Jesse Joyce, an award-winning comedian and long-time comedy writer for Jimmy Kimmel Live!, knows funny. He also loves history. If there’s anyone who could find the humor in one of the darkest periods in America’s past, it’s this guy. In his new Scribd Original, Killing the Guys Who Killed the Guy Who Killed Lincoln, Joyce shares the outlandish stories of the men who killed John Wilkes Booth — Boston Corbett, a literal mad hatter who castrated himself, and John Wilkes’ brother, Edwin Booth, a renowned but troubled actor. Joyce’s wry, rollicking history provides an eye-opening account of America’s colorful past.
In the video below, Joyce chats with comedian Jimmy Carr about some of the bonkers history, outrageous characters, and wild rabbit holes he encountered while researching and writing Killing the Guys Who Killed the Guy Who Killed Lincoln.
Please note that the following video includes adult topics, cursing, and lots of swears.
JIMMY CARR: All right. So, I’m Jimmy Carr. You’re Jesse Joyce. I think people know who we are, if they’re looking at this, they might know that we know each other and have worked a little bit together over the years. So, you’re a comedy writer, you do stand up — you’re a stand up, you’re a comedy writer, you’ve written a history book. It feels like it feels like someone is thinking, Dan Carlin is thinking, get your tanks off my lawn.
JESSE JOYCE: *laughs*
JIMMY CARR: But it’s like it, but it’s a funny take on history, which I like because I love history. All I watch is documentaries, I read a ton of history books and biographies, but there’s nothing funny out there, no one mixes the two, really, it tends to be very — it’s quite stale. Even when funny things happen, they never go, no one ever says, “This motherfucker is crazy” in a history book. And there are some crazy motherfuckers in history, which we’ll come on to.
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah, I say literally that, like, more than once, like there’s several motherfuckers in my book. But yeah, no, I mean, Dan Carlin is way more qualified than I am to be talking about history. And I know he even like, if you ever listen to his podcast, he always tempers everything with like, “well, I’m not a historian” and it’s like, “yeah, but you know like, more about history than fucking anybody I’ve ever heard.” Like, I’m not that. I’m just a guy who, like, really likes history, and I think I know more than the average dick on the street.
JIMMY CAR: Yeah, you’ve got good — whenever we’ve chatted about it, you’ve always had good, like, “oh, here’s an interesting fun fact.” It really reminds me of like, when we chat for a long time about history, that idea of like, it’s a bit like a QI thing, of going, it’s those little nuggets and the things that — you remember us chatting about the Wild West and you say, “Yeah, you know, it wasn’t whiskey they were drinking, it was mainly turps.”
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah, like turpentine and strychnine, they put snake venom in it, and shit like that. So I touch on that in the book too, in this book. But yeah, like that, I don’t know, there’s something that delights me about being able to kind of do that, to go, like, “oh, I know a little nugget about this.” You know? And I think that just history is always —
JIMMY CARR: I mean, I’m a big fan of like, I’m a very positive guy. I always try and be positive and I read a lot of like, Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now and The Beginning of Infinity, David Deutsch, is an incredible book and it’s a look at the future, we’re only getting better. But that’s one side of things, the other side of things is to your point, it’s the past. When you look back, oh my God, we live in such a great time.
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah, it’s super like, that’s how I’ve always felt like it’s, I think I’m compelled to like history because it’s comforting. Because things seem scary now, but just flip through and just put your finger down on any time in history and it was fucking horrifying. Like every time was always the worst. And like, so yeah, like, comparatively this is a lot better.
JIMMY CARR: I love your story about your aunt not coming to your —
JESSE JOYCE: Oh yeah, yeah.
JIMMY CARR: I mean, crazy.
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah, that’s a true story. So like my great aunt, it’s my dad’s aunt. And I think this is like, since birth, I feel like I have this kind of connection to wanting to feel that way about history because of this. So my parents, I was their first child and you know, my dad was like 28 years old, and he invited his great aunt or his aunt, he invited his aunt to my baptism. And she wrote back a letter saying like, “I can’t support this. I’m not gonna come to the baptism, because why would you bring a child into this world? Like what a terrible time to bring a kid into the world.”
JIMMY CARR: What year? What year are we talking?
JESSE JOYCE: It was 1978. So — and that’s the thing — it’s like, I don’t know, I’ve just always known that story, I was told it as a kid. My dad kind of really resented his aunt for that reason. And so that’s why we never saw her and because she fucking refused to come to my baptism. And so I looked it up, I mean, I was older. But 1978, comparatively, was like an extremely dull year in history, like nothing, literally it was like there was like gas was super high, like it was hard to get gas, and there were some terrorist attacks, and fucking Garfield was created, the cartoon Garfield. That’s it, that’s all that happened in 1978.
JIMMY CARR: Well, I’m not a massive fan of Garfield. So, maybe she had a point.
JESSE JOYCE: No, but I wouldn’t think that civilization was ending because of Garfield.
JIMMY CARR: Well, weirdly as well, your aunt has got it so epically wrong, because I think there’s a very strong case that you could make to say, look, we nailed — I’m 50 years of age — I think we nailed the exact right years in terms of, we benefited from technology, but it didn’t ruin our development.
JESSE JOYCE: Oh, you mean because we were there a little bit before the internet and everything?
JIMMY CARR: Yes, we had flushing toilets and hot showers. Like I always think that thing, whenever you read a history book, you go, “you know that guy never took a hot shower?” or I have to remind myself everyone, everyone in your book smelled awful all the time.
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah, I mean, Alexander the Great had like the most money in the history of the world until Jeff Bezos. Jeff Bezos now has more of the world’s wealth than Alexander the Great did, but —
JIMMY CARR: Whoa whoa whoa, should we not pause there? So, Alexander the Great, should we not call him Bezos the Great then? Surely we should.
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah, in theory.
JIMMY CARR: And you know, the interesting connection between Alexander the Great and Winnie the Pooh?
JESSE JOYCE: What?
JIMMY CARR: Same middle name.
JESSE JOYCE: *laughs* It’s right there. It’s good.
JIMMY CARR: It was right there. Go on. So the idea that like, this is the — I mean, I think everyone, every generation thinks that the sky is falling in, and these are the worst of times. And I think history is a, it’s an absolute gift for going, “look around the place. we’re going to be okay.” Because, you know, people talk about resources running out but you go, yeah, but things that we think are resources now weren’t resources. Wood was the big resource for years, because we didn’t know what to do with coal. Then we figured out what to do with coal. We didn’t know what to do with oil. Oil, do you know, the biggest business in the year 1900, biggest business in the world? You’ll know it.
JESSE JOYCE: Whale oil?
JIMMY CARR: Whaling was the biggest business in the world. People won’t know that, that’s an interesting fact.
JESSE JOYCE: Right, exactly, and then they started running out of whales.
JIMMY CARR: That would be interesting to anyone else other than you. But that thing of like, whaling — and then whaling fell off a cliff — and suddenly—
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah, nobody whales. And everybody moved on, everybody figured out how to —
JIMMY CARR: Well, Japan still does a little bit of whaling, but they whale for very good reason. They’re doing research, and they’re doing very interesting research into the tastiest piece of whale they can find and it’s exhaustive, exhaustive research.
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah, it’s in some bizarre gelatin candy.
JIMMY CARR: Look, we both love history and we both love what it gives us. And the, it does give kind of *incomprehensible* and it’s really, it’s wonderful and, you go, “they’re just people like us, they’re like the dudes that we know, but they did these incredible things.” And who gets remembered and who doesn’t? It’s very interesting. So to pitch me this book. This book, I mean, I’ve known about it for a while, but what’s the pitch?
JESSE JOYCE: So basically, it’s set within the Lincoln assassination, but it is the story of two guys connected to John Wilkes Booth. It’s a book about John Wilkes Booth. John Wilkes Booth, by the way, if you don’t know, is the guy who killed Lincoln, the assassin. So it is about his way more famous brother at the time. Like John Wilkes Booth was a fucking nobody. Like he was a, you know, kind of wannabe, hanger on, crappy little actor. Sort of like, I don’t know the, like a Daniel Baldwin of the Baldwin family.
JIMMY CARR: The third Hemsworth.
JESSE JOYCE: Exactly, yes, exactly. Right. So that’s actually the example I use in the book. I say it’s like, there, you know, there are a couple of Hemsworth that can act, okay, but there’s only one Thor and that was Edwin, right? So Edwin was the most famous man in his time in America and then his brother kills the president. It just ruins his reputation.
JIMMY CARR: Well, to me, it’s really interesting because Chris Rock, I think on the night he got slapped, he was chatting to a friend of mine. He said, “you know, attention is the number one drug in America. People want attention.” And there’s three ways to get attention, right? You could be excellent at something. This guy was the biggest actor in America in Lincoln’s time. You could be infamous, or you could be a victim. And this has got all three, this story’s got all three of them. And it’s easier to be infamous than, I mean, infamous is real quick. It’s better than being a victim, even, it’s real quick. Go and kill someone. You’ll get the notoriety. But the idea that the brother was the best actor of his time, no one remembers. Like people in showbiz are so like obsessed by like “oh my legacy!” No one’s gonna remember you. You could show someone a picture of Charlie Chaplin now without his makeup on, without the mustache. Who’s this?
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah, exactly. That’s why I’m always like, not really, even though I’m in stupid show business, like I always — just being a history dork — I always take it with a grain of salt because it’s like, “None of this fucking matters. Nobody cares. Nobody’s gonna remember any of this shit.” You know? So yeah, so that is Edwin. And then just to do — I wanna, I’m happy to go back and talk to Edwin, but that’s only half the book. The other half is, I even think is more fun. It’s about this crazy man from the 19th century. His name was Boston Corbett and he was a hatter by trade. So he went crazy because of mercury poisoning, because that’s what would happen —
JIMMY CARR: So literally the mercury was the thing.
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah, an interesting little story is that — this is kind of, when people started, when felt hats went like super in demand, right? It was like all the rage was wearing a hat made out of felt, like top hats and bowlers and shit. The process by which you would like crush the felt to make it into a hat was the hatters would steam the hats in their piss, because there was something about their piss that would —
JIMMY CARR: Yeah.
JESSE JOYCE: So every picture you see of anybody wearing a hat, that was just like steamed at some guys piss, right? Like so, but what they started to realize —
JIMMY CARR: I think they use it to fix the dye. I think I know that from, for the cloth they used to use urine to fix the dye.
JESSE JOYCE: OK. Yeah, I think it sets the felt — Yeah, exactly.
JIMMY CARR: Right.
JESSE JOYCE: So what they started to realize — this is such a weird thing — is that hatters that had syphilis made the best hats, right? Like, so people would seek out these hatters that had syphilis because they made the best hats.
JIMMY CARR: I mean, I still stand by that and I don’t know what, you know, rules you live your life by, but I will not buy a hat from someone without syphilis, even at a ball game.
JESSE JOYCE: That’s like a 21st century unicorn. If you can find a guy who still makes hats and has syphilis, like, boy that’s a real —
JIMMY CARR: OK, little sidebar, we’ll do a few sidebars. But the sidebar, the men without hats was what JFK, his opponents sort of called his group of guys, the men without hats. So when JFK was running for office, none of his guys wore hats and it was like, everyone wore a hat in America. Everyone had a hat, every guy had a hat on. JFK gets elected. These are the young new brash guys. They don’t wear hats. The men without hats they wrote about and then, that’s it, the next day he gets elected and every, like, within 12 months, like whaling the industry’s gone. Like, hats are a curio, a couple of bald dudes, but no one else wears hats. But JFK killed an industry. I think. I don’t know, I don’t know who shot him in the head. But you, you got to think a mad hatter is in the frame.
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah, you would think. Yeah, like somebody, yeah, that’s an industry that had a lot to lose —
JIMMY CARR: And we know they’re crazy.
JESSE JOYCE: And they’re crazy. Yeah, exactly. So anyway. So I think this is a really interesting detail that they figured out eventually that it wasn’t the syphilis. It was the fact that syphilis was treated mercury. That’s what the cure for syphilis or that’s how people managed their syphilis was by ingesting liquid mercury. And so then eventually they just they were able to like eliminate the liquid.
JIMMY CARR: So you’re saying liquid mercury helps syphilis? I’m just gonna write that. Just give me just one. No, that’s great. That’s great. No, I just wanted to make a note for a friend. So hang on. So, so this is, this is, this is OK.
JESSE JOYCE: Cut to Jimmy chewing on a thermometer —
JIMMY CARR: So you got the actor, the kind of wanna be actor hanger on brother. You’ve got the Kieran Culkin. Kieran Culkin kills the president. And the man that killed the man that killed is a straight up lunatic.
JESSE JOYCE: So I haven’t even, yes. So I only got to the hatter part. So he goes crazy and then his wife dies, he becomes an alcoholic, right? He’s a crazy hatter and then he finds Jesus and gets sober. And then he gets propositioned one time. He’s like a street preacher and he gets propositioned by these two prostitutes and he gets so horny and so mad about it that he goes back to his apartment and he cuts his balls off with a pair of scissors. So he castrates himself —
JIMMY CARR: OK now, whoa, whoa, whoa —
JESSE JOYCE: Well wait, just let me get through and we’ll go back —
JIMMY CARR: No one, no one, OK, but no one can hear a word after you say he chopped off his balls with a pair of scissors. No one can hear a word after that. It’s just white noise after that —
JESSE JOYCE: I know, that’s what’s so amazing about this story, is that, that’s like one of the starting points of this story. So then he joins the Civil War, this unit and he becomes like a super soldier and then he becomes a POW. And then Lincoln gets assassinated by Edwin’s fucking asshole brother. And he becomes the first guy to volunteer and joins that hunting party and chases John Wilkes Booth for 12 days to a barn. And he’s the guy who shoots John Wilkes Booth in the back of the head, in the same spot where Lincoln was killed, by the way. So that is why he is now a person in history. He comes back to DC and becomes the most famous man in America at the time when Edwin’s career was ruined because his brother ruined his reputation. All of a sudden, Boston Corbett gets vaulted into becoming the most famous man in America because he’s Lincoln’s avenging angel. So then he goes on tour and starts reenacting the assassination of John Wilkes Booth. It’s a crazy story. But anyway, so we can go back to the balls —
JIMMY CARR: OK, so you entirely lost me after balls, you know that, now I told you. But the crazy thing about how crazy this guy was is the cutting off his balls with a pair of scissors is the pre-title sequence of this, if this is a movie. I mean, the detail of this is, that’s the extraordinary thing I think that the, the richness of this, because you hear the story and the story is laid out there, you go, “well, you know the story now,” but you don’t know anything until you get into the detail. It’s the weeds that are fascinating, of like how people lived. How would you track someone down in this era where you go, “well, oh, yeah, I guess we’ll just track the phone,” will we. I mean, committing a crime then must have been so easy. How did they catch him? Because you kind of go, “well, you could just go to the next town and go well yeah now my name’s Dave.”
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah. Oh, totally. Yeah, Boston Corbett got court-martialed by the army because he was like a religious zealot and a weirdo. He, every time anyone would swear around him — so he would not be OK with this book, by the way because there’s a lot of swear words in it — but, any time anybody would swear around him when he was, like, making hats, he would like, stop production. It was like an assembly line. He would stop production and get down on his knees and start loudly singing church hymns and pray for the person, which probably didn’t make them swear less. That would make them swear at him more and then more singing and then no hats were getting made. But he did that to his commanding officer. The commanding officer in his regiment said, damn. And he, in front of the entire regimen of guys, like, took him to task for it. He got thrown in jail and court-martialed and kicked out of the army. Like two weeks later, he signed back up to the army. In the same unit. And everybody was like, “oh, I guess that must be a different guy. Like, I don’t know, he had like a fake mustache or whatever.” I don’t what the hell, but like it was so easy to just disappear in the 1900s. Like, so it’s phenomenal that they fucking caught him, Booth. And they only caught John Wilkes Booth, in a way because he was such an arrogant shithead, and was like loudly bragging about it.
JIMMY CARR: Well, although, although someone, someone, someone pointed out to me, something very interesting recently because they, they were talking about surveillance and the dangers of modern surveillance and the idea that every phone call, every text message, everything you write on your phone is recorded and when you land in an airport and turn on your phone and AI goes through your phone to check for illegal activity and all of the, you know, the tower at the airport is owned by the government, all of this stuff and you go, yeah, we’ve got so much surveillance now only we’ve got way less than we had 100 years ago. When we used to live in villages and small towns, everyone knew everyone’s business the whole time. You were constantly watched, you couldn’t get away with anything.
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah, that’s true. Yeah. So, yeah, the guy that, in fact, the reason we have a John Wilkes Booth, and an Edwin, his dad was a British actor, like a very famous actor in England and he was cheating on his wife. And so he just, like, absconded with his mistress and moved to America and started a second family. And so, yeah, that’s what you’d have to do. You’d have to, like, leave, you couldn’t cheat on your wife in the same city you lived in. You know what I mean? You had to like across the ocean to get away with it, you know.
JIMMY CARR: Yeah, I mean it is interesting the idea of like the most famous man in America because how famous would you, it’s a picture in the paper as a, you know, there’s no, it’s interesting to think about that time where, you know, you’d be the president but you’d never have heard him speak. You’d never have, unless you were in the room. Obviously, the population is much smaller as well. And now, what era are we talking now in terms of America, in terms of the history? And so what year?
JESSE JOYCE: So it’s like we’re leading up to the Civil War and it goes through the 1880s. Both guys died within two years of each other in the late 1880s.
JIMMY CARR: I find it extraordinary, I watched the Ken Burns on the Civil War and you go, there’s photos. It’s that recent and it’s so strange when you look, I saw a thing recently that, like, I go back to it kind of history in the bigger sense. I saw a picture and it was the Wright Brothers, their first ever flight, a photo of that and then a photo of the man on the moon, and he went 60 years, and you go, “oh, that’s a productive time.”
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah. And like there were people that like their lifespan was easily through that, where they were there before there was the Wright brothers and then after the moon, like that’s an amazing century, to live through.
JIMMY CARR: Yeah, I mean, this is a really interesting time and the other thing that’s crazy about this. I mean, never mind the insanity of the man that killed the man that killed and how crazy this guy was, you know, like, such a sort of extraordinary character and I’d never heard, I don’t think anyone’s really heard of him. It’s a really kind of interesting thing to kind of do a deep dive on.
JESSE JOYCE: He’s a pretty obscure guy, yeah.
JIMMY CARR: Yeah, but it’s kind of interesting in the aftermath. But then what was the reaction to the assassination of the president? Because the Civil War had literally just ended.
JESSE JOYCE: That week. It had ended that week. It was four years of that shit, of the country tearing itself apart. And Lincoln had just won. Like, it was the big, the whole week in DC was just this huge party. People were just celebrating in the streets for a week. And then on that Friday, he goes to the theater to see a play because like, finally I can kick back and watch a play. And this happened to be like the biggest comedy in America.
JIMMY CARR: I do love it when people say America has never been more divided than now. You go.
JESSE JOYCE: Oh yeah. There was a civil war! Yeah.
JIMMY CARR: I mean, I say “though” because even after the Civil War, you go. So was he, was there a political element to this or was it for the notoriety? Was he on the side of the South? What was his motivation for the killing?
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah. So that’s what, that’s really interesting too. So it’s kind of in a way, there’s a way you can paint it, which I do in the book is that it’s kind of Edwin’s fault in a way. So like Edwin was, toured around with his dad who was super famous, and then he took on the mantle and became even more famous than his dad, right? So he was the Booth, but the Booth name was like the name in theater because of the dad too, right? So it’s now the second generation. So, John tries to get in on that. He was the younger brother and now he shows up and Edwin was like super protective of the fact that the dad had kind of knight, like bestowed on him the, you know, like, kind of passed the torch on to Edwin. And so Edwin didn’t want his dumb brother who like, was not that good an actor and was kind of a, like, not that smart a guy. He was like a good looking guy, but that was it. He didn’t want him coming in and like, fucking up the family reputation. So Edwin just literally drew a line at the Mason-Dixon Line before the Civil War. Like he basically just said, like you can perform the South and down and I will take all, all the cool cities, Chicago and New York and Boston. So he sent John to perform in like barns in like Atlanta in, in like 1857. Like, like right when the Civil War was boiling like right when the South was super mad and getting ready to secede, he just sent this dumb guy to there with a chip on his shoulder who felt like he wasn’t being taken seriously by his more powerful, older, stronger, you know, better brother. Which is exactly the mentality that the South had too at the time, was like these, you know, Northerners think they’re better than us. And so he just naturally just got radicalized —
JIMMY CARR: Now, to what extent was the American Civil War a reaction to getting the shit Baldwin brother? So someone must have been sitting in a play going, “We didn’t even get the good Booth guy. This needs to stop. I’m not sure about the slavery issue but this, I will not stand for this. We want better Booth actors.”
JESSE JOYCE: *laughs* *incomprehensible* — mispronouncing Macbeth.
JIMMY CARR: I don’t know what the dumbest reason for a war is like. It strikes me the American Civil War is one of the best reasons for a war there’s ever been like in terms of going, OK?
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah, yeah. It’s like a good cause you can get behind.
JIMMY CARR: Yeah, and it’s like, and you, you get, you get no credit for that because of slavery. So because of the original sin, you get no, America’s original sin is slavery, so you get no credit for going, yeah, but they went to war to stop it. Like the British Empire gets no credit for I think it’s like 175 years we fought slavery on the high seas or whatever it was, you know, that crazy amount of and. And the, you know, you know, when they paid off the debt for slavery? Because when they freed the slaves in the UK or the UK freed slaves like in the colonies. They, they did this thing where they went. It’s so crazy when you think about this. OK, so the rich, powerful people that owned the slaves, they went “well, yeah, you can free the slaves but you gotta pay us, we own them.” And the government went, “yeah, no, I suppose, yeah, yeah, OK.” So they paid them and they paid off the debt. I think it was in the ‘90s, they paid off the debt. They released a government bond to pay the slave owners, so that they would not —
JESSE JOYCE: So they did like reparations for slave owners? That’s bananas.
JIMMY CARR: Yeah. But genuinely, I mean, so these families that were like the richest families that they’d ever been because, I mean, really, when you think about, I mean, people argue that it isn’t, but it’s so clearly the case that the industrial revolution was built on the back of slaves. It just was. Because they amassed so much capital. But then that capital was paid, the government paid them out. They got into horrific, generational debt. Like World War I, World War II star massive debt. It’s the biggest debt ever, and they paid it off in the ‘90s, they finally paid down that bond, the way the government issues bonds and raises money, they paid it off in the nineties, the nineties!
JESSE JOYCE: Holy shit. That’s crazy. That’s unbelievable. That’s fascinating.
JIMMY CARR: I mean, it’s crazy but that idea of going, it’s such a just, the American Civil War was such a just war. He’d won it. Victory. He, party, OK, we’re gonna have to make peace and make this good and then he gets shot. It’s just so incredibly unjust.
JESSE JOYCE: It’s, yeah, like it’s, yeah, it’s the craziest moment in American history, in my opinion, that. And then he goes on the run and it was a whole big conspiracy. Like they, there was, did you know, that like, that plan was just utterly fucked. Like they were supposed to kill, hit everybody, like his whole cabinet. Like that night, there was a guy who went to the Secretary of State’s house and stabbed a bunch of people but somehow missed the Secretary of State. And there was another dude who was supposed to kill the vice president that he just got too drunk and didn’t do it.
JIMMY CARR: So, sorry, so there was another stabbing that night of a politician or an attempted murder of a politician? So this, this feels a bit like 9/11, the Pentagon, right? So they flew a, they flew a plane into the Pentagon, and I remember in The Times newspaper in London it was on page seven. Going —
JESSE JOYCE: Because the World Trade Center.
JIMMY CARR: Because the World Trade Center. Because you went, well that so the other plane that went down, you know, United 93, the, the idea that sometimes something so big happens. It’s Mother Teresa and Princess Diana. Bad day to die.
JESSE JOYCE: Well, yeah, didn’t Farrah Fawcett die on the same day as Michael Jackson? Like that’s another one that like, “ah, that’s bad timing.” So, but yeah, that’s what’s so, there was a whole huge conspiracy and it all got messed up because Booth recruited a bunch of dumb Southern doofuses. And so he’s the only one that succeeded. And then he went on the run and then there was like this 12 day manhunt where they were like, look it. So like if you kind of put yourself in that time, like what a crazy two weeks that was right after Lincoln gets killed. And so, and like in the middle of a comedy play, and the whole thing was just —
JIMMY CARR: I love the other thing about history as well as it does, it does echo. You have these things that keep on coming up. So you got, it’s exactly the same thing that happened with JFK. The man, the man that killed the man that killed.
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah. Oh, yeah, Jack Ruby. Yeah, exactly. Boston Corbett is a much more colorful, I mean, Jack Ruby is a pretty colorful guy too but he’s just a wackier Jack Ruby in a way.
JIMMY CARR: Oh, I mean, but I mean, Jack Ruby, it’s an easier, you know, mafioso guy, whatever, paid to do the thing. But it’s, it’s, it’s certainly very murky. It’s interesting that we kind of, I mean, I find the JFK thing just endlessly fascinating because we still don’t kind of know what that, that strikes me as like, how on earth do we not know?
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah. Yeah. And that’s I guess where Booth is different than Oswald is that Booth absolutely wanted the credit. Like he was, like, “look what I did.” But in fact, but interestingly to a point we were making earlier, he gets, he’s like on the run and he’s got a broken leg and he’s like, hiding in the woods in Virginia. And he’s like, shocked to discover that, like, the South is not thrilled with what he did. Like, the South’s newspapers are just calling him like an odious piece of garbage or whatever. And like that, like, really hurt his dumb feelings because he was like, super sure that he was gonna be like a hero and everybody was like, come on, man, what the fuck —
JIMMY CARR: What is the thing with, who took over? Pardon my ignorance but I don’t know who took over.
JESSE JOYCE: Andrew Johnson was the vice president, who was supposed to get executed that night also. But this guy George Atzerodt, who was the dude who was supposed to kill him was just some like dipshit and he like had a drink to work up the courage to go kill the vice president and he just stayed at the bar and got too drunk and didn’t do it. But then he got hung too, like all the conspirators got rounded up and hung afterwards. But yeah, like so it was a big failure except for the fact that Lincoln was killed. So, yeah, but it didn’t go how he thought it was gonna go. And just, and then so like just then Edwin was headlining of doing Hamlet in, in Boston. And then suddenly, like all of his siblings who were also actors, they all get rounded up and thrown in jail because like anybody —
JIMMY CARR: OK, well, I’m just thinking about the sliding doors of history. I’m just thinking about that thing of like, you know, that I love that thing that, The Man in the High Castle, like, if things had gone another way —
JESSE JOYCE: Yes. I think that’s so interesting.
JIMMY CARR: Do you think, OK, so if Lincoln had lived another 10 years. Let’s imagine, right, let’s imagine, he’d been president for five years more, right. And he basically presided over that period of American history where they were sorting out what happened to slaves.
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah.
JIMMY CARR: And they were freeing people. Like, would that be a vastly different America? Because that was so, it’s often said that the North won the Civil War, but the South won the peace because the terms of negotiation, those terrible laws that they brought in afterwards. I wonder, would it have been different? Would it have been more just under Lincoln? Would the negotiation have been easier because he was someone they could, you know, that had a clear vision.
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah, well, yeah Andrew Johnson kind of sucked. I mean, he was the first president to get impeached, you know, like, he was not like a pre, he was not a particularly effective dude. And I think he’s a Southerner too. Like, I think that that’s kind of how Lincoln won the ticket was like, kind of the way that Donald Trump was a, like clown, like a human circus. Like, he’s a basic cable goofball. So he gets like Mike Pence to like round out the ticket who’s like an incredibly, like, soft spoken, serious, like, you know, like that kind of thing. Like, they kind of often put opposites. So, yeah. So, like Johnson was like, kind of a, you know, Southern sympathizer kind of a dude who sort of gave him a little bit of a pass.
JIMMY CARR: It’s one of those strange things again. It’s like —
JESSE JOYCE: That history I’m not super precise about —
JIMMY CARR: But it’s the echoes of history, like the unjust, like the, you go to war to free a people and then afterwards there’s, yeah, they’re sort of freed but for another 100 years the laws are despicable. So you kind of, the follow through wasn’t there. It’s like that thing of like World War I started because they invaded Poland. And then what happened at the end of World War — sorry World War II started because they invaded Poland. And then at the end of World War II, what happens? We give Poland to the Soviet Union.
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah.
JIMMY CARR: It’s like the thing, that the thing that we started it over, OK, you’ve invaded Poland, well, that’s a line in the sand. And then the end of it, we go, we’ve won what’ll we do with Poland? I’ll give that to the Soviets. It’s like, it’s so, and no one ever questions it, no one ever goes, this is crazy.
JESSE JOYCE: So close to getting it right.
JIMMY CARR: We freed the slaves. Great. We’ve united the country. Great. Have we freed them though? Not in any meaningful way for 100 years.
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah. Well, that’s what, that, you know, Juneteenth is like a kind of a relatively new holiday here in America. And that was, that, that was like, I think it took people like two-and-a-half years to get around to even telling the slaves in Texas. It’s like, “oh, yeah, you guys were free a couple years ago.”
JIMMY CARR: In fairness, in fairness. Neal Brennan’s got an amazing bit about that. I love Brennan.
JESSE JOYCE: About Juneteenth?
JIMMY CARR: About, well, about OK, it took them two-and-a-half years and you go, yeah, it’s gonna be an awkward conversation. I mean, I won’t do it justice but I mean, it’s so funny, such a great bit. And it, it’s, it’s, it’s right, but I think to kind of know this history and to go, it could have gone another way. I mean, it’s like, I’m always amazed at that those turning points of history that didn’t go a different way. Well, you know, because when you think about like when South Africa was essentially freed from a type of slavery, you know, certainly a terrible thing, apartheid. Like by any metric that should have been just horrific civil war. And they, they, you know, Truth and Reconciliation. They, you know, Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela between them managed to, it’s extraordinary. Like the things, it’s amazing, the things that didn’t happen in history that kind of look like that’s gonna, that’s definitely gonna happen, then no.
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. That’s fascinating.
JIMMY CARR: But I love this thing about that, you know, because it’s also, this is like, it’s a history book and it’s about the assassination of a president. OK, so that’s a, that’s a big topic, but it’s really about character. This is about, you know, essentially two very interesting characters.
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah. Well, thank you. Yeah, that’s what I was. Yeah, that’s what I was hoping to do. I mean, I, like, I just, working as a writer, Jimmy Kimmel or something like that. That’s what I do most of the time, is like, I, I am personally on like the, the QAnon, anti-vaxxer desk. You know what I mean? Like, like most of those bits are ones that originate with me because I’m so particularly tickled by like those just absolutely absurd goofball lunatics that while I’m out there, like, they’re just like fascinating characters —
JIMMY CARR: Here's my thing on goofballs and conspiracy theories is it’s, the world is incredible, like the more you read history, it’s incredibly nuanced and people are complicated. Like when you look back, like there’s, there’s no point looking for goodies and baddies. It’s not a Disney movie. Everyone is complex and nuanced and it’s, you know, people say, well, Lincoln owned slaves. Yeah. But, you know, I, I don’t know what to tell you. Like, it’s really complicated and messy. It’s not a Disney movie with a good guy and a bad guy.
JESSE JOYCE: I don’t think Lincoln ever did, by the way. But like the Founding Fathers all did. Yeah, for sure. I know what you mean. But yeah, like, and that’s, that happens a bunch of times in this book. Like, I’ll just kind of go down, because I love going down like rabbit holes, you know, like just researching or whatever. And I just was filling out — Edwin ended up, like one of the things he did in his life is he created this club that still exists in New York called The Players. Which is this club for actors and like luminaries in general. So, like, it was Mark Twain and William Tecumseh Sherman, the Civil War general, and him started this club and it was like, like open to, you know, like anybody who was like this kind of fascinating — I mean man, like white man, let’s be —
JIMMY CARR: “Open” to anyone, not you or you.
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah, exactly, right. So, but they did eventually let women in in the third season of Alf. So that worked out finally. But like it had at the time like Nikola Tesla was in it. And, who else? President Grover Cleveland and then, Humphrey Bogart, and Ernest Hemingway later. And then now it’s like Tommy Lee Jones and Ethan Hawke and Jimmy Fallon are in this club, like. And it’s like in Edwin’s old house. And upstairs his bedroom is the same the day he died. Like they left it like that. And if you’re a member, you can go up to Edwin’s bedroom. But like outside of the people immediately in The Players Club, like nobody fucking knows who he is. But so what I mean about like going down rabbit holes is like, I just kind of like was starting to look up the members. And there was this guy named Stanford White, who’s the architect who helped design The Players Club, right and convert Edwin’s mansion in New York City into this, like, you know, gentleman’s club. And that guy is the dude who designed the William or the Washington Square Arch in, in, you know, right there in Washington Square Park, you know, you’ve seen it in thousands of movies or whatever. So like he was like the most celebrated architect of the 19th century. And he’s the guy who designed The Players Club and he was a member. And then you read down further on his Wikipedia page, and he also was shot and killed in a theater. And it’s because he was a reviled rapist. He was like the Harvey Weinstein of the —
JIMMY CARR: Sorry, a reviled rapist as opposed to one of those beloved rapists.
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah as opposed to a celebrated rapist. Look —
JIMMY CARR: As opposed to no, listen, Bill Cosby, the beloved rapist. Yeah, sure.
JESSE JOYCE: Touché. But, like, people knew he was a, and so some husband of a woman that he raped, came and showed up and killed him in a theater and then that trial became like the trial of the century. And that guy ended up getting off for the murdering of this scumbag. Like the guy who kills Harvey Weinstein would probably also, like, yeah, whatever.
JIMMY CARR: I can’t imagine there would be much of a case there, would there?
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah, exactly. So this guy, like the, so that’s what, what I mean about what’s fascinating about history is like, you pull like any thread on anything on, like, oh, who was the architect who designed this? And then you find out like, it was, he was the murder victim in the trial of the century because he was a, he was like one of the most prolific rapists of the 1800s. Like, it’s just, history is just filled with just fucking monsters and like, it is absolutely fascinating —
JIMMY CARR: But I think he would prefer prolific than reviled. Prolific feels like a promotion. So look, I mean, it’s a fascinating story and it’s kind of, it’s really, it’s an interesting time in American history anyway, because it’s kind of, it’s, there’s so many bits that we kind of recognize as the modern world. Well, you know, if you go to ancient history it becomes kind of the barbarians. But like, there’s stuff we recognize in this world and we can kind of go, oh, yeah, I know, I can imagine myself there. And they were wearing that and they were performing plays that are still performed, and they were like, we would understand them. I’m almost kind of amazed at what the accent would have been. What the, you know, because you sort of think the American accent didn’t just happen. It’s like a mix of Irish and German and, like, all these different kind of things coming together. It’s really interesting to sort of think, OK, if this was a movie, here’s the question, if this was a movie, let’s cast it, who would you have as, what character? Because I’d say, Tom Hardy would make a very good Boston Corbett.
JESSE JOYCE: OK. Yeah, my initial thought would have been like a Nicolas Cage, like, because he’s just so fucking intense. You know what I mean?
JIMMY CARR: I think Hardy’s got that Tom Hardy’s got, but he’s just, he’s a little. But some of the things he did, like when, when they, when he perceived that he was in trouble and people were, were, were gonna come after him in a revenge attack, didn’t Boston Corbett dig a hole?
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah. Yeah. That’s what he ended up doing. Like, so that’s why, so Boston Corbett —
JIMMY CARR: *laughs* He dug a hole!
JESSE JOYCE: — a QAnon guy. Later in life, this is what happens, like —
JIMMY CARR: Dug a hole and lived in a hole?
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah. Yeah. So he, like, just to give a little bit of the context for that. He, like about 10 years after the war, the South started rewriting the history of it to like the whole state’s rights thing and everything like that, that like, oh it wasn’t over slavery, it was this and we were like, you know, kind of heroic in fighting our, you know, like defending our family from invading Northern, like that kind of bullshit. They started rewriting the history of it. They started making John Wilkes Booth like a good actor. So like people are like, started thinking that like, that’s what most people are like, oh yeah, John Wilkes Booth is an actor. He’s like fucking kind of an actor, but he was terrible. But they started raising his profile, and then that morphed into that Boston Corbett killed the wrong guy, like he wasn’t really dead. And then people would say that to Boston and he would get furious and pull guns on them, because he did kill John Wilkes Booth. And then that morphed into, because he was so mercury poisoned, he started to believe it. So Boston Corbett starts believing that John Wilkes Booth is not dead and is coming to get him for killing him.
JIMMY CARR: Oh, yeah, you remember that time? You remember that time I shot you in the back of the head. Are you still annoyed about that? What?
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah, he’s very mad that, that Boston Corbett killed him and he’s coming for him. That’s how mercury poisoned he was. So he moves as far away as he can possibly get, he moves to Kansas, like in the middle of nowhere, just this farm, like in the middle of the country. And he just digs a hole in the earth and moves into this hole and lives there for years with like guns trained at the door, waiting for John Wilkes Booth to show up and darken his doorstep. Like, that’s how crazy he got. And then he ended up, it’s just, he’s such a fascinating —.
JIMMY CARR: OK, who do you like? Who do you like for Booth in the movie? OK, we’re making the movie. Tom Hardy is the total lunatic. What about, I’m trying to think, who was the guy that played Batman in the Christopher Nolan? British actor.
JESSE JOYCE: Christian Bale.
JIMMY CARR: Christian Bale would be good.
JESSE JOYCE: He would be extremely good.
JIMMY CARR: Maybe I’m just thinking of like him in The Prestige, that kind of character. Like, I love that movie, The Prestige, but that, that kind of era. I don’t, they don’t make enough —
JESSE JOYCE: Speaking of The Prestige, Ed Norton would be pretty good, too. Wait, that was the other one, right. Weren’t there two or three magician movies? Which is super stupid.
JIMMY CARR: Ed Norton would make an excellent, Edward Norton would be —
JESSE JOYCE: Edward Norton would be a really good Edwin. Yeah, so, yeah that is a good cast. Yeah.
JIMMY CARR: Well you need Edward Norton and then his brother needs to be like Brad Pitt.
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah, exactly.
JIMMY CARR: So that Edward Norton is going, “ah, this, ooohh, why, oooh, why did you invite him?”
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah, because, yeah, Brad Pitt could play like a dumb handsome guy pretty well.
JIMMY CARR: I mean, you know what, the absolute, the coolest thing in the world would be if we get, if you got Chris and Liam Hemsworth. That, that would be a movie.
JESSE JOYCE: Oh yeah, if you get real brothers. Yeah, yeah, that would be really cool.
JIMMY CARR: Oh, you’re the dumb brother in this. Or the Ben Affleck?
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, I can see that, too. Yeah, like you did, you need somebody who’s like, I think what you need is somebody who is as huge, you know, like to kind of, yeah, like, because it’ll have that feeling to it. Because like to explain what a big deal Edwin was at the time. Like, like for real, this is a real, like the days after that, you know, when word got out that Lincoln was killed, the way people were talking about it was, did you hear Edwin Booth’s brother killed the president. Like, it wasn’t, nobody knew who John was. Like, it was, that’s how big a deal Edwin was. And then he’s just been forgotten, you know. But, but yeah, he was, and then like old guys were like, did you hear Junius Booth’s son killed the president?
JIMMY CARR: You also wonder, I slightly wonder what the acting was like as well. Because like the best actor in America, because when you go back and look at really, really old movies and you go, well, it must have been different in the theater because they had Shakespeare, they had these, you know, incredible plays, but how were they played also?
JESSE JOYCE: Well so I get into that in the book too, to like, to kind of explain because it sounds like, it’s like hard to quantify. You know, like it’s like saying best astronaut, like, how do you quantify who’s the, who’s such a great actor? But like the, the way that the, you know, there seems to be, so basically Edwin was like a game changer for acting. He was like, like before him, like the way his dad did it and the way everybody did Shakespeare was, they would be very literal about it. So they would go like, “whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to,” you know, endure “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” they would do that kind of shit —
JIMMY CARR: Whoa, whoa, whoa stop, stop. You got the part. This is, you’re fantastic.
JESSE JOYCE: *laughs* They would just like bloviate and like overact and whatever else. And then Edwin was like, I think this is more subtle than that. And so he like played Hamlet as like this moody kind of quiet, like he’s like the way Marlon Brando kind of changed shit. Like, like Marlon Brando has like been considered like the first guy to like be real. Like you never saw Marlon Brando like throw his hat down —
JIMMY CARR: Well, I kind of wondered about that, the idea of going, theater must have got that before the movies. Because the movie, the movies went, look, this is for the masses. This is costing us a lot of money. Everyone’s got to get this. So it needs to be big. And also movie acting before speech was they had to do the, whether it’s slings, you know.
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah. Right. So, and so they were just like, they would like pantomime it almost. And Edwin was like the first guy to like, like there was some, I read some book from some contemporary actor at the time, like of Edwin’s, who did, went on tour with him once. And then he, like this is, that’s another replay of how popular Edwin was, some random fucking actor wrote a book about the time he got to work with Edwin. That was the book, right? That was released in like 1905 or something like that, right? And in the book, he like goes to great lengths to go like, well, Edwin was so different than everybody else. Like, basically, like when you saw him, you were like, he was Hamlet, you know, like that kind of thing. And so, this is an interesting story I think to like, show you how good an actor Edwin was or whatever. In, and he kind of got his start in like the mining camps during the Gold Rush, right? Like he went out west and would put on Shakespeare for these like filthy miners in a creek. You know, just like he would go to like a mining camp and just do Shakespeare for them. And they like, fucking loved him. And it was like a great, it’s like the way you do stand up, you do kind of like crappy little shows around town, like to, like, kind of sharpen your skills before you go do a big theater. So, like, that’s where he kind of made his bones was like, practicing in all those places —
JIMMY CARR: I was thinking that, that thing of like, if you imagine a world, like, people are always, like, amazed, oh, people used to go and watch executions. And I go, I go, OK, I’ll tell you what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna take away your phone and your TV and your computer, right? And, all of the books. You’re not gonna be able to read. And it gets dark when it gets dark and you have to go to bed. OK. So that’s your life, right? I, I’ll give you two weeks and then I’m going to tell you there’s an execution going on in the town square. I think everyone goes, yeah, we’re going! What are you wearing?
JESSE JOYCE: Something to do.*laughs*
JIMMY CARR: Yeah, I like the idea that, like, some, being entertained. We’re so, there’s that brilliant Neil Postman book. I think it’s like the best book on media. It was written in like 1984 called Amusing Ourselves to Death. About how the, the medium is the message, you know, the, the, the, you know, the, the idea that, you know, because TV demanded kind of very short snappy headlines, it like people got less informed real quick because the news had to be, the news had to be dumber. And then the internet goes dumber again and it’s suddenly 140 characters. It’s a brilliant book. I mean, it’s basically a book about social media before social media was invented. Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death. It’s a great book. But yeah, that thing of like, it must have been an incredible time to be a traveling showman because, like, I think about it in terms of, I read that brilliant book, The Comedians by, what’s he called? Um, oh he, he’s, he used to be a comic. Bald guy. American. Kapithile or something is his second name. It’s a weird name. [Editor’s note: Author’s name is Kliph Nesteroff] But it’s a great book, The Comedians. And it’s, it kind of tells the story about, you know, the idea of people had the same act for 40 years. Like, if you just went from town to town, then you went, well, there’s no need to do anything else. Someone told me a really interesting theater story about, you know, the idea, I don’t know if it’s quite in American theater in the same way, but people do the air kiss, like the theater kiss, like the mwah, mwah, just kind of kissing the air, like two foot away from the other person. Mwah, mwah. And it’s a very kind of slightly pretentious kind of middle class thing. That comes from the actors. So the actors all had syphilis and venereal diseases. So they all had. So it became the common practice to kiss about a meter away because — mwah, mwah — because. And then, and then the idea that the actors call each other lovey and darling came from because the repertory theater every Sunday would be the change day. So you’d be booked to play in Hamlet from Monday to Saturday. And then Sunday you would change, you would have to get from Bristol to London or from London to Edinburgh for your next appointment. Check into your new lodgings and you’d work with new actors the next week. If you were one of the stars. You’d work with thousands of people in a year. You couldn’t remember anyone’s name. So everyone became lovey and darling. In the same way as, it’s the same thing on building sites. In building sites in the UK, everyone’s called John, everyone. Alright, John? Everyone’s called John because it’s just easier.
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah. Yeah. Sure. Sure. Yeah, that’s fun. Yeah, Edwin went, was, this is not in the book but he did, he ends up like, you know, when like at the kind of height of his powers, some British guy, and I can’t remember his name, but he was like the most famous guy in England, came over and the two of them did Othello together and they would switch every night where one of them was Othello and the other was Iago. And then the next night, you know, Edwin would be Iago and the other one would be Othello. And they kept doing, it was like a gimmick, you know, and like people fucking loved it —
JIMMY CARR: Wow. They did that recently, they did that with, who did that? Two guys did that? I think Jonny Lee Miller and some, and Jude Law did that with Frankenstein? I think where they swapped the parts every night.
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah, so. It seems like a lot of work, but —
JIMMY CARR: I mean, you’re selling two tickets to, I mean, come on. Who’s, who? No one’s seeing that once. Everyone’s going, OK, I’ll go again.
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah, that’s a good, it, it is a good gimmick. So, Edwin was doing some mining camp, and he was playing Iago, which is the bad guy in Othello, right? And the miners got so furious with Iago that they all pulled out their six-shooters and started shooting at Edwin. And he had to like hit the deck and crawl off stage and in like a hail of bullets.
JIMMY CARR: So it’s like, like, like a literal equivalent of, do you remember? You know, I’m not sure if it’s apocryphal, but that story of the first time they showed the moving image, the train, the shot of the train coming out of the tunnel. And people in the cinema are going, we’re going to get hit by a fucking train.
JESSE JOYCE: It’s The Great Train Robbery. It wasn’t the train coming, it was the guy shooting at the camera, right? Like that’s, it’s in the end of Goodfellas, right? Or, it’s the, Scorsese does an homage to that scene in Goodfellas. One of the shots in The Great Train Robbery, the robber takes his two six-shooters points them straight at the camera and fires them. And that’s what Joe Pesci does at the end of Goodfellas, right? Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Right? That’s an homage to that scene. That’s the scene that people fucking freaked out when that guy pulled guns on them in the theater and they dove over chairs and shit their pants or whatever. Like because they’d never seen a movie before. People thought they were genuinely gonna die. But yeah, so it’s like that, like to see Edwin be so mean and shitty and conniving and Iago, as Iago. Then, yeah, like, and then that became like this badge of honor for Edwin too that he was like, that’s how good this guy is. People try to kill him when he acts like, so. Yeah, anyway, that just gives you a sense —
JIMMY CARR: It’s extraordinary. So, OK, so this book, I think we’ve, I think we’ve done a pretty good sales pitch on this book, right? I mean, it’s like, it’s, it’s a lot of fun. What would be the next thing that you would get into.
JESSE JOYCE: Oh, what a weird time to freeze. Dude you froze. That’s the weirdest time you could have possibly frozen. It’s like we got all the way through the book and then you’re like, you know what? I think we did a good job with the book —
JIMMY CARR: OK, so. OK, all right. I’ll retake that. So we did a pretty good job of talking about the book. But that, what’s the next thing? You’re always, like, interested in, you know, new stories and what period, what are you doing a deep dive on at the moment?
JESSE JOYCE: So, well, right now Prohibition is the thing I’m deep diving on because I’m super interested in it. And specifically —
JIMMY CARR: It is extraordinary, the idea that they, you know, it can you imagine it happening now? I mean, it’s, there’s someone told me a great story about Winston Churchill that he had to get a letter from the doctor because he went to America.
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah. Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. When he came to America. Yeah. Like, yeah, he got some prescription for booze so he could keep drinking. Yeah, that’s pretty delightful. Yeah, like a lot of like, you know, wealthy and like powerful people, like, skirted the whole thing anyway. But like, but what is super interesting to me about it is like, you know, you learn about it in history, oh Prohibition and that was like 13 years of America being dry and whatever, but like still in on it. Like if you were there then, like, how fucking crazy that would have been. The thing that I think is the most delightful about it is that it was, it started on a specific day. So January 19th, 1920 you could drink. January 20th, 1920 no more booze forever. As far as you understood, because it was a constitutional amendment. Like it was burned in the con — like from now on no one can drink. So that was the last day you could get drunk was January 19th. That must have been the most debauched day in the history of America.
JIMMY CARR: Like, never mind, never mind New Year’s Eve. See, this is the, the, the film thing that we were chatting about. Like, what would be, make a great movie guys turning 21 that weekend, and they’ve got like, it’s their, it’s their first time they can buy alcohol. And also it’s the last time they can buy alcohol possibly in their lives. But I mean, in their lives, that’s what you would have thought. There was no international travel. There was —
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. You thought you were never gonna be able to get a drink. So like, and, and so did the rich people. And so like the John D. Rockefellers, all those guys, they just like bought it all up months in advance knowing that, because there was a, a loophole in the rule that you could drink whatever you owned, you just couldn’t buy anymore. Right. So people stockpiled it for years. Like they, like, as in years’ worth of alcohol. So then it basically, like, it was just impossible to get, like in the lead up right up to Prohibition. So, like that would have been a fucking crazy night to try to find alcohol, on January 19th, 1920 —
JIMMY CARR: Wow. Someone told me another great, I had another movie idea. Not that we’ll just talk about movie ideas, but I think it would be a fantastic movie to go, look, we’re turning 21 this weekend and it’s the last time we can drink and that’s, then it’s over. It’s just such an interesting thing of like, because young men that rights of passage, I know people drink before they can legally drink. But the first time you buy a beer in a bar and you’ve got the ID and you’re the right age and yeah, great. Like, what, was there an age that you could consume alcohol then? Or was it? Because I know in the UK —
JESSE JOYCE: Probably 18, I don’t know for sure, but it’s probably 18.
JIMMY CARR: I don’t know if they even had it. They maybe didn’t. I mean, in the UK —
JESSE JOYCE: Oh, they might not have had an age.
JIMMY CARR: They might not have had an age but it’s, it’s an interesting idea of like young men the first time, like in a bar, for men, drinking and they’ve finished college, they’re gonna, you know, they’ve come to the big city and it’s the last weekend of this. It’s kind of fascinating. The other thing that someone told me about Prohibition, I found absolutely fascinating was, that’s where NASCAR is from.
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, they just started souping up their cars —
JIMMY CARR: It was like an arms race. So, if you could, if you were transporting, you know, drugs from the Appalachian, no drugs, booze, from the Appalachian Mountains to Chicago, the police, if they couldn’t catch you in the car, you were free. It’s like —
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah.
JIMMY CARR: So if you had a faster car than the cops, so it became like these garages just became like an arms race of like, more and more faster turbos, better, like the idea. And that’s, kind of became NASCAR.
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah. And what’s funny is they probably went 42 miles an hour, the really fast ones.
JIMMY CARR: Oh, no, that, like back then it was like some of those cars, like, when you think about, like in the 1920s, like in the UK, it’s quite famous, The Bentley Boys was what they called them. The Bentley Boys were the racers. So they used to buy, before Aston Martin would have been a thing. But the Bentleys, the big, six Bentleys, six litre Bentleys would have been the thing. And they would like, they would do 100 miles an hour. They would. And, but, but the, so the speed they had, do you know what they didn’t have? The brakes?
JESSE JOYCE: Seat belts.
JIMMY CARR: Oh, they didn’t have seat belts.
JESSE JOYCE: Or brakes.
JIMMY CARR: But, I mean, the brakes were like, yeah. Yeah, we’re gonna, we’re gonna stop, eventually. But just crazy guys.
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah. Yeah, it’s pretty amazing, yeah. So, I think that’s fascinating. I also think, there’s this like town I kind of am, am super fascinated by that we’ve talked about. Palisade, Nevada. Do you know about that place? Remember?
JIMMY CARR: Yeah, yeah, yeah, where they, yeah.
JESSE JOYCE: It’s this town that you like. Did you ever see that movie Funny Farm with Chevy Chase? Where they move into this, and everybody wants them to leave. So the town like, pretends — Like it’s this fucked up town. They get there, they buy this pristine house and then they realize the town is just populated by just total assholes. You know, like the mailman is mean as hell and like everybody’s just a rude, inbred scumbag. So they agree they want to move and then the town agrees to get them out to like become this perfect little community to like trick people into coming. This, Palisade, Nevada, is a real place. During the old West, they did the opposite. They didn’t want anybody coming to the town because they liked it. So they would stage these violent gunfights like when the train would pull up every day. Like the train would pull up, because it was a stop on the railway, and they didn’t want people messing up their town. So they would like with blanks and like beet juice for blood, they would stage this like violent like, you know, Native American attack or like just a shoot-out in the middle of the street and shit. And like the horrified people on the train would like see this and then the train would take off again. And it would be like, yeah, great show everybody. Like that’s what they would, for years, they did that. And like the newspapers in Chicago called it the most deadly town in the West and shit like that. And it was all fake. It was just these, this town of like, like community theater weirdos. It’s like a Christopher Guest documentary. You know, this, this group of people that like staged this bloody, violent shoot-out every single day —
JIMMY CARR: The, the extraordinary thing about history is you couldn’t make it up. If you, if you went and pitched a movie or a sitcom with that, they’d go well that sounds, that’s, that’s, that’s a comedy, that’s ridiculous. That didn’t happen. No, no, that happened.
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah, it really did. Yeah. Yeah. So that, I think is really interesting.
JIMMY CARR: That’s amazing. Well, I, I think you’ve got to write more of these, I think as well. Like for me, it’s the, those, compendiums of these little stories would be really interesting. Just across the age. Like, like, well, I think because both of us kind of have a love for the Wild West, and what that meant. Like in the idea of, I mean, we wrote that, that thing about the, the, the West —
JESSE JOYCE: The cartoon.
JIMMY CARR: But the kind of, we kind of based, in fact, it’s based in the idea that you go, it was incredibly culturally diverse and interesting. And, I mean, the thing that we put in the cartoon that I loved was the idea that you go, the idea that there was the cowboys and Indians and you go, no, no, there was so many different tribes of, of, you know, Indian first natives, that all hated each other.
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah.
JIMMY CARR: But I kind of like the idea because you never see that in a movie. You never see. It’s always all them against us. You go, no, no, there’s no them, there was loads of different people.
JESSE JOYCE: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. They all had different opinions. They all had their own —
JIMMY CARR: The Blackfoot and the Sioux didn’t necessarily get along. It’s kind of a fun thing. Look —
JESSE JOYCE: There is like, yeah, there’s like a really interesting, like nuanced dynamic to all of them and I think that’s really fascinating.
JIMMY CARR: Yeah. Well, you’ve got to write more. Every, I wish you every success with this is absolutely fantastic. Enjoy.
JESSE JOYCE: It is an honor that you have, that you have taken a liking to it. I’m thrilled about it. It really means a ton, because I really respect you. I think you’re a hilarious guy. And also like —
JIMMY CARR: Of course I am.
JESSE JOYCE: I think you’re a good comedy intellect. And so, yeah, no, having you be interested enough to do this is great for me. It’s super cool. You’re a good friend —
JIMMY CARR: I’ll have to think of a cool title for the cover.
You know of John Wilkes Booth and the guy he killed, President Abraham Lincoln. Now prepare to learn the far more outlandish stories of Booth’s killers — Boston Corbett, a literal mad hatter who castrated himself, and John Wilkes’ brother, Edwin Booth, a renowned but troubled actor. This wry, rollicking history from stand-up comedian Joyce provides an eye-opening account of America’s colorful past.