Back in 2006 I was at a summer program for teens where Jeff Dye, then a young comedian, did some motivational speaking for us. Years later he was been a finalist on Last Comic Standing, starred in his own half hour Comedy Central Presents special and appeared several times on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Today I talked to Jeff about his brand new pranksters-in-a-van hidden camera show on MTV, Money From Strangers. I’ll explain: In each episode, regular people get the chance to make a bunch of cash, but only if they successfully carry out Dye and co.’s bizarre missions. Check out our chat below!
You spoke at a People to People conference when I was in high school for “7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens.” How’d you get into doing that?
I was already a stand-up comic but I was leading a Young Life group (a non-denomination Christian youth group). And then a guy found me through his kid, he’s like, “My kid’s always talking about this guy, Jeff.” Younglife— it’s very Christ-oriented. So this guy was like, “My kid hates going to church. He doesn’t want anything to do with religion. But whenever this Young Life leader speaks, he’ll go to that.” So he was trying to figure out how to get his agnostic son to want to go to a Church thing. So he hired me to do public speaking when I was just trying to do stand-up (I was just getting into comedy). He said, “Well it’s a good way to make money during the day and you can travel and you can do comedy in whatever towns you go to.”
Basically, I got sent all over the country to do public speaking during the day and I would call the comedy clubs to say, “Hey, if you can put me up in your club from this weekend to this weekend, I’ll already have my own hotel, my own flight,” and the clubs thought that was great because they could save some money. I always put that in my message about how you should just follow your dreams and do what you want to do. Here I was doing stand-up, which is a great job.
You were pretty young (23) when you were doing that. How old were you when you started doing stand-up?
I started stand-up in 2005. It was because a guy just encouraged me to do it. In high school I was the class clown. I was the king in high school. I would joke around and everyone thought I was the funniest guy. When I went to college, I was doing the same nonsense. First day of college, I’d say something real loud and the professor would look around and no one’s laughing and everyone’s like, “Shut up! We paid for this class! You’re an idiot.” And that was a wake-up call that no one likes the class clown. They’re paying for school. I dropped out in the first two weeks. I was just going to college for the sake of going to college. Did a few years bartending and waiting tables, and my buddy said, “Dude, what do you really want to do?” I said, ” I don’t really know what I want to do. I’d like to be a comedian.” He said, “Then why aren’t you doing it?” Eventually I just wandered into comedy clubs and never left and I started doing that every single day.
This isn’t your first time hosting a show for MTV. I found an online petition demanding MTV release the 12 episodes you shot for Numbnuts (a show that never aired). What happened with that?
We don’t know what happened with that. It was a show with a huge budget. Ashton Kutcher made a show called Numbnuts that I hosted. After 12 episodes we kept waiting and waiting and waiting. They kept pushing back the air date. Eventually it just never got put on television. I wasn’t too proud of it– I wasn’t too crushed. If I had to guess, they didn’t want kids sending in videos of them hurting themselves. You know, on Tosh.0 when they find the video of a kid hurting himself, they got it off YouTube and they make fun of him. But our show, what we would do is celebrate the kid hurting himself.
We’d make an actual high-budget version of the stunt that they tried to do in the video. And I think there’s a problem there when you glorify the kids doing something reckless and dangerous. I think it almost would just encourage a lot of kids to go do a lot of stupid things and put it on the Internet. So I think that’s why Numbnuts didn’t take off.
Our show was making a hero out of the kid that was doing stupid shit instead of just making fun of the kid doing stupid shit. I think it’s a big difference. Because with other shows, you can justify to a legal department, “No, we’re just making fun of these kids and we put it in there to not send us your videos.” But with our show we were saying, “These kids are awesome. You should also build a ramp on your garage and break your leg.”
What I like about this petition online is that their goal is 100 signature. As if 100 people are going to make MTV Networks go, “Maybe we should air this show. It’s what the people want! All 100 of them.”
(Laughs) That’s all it asks for there? That’s very, very funny. The guy who’s doing the petition is one of the stars of the show.
Oh, so you’re aware of this?
Oh yea. I’ve seen it. I clicked ‘Like’ which is the easy thing to do. I also have a financial stake in it but I just don’t care. I’ve kind of given up on it.
Now you appear a lot on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition…not that I doubt your fashion sense, but it doesn’t seem like the show for a comic to help out. How did that come about?
Ha. You’re definitely right. I know nothing about any of that stuff. The show in its last season wanted to mix it up and decided to bring in a comedian. The year before they thought if they brought in a rapper, young people would watch it. I think they overestimated my drawing power. It was a fun show to work on but I just kind of goofed around the whole time and they kind of just rolled their eyes. They’re not used to working with comedians. They’re used to working with really sweet people and making people cry. I was a pretty bad match in the fashion— I’ve never even built a bookshelf. And I think the people watching at home were pretty aware of that.
Now you have Money For Strangers. You were always a prankster. What was your favorite prank in high school?
I knew the code at my high school to get on the phone to make an announcement to every room. I would get on the phone and make calls to certain rooms and basically get my friends out of class because I knew the code. The other one was I made a big announcement over the speaker to every room about the boys basketball team. “After the game, they’ll be out drinking and driving,” since they’d recently gotten in trouble for an ‘incident.’ I used that as an avenue to get attention.
On the first episode of MFS, the cops get called on one of your contestants. Did your childhood pranks ever land you in a police car?
Not really. I used to throw rocks at cars. It’s about the closest I would get into trouble with the cops. It’s not really a prank. It was really just me being an immature punk.
You’ve got some great comics in the van with you on the pranks. Last week you had James Adomian, Ali Wong and Kurt Braunohler, to name a few. Who are some other funny people we can look forward to seeing?
Yea, we’ve got Jake & Amir, from CollegeHumor, who I didn’t know before we booked them. We’ve got guys who aren’t as well known, like BRIAN Moote and Andrew Sleighter who are my best friends (who will be on tonight’s episode). I have a lot of faith with who we’ve got on. We have a lot of famous and unfamous comedians on there because the only agenda is: funny. If they can do good, put ’em in there. Who cares if they have credits!
Money With Strangers airs a brand new episode tonight and every Monday on MTV at 10:30pm (EST). If you want to see Jeff Dye live, you can find his upcoming shows across the country on JeffDye.com!