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Tom Green on pranking well

“Somebody has to get flustered.”

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Tom Green was a boy when he began practicing the irregular and original brand of comedy that made him popular on college radio, public-access television and MTV, and later in Hollywood. Prior to his Sept. 8-10 standup-comedy appearances at Pittsburgh Improv, Green spoke with City Paper by phone about his “deep philosophy about how pranks and guerrilla comedy have to work — somebody has to get flustered.”

Growing up in Ontario, Green entertained himself and his friends by disrupting phone-in radio shows in his hometown. “I would pose as the parents of my friends, and I would start talking about ‘my kid,’ and use their name, and say embarrassing things. I would tape-record it and bring it to school and play it to everybody.” 

When you build a successful career partly on being a disruptive prankster, you must stay one step ahead of the generation that one day aims to prank you back. Often, on MTV’s Tom Green Live, the public phone line on Green’s desk would flood with people facetiously encouraging his guests to “do a barrel roll.” “I created an environment that was ripe for prank calls … so I created a character where I would get extremely upset at these prank callers,” says Green, 46. He adds that most people incorrectly thought his anger was genuine, but really, “I was reverse-trolling them.” 

He admits that his reactions to pranksters are based in real emotion and then exaggerated. “Every action needs a reaction in comedy,” he says. In one famous exchange, Green became infuriated when Jesse James Dupree, lead singer for the rock band Jackyl, cut up his desk using a custom guitar outfitted with a hemi-powered chainsaw. “I wasn’t happy about him cutting up my desk, or about people calling in and saying ‘barrel roll.’ But I also didn’t shut down the phone line. You know?”

Local comics Senneca Stone and Matt Light will open for Green during his five shows at the Improv. All three comics know how to handle disruptions. So you have been warned — if you heckle Green, both he and the audience will rightfully hate you, and Green will use the skill he has been sharpening since he was a boy: He will out-troll you. He might even reverse-troll you.



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