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Tom Green stands up

by Brian Clarey

Tom Green stands up

Everything Tom Green does, he does… differently.

Remember when he broke out in 1999 on MTV with “The Tom Green Show”?

On the surface it adhered to the basic talk-show template, with a desk and a couch and a co-host. But other than that it was like nothing anybody had ever seen before — unless they watched its precursor, which ran on public-access airwaves in his native Ottowa, Canada and, later, Canada’s Comedy Network.

It was the strangest thing. In be tween prepared couch bits and celebrity guests, Green would intersperse video shots of him acting… differently.

He put a cow’s udder in his mouth and drank milk from it.

He ate a pile of human hair. He pulled pranks — an old comedy standby, to be sure — but he pulled them on his parents!

Because his father was a fan of The Godfather, Green surprised him with a severed cow’s head in his bed. For another memorable prank, Green stole his father’s car and had a graphic — really graphic — lesbian sex scene airbrushed on the hood, with the tag “Slut Mobile.”

“We were trying to make people laugh,” he says. “And you know, I thiv nk a lot of people could have a hard time fathoming ever doing that to their own parents…. This was before ‘The Osbournes,’ before the Kardashians, no one has ever seen that kind of conflict on TV before.”

The footage survives on YouTube. His parents’ reaction is among the most cringeworthy scenes ever recorded, on a par with anything Andy Kaufman ever perpetrated.

Green says that while he admires the late Kaufman’s work — which relied heavily on characters, sketches, pranks and making viewers supremely uncomfortable — he was not a direct influence.

“I sort of discovered Andy Kaufman after I’d done a lot of that stuff,” Green says. “I think I would have really liked him. He had a desire to confuse and upset the establishment. That’s what I’ve always loved about comedy — to confuse and upset the traditional way of making TV or comedy. Yeah, I love Andy Kaufman.”

Green’s star burned brightly at the turn of the century. “I was living in Canada in my parents’ basement, putting together this crazy TV show,” he remembers, “and a year later I was on the cover of Rolling Stone.”

The RS cover hit in June 2000, right around the time he got engaged to actor Drew Barrymore and was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He made some movies, the best known of which is probable Freddy Got Fingered, which is either the funniest movie ever made or the absolute nadir of the filmmaker’s art, depending on who you’re talking to. The strange confluence of high-profile events led some to believe it was all a put-on.

The marriage to Barrymore lasted less than a year — they filed for divorce shortly after he hosted “Saturday Night Live” in November 2001. But the cancer, he says, was “very real.”

From there, Green returned to MTV for a short time. He resumed his rap career — yes, Green was in a notable rap group in Canada in the early 1990s, and YouTube footage attests that he’s good enough at it to blow Xzibit off his seat — wrote his autobiography called Hollywood Causes Cancer: The Tom Green Story, appeared in reality shows and films, did a few USO tours and launched his website, tomgreen.com, where he aired live talk-show episodes until 2011.

Now he’s taking a new tack: standup comedy. He’s on tour; his Showtime comedy special debuted this summer. And he wants you to forget everything you already know about Tom Green — except that he does things differently.

“A lot of people say I changed TV,” he says. “I’m proud of that, but it’s interesting because people want to talk about it so much, what gets lost in the shuffle — I’m doing something very different. ‘Freddy Got Fingered — How is that gonna translate to the stage?’ It’s not. But it’s probably the best thing I’ve ever done.

“I think the thing that excites me about standup is that you build a relationship with the audience over the course of the show — no tricks or stunts,” he continues. “It’s all about connecting with the crowd, and the way I connect is to talk about the world, make people think about the world a little differently. It’s a weightier medium; there’s a point to it.

“I probably feel better and more proud and happier with what I’m doing now than anything I’ve done.”

Green comes to Greensboro next week, and he promises to come to town a few days early to interact with the city and its people.

“I’ll be cruising around town, shooting videos, posting video from North Carolina on my website,” he says. “You can follow it on my Twitter, @TomGreenLive.”

Twitter may never be the same.

Tom Green is performing at the Comedy Zone in Greensboro on Sunday night. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.; showtime is 8 p.m. Buy tickets at thecomedyzone.com or 336.333.1034.

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