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Jim Jefferies goes from stand-up to a sitcom as sweet as it is sick

Billy (D.J. Qualls) enlists his brother Steve (Dan Bakkedahl) friend Jim (Jim Jefferies) help him lead more normal life “Legit.”

Billy (D.J. Qualls) enlists his brother Steve (Dan Bakkedahl) and friend Jim (Jim Jefferies) to help him lead a more normal life in “Legit.” | FX

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‘LEGIT’ ★★★

9:30 to 10 p.m. Thursdays on FX

Updated: February 19, 2013 12:39PM

PASADENA, Calif. — In the new FX comedy “Legit,” the main character, real-life Australian comedian Jim Jefferies, makes a strong first impression.

And it’s not a good one.

We see Jefferies — a misanthropic stand-up comic with a taste for booze, blow and hookers — contemplating fatherhood, preferably with a woman who would die once “the kid can walk and talk and get me a beer,” Jefferies says with all the aplomb of someone perusing a grocery store’s cereal aisle.

A baby mama with a fatal disease would be ideal, but “turns out terminally ill women don’t want to get pregnant,” Jefferies complains. “They’re all about them and what they’re up to.”

Point made: Jefferies is self-centered and callous with a twisted sense of humor. But inside that off-putting shell lurks a kind man who genuinely aspires to be a better human being; he wants to become “legitimate.” His humorous quest to do so results in a toe-curling comedy that’s just as sweet as it is sick.

“It’s easy for comedy to be sick and offensive,” said co-star Dan Bakkedahl (“The Daily Show”), who plays Jefferies’ best friend, Steve. “To counterpunch that with the sweetness makes it unique.”

The 13-episode “Legit” fits right in at the male-skewing cable network known for pushing the envelope with edgier, unconventional fare, from “American Horror Story” to “Louie,” another FX series revolving around a stand-up comic.

Unlike “Louie,” “Legit” is more ensemble piece than one-man show. DJ Qualls (“Supernatural”) co-stars as Steve’s younger brother, Billy, whose advanced-stage muscular dystrophy has left him in a wheelchair. (Qualls is able-bodied in real life, but cancer treatments as a child have left him with an unusually thin, angular physique.)

Billy desperately wants to lose his virginity. He enlists Jefferies’ help in finding a prostitute — a scenario that actually happened to Jefferies. In life and in art, Jefferies obliged his buddy’s request.

“Ultimately, everything in the show is somebody’s truth at some point or another,” said Bakkedahl, who spent a decade in Chicago training and performing at ImprovOlympic (now iO) and the Second City. “The best teachers I had in comedy, these guys all taught you that you need to be believable first. There has to be an ounce of real life involved so we’re invested and we care. Then maybe we’ll laugh at things we’re not accustomed to.”

“Legit” mines much of its comedy from material viewers aren’t used to seeing on TV, from a horny quadriplegic to his mentally handicapped roommate hungry for raucous adventures outside his assisted-living facility.

“That’s kind of what the show is about: People you don’t see normally on television, and we celebrate their lives in a very odd and twisted way,” said “Legit” co-creator and director Peter O’Fallon.

A Colorado native, O’Fallon made a name for himself directing commercials in Chicago.

More recently, O’Fallon helped care for his ill father, who died from ALS two years ago. He was struck by his dad’s resilience in the face of such a crippling disease — a trait O’Fallon has given to the character of Billy, and one that Jefferies’ character has the unique ability to recognize.

“Jim sees these people as just people that want to have fun,” O’Fallon said.

That sentiment gets encapsulated in a poignant part of the pilot: Billy, Jim and Steve’s hilarious road-trip montage set to the song “Carry On” by fun. The original pilot used Mumford & Sons’ “The Cave,” which worked beautifully, but the studio couldn’t get the rights. “You have no idea how hard I tried,” O’Fallon said, adding that was the song that inspired the scene.

Mindy Sterling (“iCarly”) does a turn as Steve and Billy’s overprotective mother, Janice. John Ratzenberger (legendary Cliff Clavin from “Cheers”) comes aboard later in the season as their henpecked father, Walter. (A different actor plays Walter in the pilot.)

“I got the girl who played the prostitute, Kate Luyben, pregnant in real life,” Jefferies volunteered at TV critics’ summer press tour.

When Jefferies called his mother in Australia to tell her a) he’s going to have a TV show on FX and b) he’s going to have a baby, Mom’s response: “How can they call your TV show ‘Legit’ when your child is illegitimate?” Jefferies said.

Just like the stand-up comic’s often uncomfortable style of humor, “Legit” is bound to repulse just as many viewers as it attracts.

“People will feel passionately about it on both sides,” Bakkedahl predicts. “There are those who are going to say, ‘That’s offensive and it’s not OK.’ But I think those are the people who are going to turn off before they get to the end of the episode.”

And that would be a shame.

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