Jamie Kennedy seeks comedic refuge in conflict 

Deep Shit

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Jamie Kennedy is and has always been a character at conflict. Hear me out on this.

In Scream, he played a horror film obsessive trapped in a horror film and cursed with a Cassandra-like insight into the slasher tropes that doom those around him. In Malibu's Most Wanted, Kennedy starred as an oblivious white rapper dead set on infiltrating the world of West Coast hip-hop. At the moment, Kennedy is portraying a celebrated champion of abortion rights in a movie (Roe v. Wade) plagued with allegations of right-wing, anti-abortion rhetoric.

These days, the veteran stand-up also finds himself examining his role as — once again — a white guy in an increasingly diverse comedy landscape. Yet, despite all this "deep shit," as he jokingly refers to it, Kennedy still just wants to put on a good show and make audiences laugh. Even if he does find those crowds have turned more aggressive over the years.

"I'll take any feedback if it's constructive. I don't want to do a bunch of jokes that just alienates people that are buying tickets to come see me or watching TV shows or movies that I'm in," says Kennedy, who produced the 2007 documentary Heckler that examined what happens when bad audiences go a little too far. "Obviously I want to keep going. But also, I want to do what I want to do, so I want to bring my brainwave over to the people if they'll adapt to my thinking ... But the way people are heckling now, there are so many haters that it's bizarre. We've got people hating each other in our business."

As recently described on his podcast Hate to Break It to Ya, Kennedy was struck by Hannah Gadsby's landmark stand-up special Nanette. Released last year on Netflix, Nanette drew widespread praise for its unflinching discussion of privilege, LGBTQ issues, and gender nonconformity. For Kennedy, Nanette was a moment of realization regarding just how many different voices are under-represented.

"How many other great comedians are out there in Hong Kong or wherever who don't get their shot? My birth position in this country, I'm fortunate," Kennedy says. "Comedy is going to places where you don't always have to laugh every two seconds, which I love. And it's going to a place where you are going to see people grace the stage that have never graced it before."

At the same time, Kennedy isn't ready to back down from what he describes as a battle between comedians and P.C. culture. The biggest story in stand-up comedy in recent memory has been the attempted return of disgraced comedian Louis C.K. Leaked audio from one of C.K.'s recent comedy club sets drew a strong response from critics and comedians alike who maligned the comic's jokes about preferred personal pronouns and school shooting victims as uninspired, especially following his downfall due to sexual misconduct.

Kennedy admits that he doesn't know C.K. personally and acknowledges that people are free to hate C.K. for what he has done in his personal life. But Kennedy draws the line at what happens on stage.

"Whether you like the material or don't like the material is up to you, and that is your right and your privilege. But for someone to go in there, tape his material, release it, and then the mob come out and try to say that 'This is not allowed,' I totally disagree with that," says Kennedy. "Louis is a comedian. He was in what we call our safe space, if you want to say 'safe space.' It's a comedy club. It's not a literal club. It's a place where things are joked about, no matter how liked or how taboo. Right now, that is being fought against."

Looking over to Kennedy's film career finds the comedian wading further and further into dramatic roles. Set for release in May, Kennedy has a part alongside Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, and Ruth Negga in the sci-fi thriller Ad Astra. Unfortunately, Kennedy is required to keep rather tight-lipped about the project.

"All I can say is that it's Brad Pitt in outer space," he says, laughing. "I'm very fortunate to be a part of it. I'm looking forward to seeing it, and it's nice to work on something like that. I'd like to do more of those types of projects."

As mentioned earlier, Kennedy is also featured in the controversial movie Roe v. Wade, which is currently in production. Centered on the landmark Supreme Court case and featuring conservative stars like Jon Voight and Stacey Dash, the movie has been surrounded by allegations of crew member walkouts and anti-abortion bias. In the movie, Kennedy portrays real-life pro-choice advocate Lawrence Lader.

"I guess there are people that are staunch Republicans in it, but I'm not right wing. I'm not a Democrat either. I'm an independent," says Kennedy. "There are other people like me who are involved. There are a lot of crew members that quit. There are a lot of people who walked off, but that means we're doing something. That means we're making something. That happens all the time when you're making movies."

For Kennedy, this is just another instance of the actor and comedian finding himself seemingly at odds with the world around him. It's a situation that he's long mined for humor. And even though it may not always be comfortable, it's a situation he shows no signs of shying away from.

"There's a lot of great actors in it. I don't know all their political stances, but they were passionate about it," Kennedy says of Roe v. Wade. "At the end of the day, there's probably some propaganda in it. There's probably people that want a certain message out when they make this movie, but there's also a lot of truth in it. We just have to find what it is." —Dustin Waters


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