Subscribe for 33¢ / day

Green with no envy: that pretty much sums up the founding father of the gross-out, shock-it-to-me stunt.

Legions of imitators and acolytes have blindly followed in his gleefully demented wake: the Jackasses and Punk'd-sters of the world.  

But he's Big Daddy, and knows it.

Indeed, the Tom Green many of us most vividly remember is the Tom Green of early 21st century yore (1999-2003) ... the willowy lad from Canada who'd suckle a cow's udder on camera or joke about his testicular cancer if need be.

Telecast the surgical removal, in fact.

Then marry one of "Charlie's Angels" for real, for a short while (2001-2).

So do we praise Tom Green for his willingness to do all of that, and more (far, far more)?

Or do we hold him fully accountable for same and charge him with clearing the way for Steve-O, Johnny Knoxville, Ashton Kutcher and all the other pretenders to his throne of outrage?

These days, Green, a venerable 43, has forsaken the more invasive ways of his youth ... no longer at large in the world, tucking cows' heads into his parents' bed, milking laughs from udders or birthing babies like Will Rogers with his lasso ("Freddy Got Fingered," anyone?).

Green returned to the more stable, less messy world of stand-up comedy several years back, a path leading him to his first-ever Central Illinois gig this weekend: five shows at Peoria's Jukebox Comedy Club (8 and 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m. Sunday).

He's also spent three seasons as the host of "Tom Green Live," a talk show pitched in the intimate one-on-one tradition of Tom Snyder and airing on the Ryan Seacrest-managed AXS TV (currently in reruns, with a fourth season still to be announced). 

"No, I've never played Peoria," says Green, less concerned with the old show biz adage than excited by the prospect of performing in the home town of two old heroes, Richard Pryor and Sam Kinison.

"I'll be soaking it up like a sponge," he says of any residual Pryor/Kinison karma in the air this weekend.

The figurative sponge also soaked up what they had to offer during his childhood, growing up on a Canadian army base near Ontario, the son of a retired Army captain.

"They were completely and very inspiring, and they made me think, 'boy, I'd like to do that'," says the one-time boy who, in fact, started "doing that" straight out of school.

"With Richard, I loved how he left his personal imprint on everything he did, and wasn't afraid to open up and let us into the deepest, darkest secrets of his life," says the man who would one day allow cameras into the surgery room to capture the removal of a cancerous testicle as part of a one-hour MTV special.

"With Sam, I loved the outrageousness, the over-the-top delivery," adds the man who would one day write, direct and star in a movie scene (2001's "Freddy Got Fingered") featuring the most outrageous, over-the-top birth-of-a-baby scene in movie history, "It's Alive" and "The Brood" included.

"I was just a kid the first time I saw him, probably 5 years old ... so I was much too young to understand where he was coming from. But the outrageousness of his delivery excited me."

A man clearly born too late, Green missed out on meeting either of his Peoria-bred heroes: Kinison died in 1992, when Green was still in school in Canada, and Pryor passed in 2005 after years of ill health had kept him out of the limelight.

So where did he get it from, this burning urge -- literally, as in the time he set his parents' bed afire -- to transform playful prank-playing into a televised spectacle unlike any that had preceded it?

"I studied TV broadcasting," he begins of what sounds like an innocent enough pursuit, "and, at the same time, started doing stand-up and singing with a rap group (as MC Bones in Organized Rhyme) ... we did a record, just some goofy kids doing their thing."

Goofy enough, in fact, to be nominated for a Juno, Canada's equivalent of the Grammy, for Best Rap Recording of 1993.

The real breakthrough, he says, came when he took the shooting/editing skills he'd learned in his TV courses to a cable public access channel in Ontario, where he honed his postmodern, anything-goes take on the "Candid Camera" school of filmed humiliation and worse.

"We had great fun taking the video camera, guerrilla-wise, into the street," he says of the pranks and stunts that mark the conception of both the technique and persona that would make him famous. But not immediately.

"We did that for many years (in Canada)," he says of the half-decade run that preceded "The Tom Green Show" being picked up by MTV in 1999, and imported stateside to instant infamy.

"It was life-changing," Green adds, "the difference between night and day ... it took off like nothing MTV had ever seen at that time ... an amazing time."

Within a year of "The Tom Green Show," along came the first pretender, "Jackass," which begat Ashton Kutcher and "Punk'd," which begat the endless procession of reality-shame shows that continue to this day.

Movies went Green, too, beginning with his supporting role (sixth-billed) in the box office hit, "Road Trip," which was followed the next year by Green's notorious magnum opus, "Freddy Got Fingered" (2001), which he co-directed, co-wrote and starred in, with much abuse of cattle, newly born babies and worse.

Critics cowered in abject horror, but Green persevered, professionally and privately, marrying his "Charlie's Angels" co-star Drew Barrymore for a year of heightened media scrutiny and weathering, fearlessly and publicly, his cancer crisis.

His parents, Richard and Mary Ann, the frequent targets of his stunts, "couldn't quite believe I was doing this ... mortified but impressed."

Lo these many pranks later, the couple remain in his spotlight, having guested recently on his current talk show for some auld lang syne. 

"I think they were, and still are, really happy and proud ... and relieved, that they had a kid who actually wanted to be something." 

And so what if getting him there involved the occasional burning bed or severed cow's head?


Load comments