It was the spring of 1999. The free world was helmed by the Clinton Administration. Simply owning a cell phone was a status symbol. Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys and Ricky Martin ruled the pop charts. Total Request Live with Carson Daly was bigger than The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. People still bought newspapers. Reality TV had yet to clench its desperate death-grip on our remote controls. And the Internet was in its infancy.
It was then that MTV picked up The Tom Green Show, which had run on The Comedy Network in 1997 and originally on Canadian public access television from ’94-’96. “New media” hadn’t entered the lexicon at large, but Green—set to appear August 6 in Lahaina as part of the Maui Celebrity Series—was hanging ten on that wave still to come, as one of the first artists to air content online. Being the first and only jackass on the block, within two years on MTV, Green was the king of raunch comedy. He humped a dead moose, gave us (or rather, his parents) the “Slutmobile,” suckled a cow’s udder and sang “The Bum Bum Song” (which he promptly retired from TRL after hitting #1 in just five days, citing “fair[ness] to [boy band] 98 Degrees”).
Love or hate his humor, you can’t deny that Green’s got balls. Well, ball. Diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2000, Green—to critical acclaim—shared his bout with audiences in a one-hour special, which brought his show’s MTV run to a close (it was briefly revived in 2003). He survived cancer (plus box office flops and a failed marriage to Drew Barrymore), but thereafter seemed to swim straight out of the very mainstream he’d helped redefine.
So where the hell did Tom Green go?
You know, you’re the third celebrity I’ve talked to about their balls,” I tell Green during our phone interview. He’s at his parents’ house in Quebec, taking a couple days off from touring.
“Who were the other two?” he asks. “Ellen DeGeneres and Richard Simmons?”
It’s a surprisingly rare funny moment from this comedian/rapper/actor, et alia, who, it turns out, is staunchly straightforward when not on stage (though he does cleverly point out that while I too may have had cancer, I’m “immune” to the kind that cost him a ball).
“It’s been almost ten years for me now,” says Green, who celebrated his 39th birthday last week. “It’s an experience I can look at as a scary one… but testicular cancer—believe it or not—is actually good for a few laughs.”
From graphic surgery footage in his TV special to penning an autobiography titled Hollywood Causes Cancer, Green doesn’t shy away from personal subjects (the only taboo topic is Barrymore). “I’ve always been honest with my show,” he says. “But I’m trying to do everything in a fun, ridiculous way. I touch on all sorts of topics, whether it’s going through some personal stuff like [cancer] or talking about things in the news, or some social change that we’re going through with technology, like Facebook and Twitter—and having fun with some of the pitfalls that I’m sort of foreseeing in the future.”
For this trailblazer of the surf-able show, tech is a hot topic. While many of Green’s fans lost track of him after his MTV exit a decade ago, he could always be found online at tomgreen.com (and now on Twitter, @tomgreenlive).
Green began his Web-based talk show Tom Green’s House Tonight from his living room (“yes, [his] actual living room”) in 2006. Talk show-style, it is, in a sense, a return to his roots. Early in his career—along with coffee-toting compatriot Glenn Humplik (who, fans of the MTV show will be glad to hear, is doing well)—Green hosted an overnight call-in radio show for the University of Ottawa while he attended Algonquin College as a broadcasting major. These days, his show is entirely online, with callers able to Skype in their communication.
“I’ve got 500 shows in the can, on the site,” says Green. Notable guests include Adam Corolla, Andrew Dice Clay, Tony Hawk, Ed McMahon and Brook Shields.
“I don’t talk about the subscription service that much,” he says humbly, a contrast to his reputation as a shameless self-promoter. “There are tons of free shows [at tomgreen.com] and there’s always free stuff. But if you really, really want to, you can subscribe for $4.95 a month, and then you get access to the hundreds and hundreds of hours of other content.”
Sure, Green’s got his hardcore fan base built in and (still) plugged in, but with competition from other popular online shows and the quick and dirty nature of viral sensations, it begs the question: is Green’s subscription-based business model workable?
Green says it is—though he admits it’s something he’s still experimenting with.
“As far as there being all these competitors now—other people doing Web shows—that’s not really the way I look at it,” he says. “It’s really an exciting thing that’s going on. It’s a whole new way of looking at things and it’s becoming very, very successful. We’ve got thousands of subscribers. The entire show is completely profitable, without even having a sponsor right now.”
Green has claimed by Tweet and in his blog that this year has been the best of his career, and that he’s looking to syndicate his show this year. Though he recently brought on new team members and an advertising agency to help him with the task, he’s still a champion (or maybe more like town crier) of independently produced television.
“I’ve got a couple million unique viewers that come on any given month,” he says. “[But] as an independent guy myself, starting a show out of my living room, it wasn’t very easy to get a big sponsor to come in. Now it’s becoming more and more common [but] that didn’t exist even two years ago. It really is opening up right now.” That’s exciting, Green says, “because there’s always going to be room for everybody who has something original to put out there.”
“The intention is very much full steam ahead, to continue doing my show out of my house,” he says. “We’re doing it once a week now, and then I’m going to go out weekends and do standup somewhere in the world.”
As with his MTV days, Green’s out and about interactions with (often unsuspecting) subjects are still a huge part of his shtick, especially now that he’s set off on his World Standup Comedy Tour.
“Traveling around and filming has been exciting for me. I’ve been going to a lot of places I’ve never been before. It’s a great way to see the world,” he says, adding this will be his first trip to Maui. “The kind of fun thing about doing this tour is how connected everything is. I’ve been Tweeting as I go, and it’s amazing how wherever I go people know what I’ve been up to. It’s really kind of an interesting experience.”
Internet pioneer and (relatively new) Tweeter though he may be, his opinions on the “definite pitfalls” of the Web are worn on his sleeve—and fodder in his standup. “It’s something I feel strongly about and [that] has a lot room for funny,” he says. “I don’t really try to name names too much, but I’m actually telling people to get off Facebook. I have a lot of reasons why. Especially married people. Married people should not be on Facebook. I know that’s controversial to say.”
Buzz on the show—and it’s been almost all good—has praised his more existential stage musings. Though Green says it’s a “traditional standup show” with a little bit of music (a trademark of his, as he was after all a rapper, signed by A&M records in his youth). He promises he’s, “not just going up and preaching about life, though I do a bit of that.”
Green says the show is an evolving work in progress but that he feels he’s “hitting a nice stride.”
“The more I do it, the more I realize exactly what it is I want to be talking about and how I want to talk about it,” he says. “I’ve been writing constantly and adding new ideas. Since I’ve been on the road now for over eight months, I’ve done probably over 100 shows and it’s really going great. The audiences are really responding.”
Mauians might have a hand in participating, too, as Green says he “always [has] at least one camera with me. Sometimes, seven cameras.
“It’s a great part of touring and it’s a great part of bringing my Web show on the road,” he says. “I hope to be getting some great video [on Maui]. I think another big thing you’ll see more of is people touring and doing live performance, and then really tying that in with their Web based projects.”
So where the hell has Tom Green been? Well, he never really left. In fact, he’s been closer to home than ever—just a click away, streaming from his very own living room. And, come Friday, he’ll aim to prove why he’s still worth listening to, one ball and all.