[Q&A] Jim Florentine of "That Metal Show" on the Van Halen reunion, '80s jacket back patches, and briefly going new wave

JIM FLORENTINE, comedian and Special Ed from Comedy Central's Crank Yankers, was in town a couple weeks back to deliver some hilarious stand-up, including material from his very first attempts at humor, documented on his latest CD, Awful Jokes: From My First Comedy Notebook. It’s cringe worthy stuff for the composer, but so bad it’s good for the audience (sample: “I broke my toe the other day and I couldn’t move I called a ‘toe’ truck”). One of the more interesting aspects of Awful Jokes is that Metal Blade Records is distributing it. A New Jersey-born comic and the label that has put out offerings from Cannibal Corpse, Armored Saint, and a compilation featuring the first officially released Metallica track might seem like strange bedfellows on the surface, but not so much when looking at Florentine’s other gig, co-host of VH1 Classic’s That Metal Show alongside comedic cohort Don Jamieson and metal savant Eddie Trunk.

Season 12 kicks off this May, and backstage at Nick’s Comedy Stop in the Theatre District just before his second set of the night, I sat down with Florentine and talked about a variety of music related topics, including his dark past of delving into the world of new wave.

Michael Christopher: Just over a year ago, you and I were at that crazy Van Halen invite-only show in New York. Other than a few shitty videos on YouTube, there’s no quality documentation of it to this day except for the snippets you put up on your podcast following the gig. How did that you pull that?
Jim Florentine: That was fuckin’ unbelievable. I don’t know how; I got this friggin’ Zoom little recorder, it’s 124 bucks and I bought it because I do my podcasts on it and I just put it on the table at Café Wha? and was like, “Alright, I’m just gonna record this and see what happens.” I pout a couple songs on my podcast and people went fucking crazy, all these Van Halen fans all around the world on message boards. I got all these offers from bootleggers, but I didn’t want to do it in case it got back to the band, plus they did “She’s the Woman,” which wasn’t released yet and so I just put a couple songs up. Cut to like, five months later, and my manager goes, “Uh... I got a call from David Lee Roth’s assistant about your audio from the show.” My fucking heart dropped because I put some songs up and I thought [Dave] was pissed. But my manager said, “No, he heard the podcast, he loved it and he wants that audio and he’ll give you whatever you want for it. He wants to know where you were sitting, what you recorded on,” all this stuff, because it was a special night for Dave (Roth’s Uncle Manny founded the legendary NYC basement club, and at 92-years-old was in attendance the night of the show). So I sent it to them and they sent me this huge box of merchandise -- I didn’t want any money, and his assistant told me, “Dave said you’re good for any Van Halen show for the rest of your life.” It was so cool that that happened.

What originally got you into hard rock?
I had two older brothers who were into hard rock like Van Halen, Ted Nugent, AC/DC, Aerosmith, Sabbath –- definitely Sabbath, Zeppelin; and they used to just bring this shit home and play it constantly. Once you’re a metalhead, you’re a metalhead for life.

How do you feel about the rep that metal fans get as being lunkheads or meatheads or not that smart?
It goes back to high school, because the metalhead always had the patches on his jacket or wore the Iron Maiden shirt and you’re like, “Oh -– you’re a weirdo,” because they didn’t play sports and were kind of loners. Any shit going on in their life they get through it with music. They weren’t in with the “in crowd” so everyone just thought they were idiots. But it’s weird, because I see people come out that watch That Metal Show that are doctors and lawyers and have a wife and four kids and are “normal” and I love that stuff; it’s not just guys that live at home in their parent’s basement.

Alright, so whose patch did you have on your denim jacket in high school?
I had the Blizzard of Ozz album cover and Iron Maiden Killers -– that was a big one. I think I had Metallica’s Ride the Lightning too.

Was there any hesitation to go from being a comedian to hosting That Metal Show? It’s almost like you’re outing yourself as a metal fan.
No -– I originally wanted to be in a band, but I didn’t have the talent for it. Actually, David Lee Roth, being really funny in the interviews and Dee Snider riffing between songs when I saw Twisted Sister do four sets a night, and then when Andrew Dice Clay and [Sam] Kinison came along and they were almost like rock stars, I said, “Shit, that’s that I want to do.”

Do you dig into anything other than metal?
I like Southern rock too, like Skynyrd and newer stuff like Blackberry Smoke.

You’re married now, are you ever getting busy with the wife and she’s like, “Let’s put on some soul music and you’re like, ‘Nah, let’s throw on some Motörhead?’”
She’s a huge country fan. So she’ll play country in the car and I’ll play metal. In the bedroom there’s no sounds...except for her sighing.

I want to give you some quick hits; sort of like a metal version of If You Had to Choose.
Yeah -– cool.

Better short guy in metal: Dio or Danzig?

Who’s the best artist who doesn’t wear a shirt: Phil Collen from Def Leppard or all of Manowar?
Phil Collen is actually an underrated guitarist, but I’ll go with Manowar. It’s a little silly, but it still kind of works; I saw them a couple of years ago in New York.

More disturbing: Lemmy’s moles or Zakk Wylde [Black Label Society] thinking he is actually in an actual biker gang?
I guess Lemmy’s moles. I love that he’s never taken them off -– he won’t; and he slept with over a thousand women.

More likely to reunite and tour: Zeppelin or Pantera?
That’s a good one. I’d have to say at this point Pantera, only because if Zeppelin were gonna do it they would’ve done it back in 2007. Robert Plant knows he can’t hit those notes and that people would be on YouTube the next day ripping him apart. They have enough money and he’s just not interested.

What did you think about that 2007 show at the 02 Arena?
I loved it. I saw it in a movie theater and it was fuckin’ phenomenal. It really just showed everybody, “Ok look: this is what we did back in the day, and we’re gonna leave it at that.” I wish they would have done a couple more shows back then. And with Pantera, even though I never see Phil [Anselmo] and Vinnie [Paul] making up, Vinnie especially, I’d say there’s a better chance of that happening -– with Zakk on guitar.

Bigger mistake by a legendary band: Van Halen getting Gary Cherone to sing for them or Journey finding a new singer from the Philippines via YouTube?
Gary Cherone with Van Halen. I like Gary, but it just wasn’t a right mix with the band. That fucking kid from Journey is unbelievable -– he sounds better than Steve Perry! We saw them at Download in 2009 and they were one of the best bands of that day.

Who looks more alike: Steve Perry in the Journey: Behind the Music and a Men’s Wearhouse clerk, or Jimmy Page and the Quaker Oats guy?
[laughs] I’d say Jimmy Page.

Better Metallica bassist not named Cliff Burton?
I’d say a tie on that...

There’s a lot of shit Rob [Trujillo] gets for his backing vocals whereas Jason [Newsted] would kill it on them.
That’s true; I’d go with Rob, but backing vocals Jason was definitely better.

Nu-metal or new wave?
It’s weird because there was a phase from ’83 to ’85 where I got into new wave because I needed to get laid. Walking around with a Judas Priest shirt, no chicks wanted to fuck me. So I started hanging out in new wave dance clubs and I was dancing... I was getting’ laid, I’m sorry -– I turned my back to the metal community for like two years because I needed to get some pussy. But then nu-metal, besides Limp Bizkit, what was there?

Korn, Disturbed...
I’ll go with nu-metal, because I liked some of it -– I still do.

And you don’t like anything new wave –- except getting pussy.

I did then, but now you listen back and Thompson Twins -– ugh! “Hold Me Now?” What the fuck was I thinking? Yeah -– I’ll take “did it all for the nookie” over fuckin’ “Hold Me Now” by the Thompson Twins any day.

Rap rock or Krautrock?
I like rap rock –- Rage Against the Machine is one of my favorite bands.

Best place to get your favorite metal band shirt?
I get them at the concert, but I hate that the union fees take 30 percent. A lot of times I’ll get them from the black guy in the parking lot; I always get a shitty one out there for 10 bucks. Then I go on eBay to find the obscure ones. I get them from all over.

Finally, you’re going to be stranded on a desert island. Who do you trust to supply you with the only five CDs you’ll ever listen to for the rest of your life: Eddie Trunk or Don Jamieson?
I’d go with Don.

Really? You don’t think he’d fuck you by throwing in some Thompson Twins?
No, because me and Don like more of the similar stuff where Eddie likes more of the '80s stuff where me and Do like some of the newer stuff like Gojira or Hatebreed, stuff like that. Eddie’s not so much into that stuff. Eddie might throw a Skid Row CD in there, and I don’t hate Skid Row but it wouldn’t be in my top five.

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