So we sat down with the superstar singer to talk about his shockingly dirty sense of humour, old folks falling asleep at his concerts, his past as a Guns N' Roses-loving skid with "long, terrible hair" and his desire to get into the acting game like his idol Frank Sinatra -- and maybe even host 'SNL' someday.
Seeing you at awards shows or on your Christmas special, you don't seem to take yourself too seriously, which isn't that common in the music industry.
It's funny because I'd go on 'Leno' and I'd be like, "Jay, so am I gonna get some couch time?" "No." Letterman wouldn't put me on, none of them. I realized after a while it's because a lot of musicians, it's just not their thing. They're pretty terrible. That's why the Academy Awards are so entertaining and the Grammys are... the Grammys. Actors are those natural performers whereas a lot of singers aren't, especially in the indie scene where the more you like totally didn't care about anything, the cooler you are. Stare at your shoes and sing a song and that's hip. I just don't buy into that. I like making the audience laugh and connecting with them. I gotta work, man, two hours a night so I might as well enjoy it just as much as they do.
You have a bit of a dirty sense of humour, too.
I would say so dirty that to this day, every single concert I have, 20 or 30 people get their money back.
What drives them out?
The other night I had a show in Mexico, and there are people who left because I said the line about you guys think I'm gay. Then I said, "I'm not, but if I was, I would be proud of it, and then I would bonk you, dude," and I picked this really dorky old guy in the front. And that was funny. It was later when I was introducing one of my musicians and said, "Jesus Rob, you're so sexy. Honestly, two Coronas, you, that guy in the front row, me. A little manwich." I started to really laugh because all I could think about was that in Canada, we call a manwich a Sloppy Joe. Of course, I had to share that with the audience. There's worse, though. My language is what it is. I swear. That's how I express myself.
I remember after winning the Doritos Fan Choice Award at the Junos a couple years back, you made a pretty dirty orange fingers joke backstage. ("I just learned when you're eating [Doritos] you should never watch dirty movies afterwards. I thought something was really wrong with me.")
It was awesome! They sent me so many chips after that. This is the truth, I got back to Vancouver after that and I hired this limo company and when I sat in the back, there was a Penthouse magazine and a bag of Doritos.
Amazing. But it doesn't fit your clean-cut image. Do people just not know you that well?
I think people are starting to know me, and I think that they're game. Now I do go on the couch on Leno, I do go on the couch on Letterman. You sit and talk to Oprah as opposed to just being the musical guest. I've said many times I will sell more records talking on a couch than singing. I firmly believe people don't buy products, they buy people -- and if they like you, they'll give you a shot.
When my first record came out, the company didn't really know who I was. Nor did they really care. I think they just put all this money up and they thought, "Listen, we've got to sell all these records. Who do we sell it to? Ah, we'll give them this little pretty-boy image and the housewives will love him and the Grammys will love him." It was a struggle for me.
My first couple tours, my audience was old. I have nothing against old people, I love them, but I would have competitions with my musical director to see who could pick out the most sleeping people in the audience. It's the truth. I remember in New Zealand, it was so f---ing bad, there were so many people sleeping that I ended up stopping the show and we sang lullabies for about 10 minutes because we didn't want to wake the people.
So what changed?
As we got going, I got to take more control. It still bothers me when somebody will say, "Oh, you have the image of such a lovely guy." And I think to myself, well, I am a nice guy, I'm nice to people, don't take away their dignity. But at the same time, if they expect that I'm this wonderful, angelic... I'm just not. I'm Canadian. I'm like you. I'm like everybody that we know. I have my demons and my good days and bad days. I like doing good things and bad things.
Well, then... tell me about your demons.
Let me tell you! Well, the demon for a long time was just insecurity. Listen man, the same thing anybody gets involved with when they're in this business.
You talk in your book about being into swing music when you were a teenager. But at that time everyone else was going crazy over Jane's Addiction, Nine Inch Nails and Guns N' Roses.
So was I. The swing stuff, I wore it on my sleeve because I felt like I was leading. I didn't feel like one of the sheep just following the herd. When I liked something, it was because I liked it. I liked Pearl Jam. I liked Eddie Vedder because I thought he was the second coming of Elvis. I liked Guns N' Roses because I liked their arrangements and I liked Axl's voice. I liked Jane's Addiction because my sister used to play that f---ing song over and over again.
'Been Caught Stealing'?
Yeah. But the thing is with the swing music, it was like an identity for me. It was a way to say I'm not just some s---head following everybody else. This is what I like. This is who I am. This is a part of what makes me distinct from everyone else. Most kids, they just didn't have a clue. There was nothing distinctive about them. They wore Guns N' Roses jean jackets because it was cool, because you didn't want to be on the outside looking in. I was part of that too, obviously, that was the culture. I had the long, terrible hair and I had earrings, the bad high-tops with the tight little skinny jeans.
So you were a skid.
Yeah. But at the same time, I wasn't afraid to tell people [I liked swing]. And they thought I was weird for it... I never got inside. I was never in the cool group, probably because of that.
So what did you think when in the early '90s 'Swingers' came out and they were having swing nights at all the bars?
I didn't love it. I was getting hired to come and play these clubs and I'd start off at a club and it'd be packed with a bunch of young people, middle-aged people, you know, coming to get wasted, have a good time, hookers, blow, whatever. It was a great party.
So, this swing movement started and all of a sudden, you'd get one or two of these kids or adults wearing the zoot suits and they'd dance. And then the next week, there would be six of them. And then 15 and 30 and 50. You'd have 50 dorky people in zoot suits, dancing to jive, drinking f---ing water, and killing the bar's business. The people that were there the first week that just wanted a party and have a good time, it was intimidating for them. It was so cliché. People pretending that they're from another era, I could never get around the Halloween of it.
Well, it didn't last that long anyway.
Yeah, when I got signed, it was dying pretty quickly. So I didn't really get to ride the wave. I was an indie act then. I did indie festivals and I was with an indie label and I was cool. I was really cool. And I wasn't making any money, and that made it even cooler. I did it for my love of the music and performing. And then all of a sudden I got signed and sold millions of records and I was the most uncool f---er ever.
You talk about how a lot of your idols like Frank Sinatra were triple threats. Are you going to get into acting?
Yeah. It's hard, as a business decision goes. I could go to Australia and make $25 million this month, or I could go make a movie for 50 grand that never ever sees the light of day. So it's a tough decision. But I love it. I'm doing 'Saturday Night Live' with Jimmy Fallon [Dec 17] and get to do skits and stuff. It's a lot of fun. Acting's a natural progression. I just don't want to do the thing that so many artists do; they go try acting and they screw up their music career because they confuse people and leave their fans behind. Actors who want to be musicians do the same thing. Very few get to do both.
Well, Timberlake, f---, that was not easy for him. Look at what he went through. People in the media say "Stop. Go back to making music, dude, we don't like you." And really, there's nothing wrong with what he's doing, he's a good actor. But human beings do not feel comfortable when they can't categorize something.
You're the musical guest on 'Saturday Night Live.' Did you ask about hosting?
Yeah, I talked to Lorne [Michaels] lots about hosting.
He said no?
He didn't say no. He said yes, and that there's a huge list of people. But I'll do it. I'll do it one day.