You’ve been out of high school for about 20 years. You’ve heard of Lemmy Kilmister, Michael Schenker, Vinnie Paul, Uli Jon Roth, David Coverdale, Ace Frehley and Bill Ward. You find yourself debating the relative merits of Rush, the Cult and Pantera on blogs and social networks. You chime in on the suckiness of Nickelback whenever possible. And chances are, you’ve watched VH-1 Classic’s “That Metal Show.”
The show’s three hosts — Eddie Trunk, Jim Florentine and Don Jamieson — humorously pick apart the minutiae of the hard rock world; it’s sort of like Spinal Tap in real time. In classic talk-show fashion, it takes place in front of a live studio audience, which lends it a rowdy concert vibe. Trunk’s the glue that holds it together, leaving Florentine and Jamieson, stand-up comedians by trade, to apply the shtick. Respectfully, of course. (This is metal we’re talking about. Tattooed dudes will fuck you up if you get too far out of line.)
But it’s also an interview show; the first season, which aired in 2008, featured, among others, members of Kiss, Rush, Twisted Sister and the Runaways, and since then they’ve snared nearly every name-recognition rocker to survive the ’70s and ’80s. In the ninth season — they’ve filmed 11 “seasons” since 2008 until the present — the trio hosted Axl Rose, AC/DC’s Brian Johnson, Marilyn Manson and Andrew “Dice” Clay. They’ll also frequently mix and match unlikely pairs of guests on a single show. And, of course, there’s a ton of music.
Florentine performs his stand-up at Lorenzo’s in West Haven on June 29. Growing up in New Jersey, the comic says he was a huge metal head, worshiping Judas Priest and Iron Maiden and attending AC/DC concerts with his brother. On the set of “That Metal Show,” he says, it’s sometimes hard to disguise his fandom. “Brian Johnson is one of the nicest guys in rock, totally down to earth,” Florentine says. “He doesn’t realize he’s the singer of one of the biggest bands of all time. He had no security. He’s just a super-chill, nice guy.” None of the guests so far, Florentine says, has shown up on the set sporting a chip on his or her shoulder, not even Axl Rose.
“He was intimidating because he’s Axl,” Florentine says, “but he didn’t have an attitude.” Rose’s management advised the hosts not to bring up any potential reunions with Slash or his other former Guns ‘N Roses bandmates. “That’s kind of an awkward thing,” Florentine says, “The whole Guns ‘N Roses thing. Axl gets a lot of shit. But whatever happened between him and Slash was years ago... basically, it was a really nasty divorce. They haven’t talked since ’96, not even spoken a word to each other.” He describes the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony — Rose declined to accept the award or show up and perform with his former bandmates — as a group of a divorced couple’s closest friends, who are begging them to get back together. “The bottom line, too, is that none of them are broke,” Florentine says. “And that’s when bands do a reunion... But all of those guys are doing good, so there’s no reason for them to do it.”
That’s the biggest question Florentine gets: who’s been a dick? “If we had them in their ’20s, that might be a different story,” he says. “But now they’re in their ’40s and ’50s. With the way the music business works these days, there’s not a lot of places to promote their music. They have to get their message out. They realize it’s a business at this point.”
The show’s ace in the hole, Florentine says, is Trunk, a 30-year veteran of the radio who personally knows many of the guests they book. His presence, Florentine says, allows rockers to let down their guards and “not be dicks.”
Before the show got off the ground, Florentine, who provided the voice of Special Ed on MTV’s “Crank Yankers,” and Jamieson would tune in to Trunk’s radio show, on the drive back to Jersey after late-night gigs in New York. “We said, ‘Hey, we can relate to this guy,’” Florentine says. The two comics met Trunk at a concert; Trunk promptly invited them to visit his studio. “We were basically doing ‘That Metal Show’ on his radio show,” Florentine says.
Trunk had a connection at VH-1, pitched the concept as a television show, and it got picked up. “He told them, ‘I have these two clowns,’” Florentine said, “and they loved it... I think it does really well for the network.”
For some viewers, especially contemporary metal fans, the long-running program comes across as overly nostalgic. But Florentine hopes to land more current acts. “It’s VH-1 Classic, so it’s more like classic music,” he says. “The executives are always thinking about demographics, so they think we’ve got to give them what they are looking for.” Korn, Marilyn Manson, Slipknot: they aren’t exactly new bands, and the network’s accepted their classic status. “Slowly, we’re getting new bands,” Florentine said. “I’d love to get Mastodon. But it’s a slow process... They are thinking of the 40-year-old guy with the Rush shirt in his basement.”
As a stand-up comic, Florentine recently opened arena shows for Anthrax, Megadeth and Slayer. He has a new CD/DVD on the market called “Cringe & Purge.” He’s an edgy, virtuosic, popular comedian who speaks in a sarcasm-laced monotone and a thick Jersey accent. There’s very little he won’t joke about; that quality has endeared him to Howard Stern (he’s been a recurring guest over the years). Florentine says That Metal Show’s success entices metal heads out to his club dates.
“I can always tell the people who came to the show because of ‘That Metal Show,’” Florentine says. “They’re wearing Iron Maiden shirts, and someone will yell out from the front, ‘Why’d you pick Priest over Maiden?’... I’m like, ‘Alright, can we talk about this after the show? I’m trying to work here.’”
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Jim Florentine, June 29, 9 p.m., $19.50, Lorenzo’s, 39 Elm St., West Haven, (203) 932-5846, treehousecomedy.com