Interview with Nate Bargatze

Nate Bargatze says he’s already surpassed whatever hopes he had for himself when he decided to drop his job reading water meters in Tennessee and move to Chicago. In the ten years since then, most of which have been spent in New York’s comedy scene, he’s been seen on Conan and Comedy Central, and now he’s upping the ante with the new album “Yelled at by a Clown” (from AST Records). In this very solid hour, Bargatze makes comedic spectacle out of subjects that many comedians would be afraid to touch, not because of their shock value or taboo, but because of the challenge in making them funny. Marriage and childhood, for example, are some of the most covered subjects in the standup canon, but Bargatze breathes fresh comedic life into them. He also takes on mundane facts (like consumer options for car owners) and weird world trivia (like how you can shoot rocket launchers at cows in Cambodia for $400) all with the same laid-back delivery style, letting the material speak for itself, which it most certainly does. We talked last week about being from the south, script writing, and favorite comedians. Below, is an edited transcript of our conversation.

Brendan Bourque-Sheil: I’m always surprised when I hear about comedians who do their writing on stage. When you’re working out material on stage, what’s usually going through your head?

Nate Bargatze: One of my favorite parts of comedy is that once you’ve been doing it long enough–when you’re telling jokes, you’re not just thinking about whatever joke you’re on. You’re a couple jokes ahead. I’ve always loved that. It’s like you’re constantly moving forward to being like “alright, what’s after this joke” as you’re telling the joke. But sometimes you’ll forget what’s supposed to go next, so I’ll be telling jokes and I’ll think “I can only think of four jokes after this one.” And then it’s three jokes and two jokes. And then it’s just one joke and it’s like “I can’t believe I didn’t think of anything else.” So that’s always frightening. You’re trying to do your jokes all cool and collected but in your head, you’re like “we have nothing after this!”

BB: (laughs) So what is your go-to when that happens?

NB: Usually for me, I go to a joke that I don’t want to do and that I haven’t done in forever. And that’s the weird joke that’ll pop into my head, so I’ll have to do some old joke that I hate and don’t want to do and that can usually get me back onto like “okay, now we’re gonna do this.” It’s almost like a punishment–like “now you’re gonna damage yourself by telling a joke you made when you’d been doing stand-up comedy for a year.”

BB: So, I grew up in Texas with a family that’s from New York.

NB: Oh really?

BB: Yeah, it’s a weird thing with northern-southern relations, I think both groups kind of have ideas about what the other one is. Working as a southern comic in New York, did you ever experience any weirdness from that divide, being from Tennessee?

NB: I think when you move here, you tend to think everybody’s rude. And then you realize it’s not that everybody’s rude here. Everybody’s just like “We gotta go. Why are we gonna waste time acting like we’re friends?” I like it actually. I like the driving here a lot. Actually, driving in New York now, when I go drive in the south, I’m losing it, because everybody’s just kind of relaxed and going at their own pace.

But one thing about New York is, people living in Manhattan, like people who grew up in Manhattan, some of them don’t know how to travel, don’t even have drivers licenses–they’ve never left Manhattan; they’re like trapped in their own world and they think like “oh, I’ve got all this culture, I’ve got everything.” You’ve never left this little tiny island. You have no idea what’s going on in the rest of the country.  I’ve had experiences with people where they’re like “you’re just some redneck from the backwoods”–they don’t say it in a mean way, but they’ll make jokes like I’m some country bumpkin and it’s like “I have seen way more of the country than you have. You’ve never left your block.”

BB: Usually for me, when I experience that, it’s more subtle. Like, I’ll say that I’m from Texas in a group of northern people who don’t know me and it will be like “oh we kind of assume that you’re really conservative…” or something like that. Do you ever get that from people?

NB: Yeah, and I tell people too, I’m exactly what everybody thinks the south is. I’m just that. I’m a southern, conservative Christian. But it’s funny–sometimes when people hear that, they assume I’m judging them. Like, I would never do that, but they quickly do that to me. They prejudge you, thinking you’re judging them. And I guess when they go down there, people are like “oh, what are you a left winged?” But it’s just like people hate conservatives in New York. I always say, you’d be better off being a pedophile on stage than you would being conservative. People hate conservatives. Some people will think I’m  judging everybody and they are all completely judging the south in thinking that, in kind of a backwards way.

BB: You mentioned on WTF with Marc Maron, that the dream for you would be if you could be one of those comedians who makes it through the sitcom route like Seinfeld, Kevin James, Ray Romano, those guys.

NB: Yes.

BB: Have you done much script writing?

NB: I wrote a show, a pilot called Nateland. I actually wrote it with three other guys, which is a lot of people to write a show with, I’ve come to find out when we have meetings. But these guys are really funny. We’ve actually shot–like we did commercials for it. It’s already made, kind of–real quick trailers out on youtube. It would be a show based on my life and it would be like a sitcom kind of thing. So we just did that and hopefully we’ll get to pitch that. That would be unbelievable.

BB: It must be tough because whenever you get into that process you know it’s a shot in the dark and you just kind of have to hope for the best.

NB: Yeah. You never know. And another thing is there are so many different ways to go nowadays–It’s not just ABC, CBS. I mean those are still pretty big channels, but like FX, that kind of stuff–there’s just so many different channels so you can at least pitch it to so many more people. But you know, like you said, it’s ridiculously hard to get a TV show on even with all these channels…but I think that’s the best way…it would be great to do movies, it would be great to do all that stuff. All I want to do is be able to build a fan base so I can do standup. I think Seinfeld had such a perfect career. It’s easy to say that now, looking at it, but it just worked out perfectly. One show, and it’s this unbelievable show and now he does whatever he wants. He can do standup whenever he wants. That’s the end goal for a small comic–to just be able to do standup anywhere, anytime you want to.

BB: Who were some of your favorite comedians when you were younger?

NB: I would say Seinfeld and Sinbad.

BB: Really? Very different comics.

NB: Yeah. I remember watching Sinbad very young. I remember watching his special and I remember it being like the funniest thing I’d ever seen in my life.

BB: I’ve heard stories from comics like Norm MacDonald, talking about him doing jokes based on stuff that happened a couple minutes before the show–like he’s really spontaneous.

NB: Yeah, a lot of comics act like they don’t write anything down and it’s all new every show. I don’t believe that. They do the same jokes over and over. That’s how they get them good. But Sinbad is one where it’s like “ I don’t know, maybe he did think it all up off the top” (laughs). He’s unbelievable. Afros and Bellbottoms was his special and I remember just watching that and it was so good. So funny–he’s still so funny.

Eddie Murphy’s Raw and Delirious–I think they both still hold up. And that dude’s one of the best. Eddie Murphy is crazy. You watch that stuff now and you think “that nuts.”

BB: Who are your favorite comedians now–people who are around right now?

NB: Bill Burr.

BB: He’s great.

NB: Yeah, I bet you get him a lot with that question. I think he’s the best working right now, so I would say him. And Brian Regan. He is really the first person I ever saw that like–I didn’t know someone could be that funny and not be like the most famous person on earth.

BB: That is true, but one thing he’s said in interviews is that he really likes being known purely on the merits of his standup. No matter where he goes, if people know him, it’s because of that, and that’s pretty cool.

NB: Yeah, well Burr’s almost like that too. I mean he’s done stuff but…

BB: Well yeah, I don’t know Bill Burr as the guy who does standup and acts on Breaking Bad. I know him as a standup comedian who later got that part.

NB: Yeah.

BB: One thing I noticed about your new album is that it’s very clean. I think with a lot of comedians, the first hour they put together for a CD is clean out of necessity, because you have to be able to do the material everywhere.

NB: Yeah.

BB: So was that the case for you? Do you have dirty stuff that just didn’t end up on the album or are you in that Brian Regan camp, where you just don’t do much dirty material?

NB: Yeah, I just don’t do any. I mean if I get asked to do any shows that even look like it’s supposed to be dirty I guess I have some stuff I can go do, but I don’t have any, like, “dick jokes” you know?

BB: Right.

NB: Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’m fine with them and they’re all great, but I never wrote that way. That’s just how my mind thinks. It just thinks clean. I talk about murder quite a bit though. I don’t cuss, but there’s a ton of murder.

Nate Bargatze’s album is available for download on iTunes. You can keep up with his live shows if you follow him on Twitter


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