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Nick Swardson On Bucky Larson, Pretend Time and the Critics

Last week I interviewed Nick Swardson about the upcoming season of Nick Swardson’s Pretend Time, which premieres this Wednesday, Oct. 5, his stand-up career and, of course, Bucky Larson: Born To Be A Star.

As far as I can tell, the man does not sleep.

I saw a screener copy of the second season of Pretend Time, and it looks good. After you finished the first season, do you look back and think, oh, I wish we had done this differently? Do you feel like you changed a lot of things going forward?

The thing about the first season was that we never got a pilot. So we never had any kind of learning experience. We were just kind of thrown into making this show, so we were kind of over our heads a little bit. This season was a lot more enjoyable because I kind of knew what to expect going into it. We’d also written a lot of material, we’d built up a lot of stuff. I was way, way more prepared for this season. I changed my diet, I got physically more into it.

It’s grueling, since you’re just constantly working on it.

It’s intense. I don’t think people realize that doing a show like that is so brutal. I’m in every single sketch. I’m not in a sketch group, I don’t have a partner. Unlike Demitri and Chappelle and others like that, we had to generate more content. I remember, Chappelle would have a sketch that was eight minutes long. Our mandate was two minutes sketches. So, the amount of material you have to come up with is so daunting and horrifying.

Have you always done sketch, or did you find yourself in this situation of, now that I’m in this position, this is something else I have to work on?

Yeah, another misconception about the show is, people who didn’t like it were like, oh, I’m selling out and taking a pay check. It’s not like that at all. I did this show because I love sketch and have always wanted to do it. This isn’t a money gig for me; I’m not getting a fucking billion dollars. This is something I’ve always been passionate about. I’ve always loved sketch. This is more of a personal dream of mine, to try to pull this off.

Yeah, I think a lot of people assume if someone is a stand-up, they don’t really have any other interest in different kinds of comedy. But naturally people will be drawn to different forms.

Yeah, kind of. They go hand-and-hand a little bit. A lot of the people on Saturday Night Live started in stand-up: Adam Sandler, David Spade, Rob Schneider, a lot of those guys.

Speaking of Adam Sandler, what is it been like working with Happy Madison? It seems like this huge thing for you in your career.

It’s been really fun. It’s been a blast. It’s a really good atmosphere. Adam is really creative, really inspiring. He busts his ass. After all these years, he’s still developing new ideas and new characters. I’ve learned so much watching him, He’s a workaholic, in a good way. He’s also become a really good friend.

Now, I personally saw Bucky Larson. I saw the midnight showing the day it came out, actually. Just having had that experience of opening a movie and not getting critical reviews like you’d hope, what do you take away from that? Does it make you want to shy away from doing big characters? Does it make you approach movies in a different way?

Bucky Larson was a very interesting experience because it was a small movie, it was small budget for Sony/Columbia, and, you know, it was out there. It was a character nobody knew. It wasn’t a character from a show or from Saturday Night Live, you know what I mean? It was one of those things where I was like, either people are going to buy this or not. It’s going to hit or miss, and it didn’t really hit. I think when it gets to DVD people will realize, oh, this wasn’t as bad as we thought it was from the commercials. To promote an R-rated movie, with commercials, with this character, it was just really, really hard. It was hard to get the movie across to people. The trailer in theaters was really tame because we couldn’t show any of the insanity, and even if we did it, it would wouldn’t hit because it had no context. It was just really frustrating. I knew the critics were going to bury us. It was a softball. They were waiting, waiting to hate that movie. It’s kind of funny that they get their rocks off on reviews like that. They review The King’s Speech, then they review Bucky Larson.

Yeah, I also think, once you know how much work goes into making comedy, it gives you a better appreciation for how hard it is to really make a funny movie or a funny sketch.

It’s a lot of work and a lot of reviewers aren’t going into that movie to like it. They don’t want to like it. None of those reviewers was psyched to see Bucky Larson and laugh. They go in with the mentality, fuck these guys for making another movie. They go in there to kind of headhunt. It makes me laugh because it’s just so embarrassing. It makes them look like such morons. You can’t review Avatar then review Bucky Larson. Comedy is so subjective, you know what I mean? To sit there and technically pick it apart is so stupid. We’ve never made movies for critics, so we could give a fuck.

You filmed your first Comedy Central Presents ten years ago in 2001, and it is, for the record, one of my favorite stand-up specials. Has your relationship to stand-up changed at all? Are your goals different now than they were before?

I’ve done stand-up for a really, really, really long time. That first special, I was 22 or 23. I’ve done stand-up since I was 18. Stand-up’s been tricky, because I like to do things that are challenging to me. I like to do things that are different. My whole career, there’s not one moment where I think, oh, I’m embarrassed that I did that or, I can’t believe I did that. I just want to continue to do…to just challenge myself. I would do anything, if I could put my creative input into it. I would do a sitcom on NBC. I’m just looking for that new thing to challenge myself. I’ve done so many movies and my own sketch show. I don’t know what’s next really, I’m developing a bunch of stuff, but one thing I do want to do is to go back and develop my own voice again again. I’ve done so many crazy characters, I just want to go back and find my own voice. I just want to be more myself. Many of my contemporaries have done that, like Seth Rogen or Zach Galifianakis or Jonah Hill. I do just want to be myself in movies for a while, and not just some crazy fucking lunatic (laughs).

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