Few comedians have experienced the staggering highs and crushing lows that Tom Green has in his near 30-year career. A roller coaster ride filled with A-list celebrities, outrageous stunts and a brush with a fatal disease — his life has had it all.
From the very first time he decided to get onstage at Yuk Yuk’s Comedy Club at age 16, Green has made his own way. Now 47, he still embraces the immediacy of live stand-up, even after years of working in Hollywood, and he still looks back on that first moment as the impetus for his wildly unlikely path to stardom.
“(Stand-up) really opened my eyes to the whole idea of doing comedy as a career,” Green said. “I saw all these comedians coming through town and many of them went off to become big in the United States, which was very inspiring to me. I was growing up in Ottawa, which wasn’t a very show-business community, and it really inspired to me become a comedian and not get a real job.”
A year after getting his start in stand-up, Green began The Tom Green Show on the radio. The show evolved into a local-access TV program, which then moved to The Comedy Network, landing at MTV in 1999.
An almost overnight smash with the music network’s younger audience, The Tom Green Show quickly gained notoriety for its blend of shock comedy, bizarre antics and controversial gags, including several sketches where Green harassed and humiliated his real-life parents.
Aired during the infancy of the internet, an era that just pre-dated the culture of viral videos and the widespread popularity of comedy podcasts, Green became something of a pioneer. Always pushing the limits of technology and taste, he didn’t care if he took things too far, and it was his fearlessness that skyrocketed him onto a series of successes that even he could’ve never imagined.
“The only time it felt surreal was when the show really took off on MTV and I was hosting Saturday Night Live or I was guest hosting the Letterman show,” Green said. “I just wanted to be able to work in television. That was my primary goal in life, was to get paid to make television.”
Following the show’s success, Green was briefly married to actress Drew Barrymore, starred in popular movies like Road Trip, and was namechecked in Eminem’s hit The Real Slim Shady.
The Tom Green Show ended in 2000, following Green being diagnosed with testicular cancer. Rather than let the devastating news sideline his sense of humor, Green aired one of his show’s most beloved episodes with a one-hour special documenting his experiences during surgery and recovery.
“I had the choice of not telling anybody what was happening, but that was the reason why the show went off the air,” he said. “I knew I was going to have to give everyone an explanation of why I wasn’t doing this number-one show on MTV anymore, and I figured that if we document this, we’ll help raise awareness about testicular cancer and it will be sort of a good thing all around.
“What ended up happening is almost every week (now), I’ll have someone coming up to me who diagnosed their cancer because of that special.”
Still an innovator, Green has revived his show in various forms, including Tom Green’s House Tonight. One of the very-first internet-based talk shows, he hosted the show live from his living room. In 2013, a revamped studio version of the show titled Tom Green Live aired on AXS TV, where he took live Skype calls from fans and interviewed comedians and other guests.
“I definitely turn on the energy a little bit more when I’m onstage or when I’m doing a TV show,” Green said. “(I’m) just trying to capture the absurd instances in life. When I was doing it on the TV show, we were doing it in the form of run-ups and getting reactions from people and creating hilarious moments on the street. But doing it in a comedy club is actually even more direct. You’ve got that audience right there. Anybody who likes the old TV shows or the movies that I did, they’re going to love the stand-up.”
Currently, he’s working on developing a new version of The Tom Green Show for a network he can’t yet divulge.
“Just know that it’s something that’s definitely going to be a lot of fun,” Green said. “It’s going to take some technology that exists today that people haven’t really used yet in television, and create some really fun new ways of doing comedy.”
Back Alley Comedy Club
1531 W. Sherman Blvd., Muskegon
Nov. 30-Dec. 1, 6:30 and 9:30 p.m. $27
Shakespeare’s Lower Level
241 E. Kalamazoo Ave., Kalamazoo
Dec. 2, 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., $25