected my life, and my perspective of the world has changed because of that. I like to dip into that in my stand-up. I have a few jokes about it, but I don't go on and on about it. But absolutely it's on your mind. When you get a disease like cancer, get sick at an early age, you suddenly realize that life is harsh and anything can happen at any time and you've got to be prepared for that. And if you take some good from that, it teaches you to stay positive and try and focus on being happy and not being too freaked out by the little things in life that annoy you. It gives you a certain real-life wake-up call that you can lose everything. But I'm completely healthy now. Five years after that, you're completely cured -- it's not in remission.

Planking has become a big craze, and you've jokingly -- or I don't know how serious you are about it -- suggested that you created it. Is there anyone you're going to try to collect royalties from? Are you going to try to invent a new meme?
No, I just pointed out -- there are people who claim they invented it in 1997 or whenever -- and I just wanted to point out that I've been planking since the '80s. So I put some video up of me doing it. One of my early favorite videos is from 1994, but I've been doing it much longer. I didn't call it planking, but it is the same thing. It's lying down on your face with your hands at your side and remaining in sort of a deadpan position and getting reactions from people and filming it. So it was interesting when I saw how huge that had got this summer it was fun to dig into the crates and find that old video, and it went viral and CNN did a big story. I'm not trying to take anything away from anybody, and I don't think there are any royalties. I don't know that anybody's made any money off planking, thank God. But it was always a fun thing I liked to do, and it's good to see it's gotten so popular.

Are you going to get in on the owling craze, or are you just going to be an innovator?
No, that's not even real. That's all manufactured by the media, that stuff. That's just the media looking for something to talk about. Planking is a genuinely hilarious, funny thing that sort of took on a life of its own. Then you have a bunch of people making up little things, and are looking for a story, "Oh, owling is the new planking." That doesn't really make any sense. If you really understand what planking is, all that other offshoot stuff is just sort of irrelevant, really.

Planking does seem like the purer art form.
Absolutely. I'm a purist. Owling, that's nothing. That's somebody sitting there. It sort of demeans planking to say there are all these new things. Coning, I do believe in coning. I did a lot of coning back in the day, where you order an ice cream cone and when they hand it to you, you grab it by the ice cream. That's legitimate. ... The thing about planking is it doesn't really work any more because too many people know what it is. Planking is dead. You can't really do that when people around you are giggling because they know what it is. I enjoyed doing it back when nobody knew what it was. It was more of an odd thing, almost like you were playing dead on the street. People would walk by and be shocked, concerned. They weren't amused, they were confused, and that's what made it funny. As soon as everybody knew what it was, it was no longer what it was supposed to be. Not to get all serious about planking.

What are Glenn and Phil up to these days?
Those guys are doing great. I see Phil all the time. They're both up in Canada, working in high-tech business as they were before the show, really successful multi-media gurus.

The Tom Green Show was their one moment in entertainment?
It's something they were never really pursuing, and I think that's what made it unique. I was pursuing it and everybody, my parents, just sort of got sucked into it.

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