Mark Normand has slogged his way through the New York comedy scene since 2006. For years now, he's labored through open mics all across the city, played shows to half-filled rooms and drunk, distracted patrons, spent hours enticing passers-by to free comedy shows in the West Village, and balanced multiple careers, a relationship, and a social life.
But all of these have not been for nothing. Normand is now a Comedy Cellar regular, has appeared on Conan, Last Comic Standing, and Inside Amy Schumer. Most recently, Normand finally assembled his first album, Still Got It, and filmed his first Comedy Central special for their series The Half Hour, which debuts this Friday.
Normand and I chatted about some of the difficulties of capturing the sets, a deeply inopportune bout of food poisoning, and some of the worst advice he has ever received.
Let’s begin with your CD, Still Got It. Why that title? How’d it come together?
Well, I was on the road so much and I wanted to get something down, so I got it in the can. The title is because I always say it to people; it’s a bullshit term that I think is funny. When somebody bombs, they come off stage and you go, "Hey, you still got it!" It’s a weird term, because I think people buy into it a little bit. At first they go, "Oh, really? Oh… fuck you." So it’s kind of a fun thing to say. I say it on people’s birthdays. Every birthday on Facebook, I go, "Hey, happy birthday! Still got it!" And people are so delusional that sometimes they go "Oh you think so? Thanks!"
Was it one continuous set or was it a compilation of scattered ones?
I did two sets that I kind of spliced together; whatever reaction was better. But yeah, it’s just the 45 minutes that I’ve been doing on the road for like two or three years, and I just wanted to nail it down, baby.
Where were the locations that you recorded?
I did Comedy Club on State in Madison, Wisconsin. I did two shows, and I’ve got to be honest, I was nervous because Madison, Wisconsin, is pretty white and I have a lot of Jewish jokes and Puerto Rican jokes and I didn’t know how that was going to fly… but they were great.
What brought you to Madison?
I was looking for a place to do the album, and I was talking to some comics I know. Nate Bargatze, Sean Patton, and Tommy Johnagin were like, “You’re doing an album? Do it there, do it there.” I was like, “I don’t know,” and they were like, “Trust me.” And they were right.
What about it in particular, though?
The crowds are just so good. They were amazing; we sold out every show, which I’ve never done because I’m not a draw. And the staff and the owners are so helpful, supportive of the album … And if anybody talked, they just threw them out immediately. There was no bullshit. They were just amazing.
So now you have this CD and the Comedy Central special. Are you going to retire this 45 minutes, is it kind of always in development?
I’m not at that level yet. I’m not a Louis C.K. kind of guy. I still have to run that — you know, when I’m doing a show, no one knows who I am, so I have to gain their respect and trust. So I’ve got to do some of that A [material]. But once the new stuff starts kicking in, I just have to keep working, keep working a new 10 or 20, and then get it to a 30 and then a 40. Then we’re back on the road for an hour.
How did the taping of The Half Hour go? Was that also done in Madison?
No, no, everybody did the same room at the Royale in Boston, which is an old rock club. It went great, though I had crazy food poisoning the whole time, so if you watch my special, I’m bloated, sweaty, holding in diarrhea while telling jokes… Crazy anxiety. It was awful, terrible timing.
How’d you get around that?
It was just the craziest week of my life. It was in April; I had the album taping, then I had a flight to LA to do Last Comic Standing, but I had to fly to Boston to do the special, then fly back to LA … I had food poisoning the whole time, for those three huge events in my career.
Did you end up having to redo any of your jokes? I know they do that sometimes for The Half Hour.
No, I got them all out. Although, two things did happen: First, two guys perform each night, so this guy went before me and then I went second and while he was on, I opened a door and the fire alarm came on like woo woo woo woo. I was like, “Ah shit!” and everybody’s freaking out because it’s a taping. I ran down the stairs — like I don’t want them to know it was me — and I hid for like 20 minutes behind a counter. Then they figured it all out and got the noise to stop. I was walking around like, “What was that all about?” And then cut to me going on stage, I’m doing great, I finish, I wrap up, I go, “Thanks a lot, all right.” And they go, “You’ve got to redo the first three minutes. We put the wrong name on the backdrop.” I’m like, “What the hell? You put the wrong name on the backdrop? I’ve got to redo it? All the magic is gone! They already heard all the jokes.” And they’re like, “Well, you set off the fire alarm so now we’re even.” I was like, “Ah shit, they knew it was me.”
How was the second time around?
Oh it was awful. I was sweating, and I made some jokes about it … like I just started but I was already sweating. I had to re-tell the jokes, and they got 40% of what they got the first time because they’re like, “We know these jokes now.” So it was kind of awkward … I hope the power and the magic of editing comes through, because it will be awkward if it doesn’t.
That’s painful. Did the feeling of getting to do a Comedy Central special sort of make up for the diarrhea and other incidents?
Yeah, it’s weird. I remember moving to New York thinking that anyone with a half hour’s got a mansion and a yacht and eight supermodels. And then you’re in New York living in a shoebox and masturbating to music videos. Not much has changed; you’re on the road and you get a little more respect from the other guys, but it’s just a job, man. That’s just one of the stepping stones in a comedy career. Now it’s like, what’s the next thing? Now I want the hour. You think you get The Half Hour, and you’re like, “All right, I’m retiring, give me my giant check,” but it’s all just more work to go, buddy.
Do you get more people recognizing you at this point?
Not really. Mostly what I get is “Hey, I saw on Last Comic [Standing]” or “I saw you at the Cellar the other night,” but not “I saw you on TV.” That’s kind of a dead thing in America.
What’s the most annoying thing anybody has ever told you about your style?
Oh boy… Well, Shane Mauss once said I had the most annoying, stupid delivery. It really crushed me because I was a big fan of his like three years ago and then I said, “Ah fuck it, he’s the one with the stupid delivery.” He was just drunk and projecting. I don’t know; I get a lot of people who say, “You should say it differently” or “You have a weird rhythm.” People are always giving me tips, but I think the delivery I have is different. You want to stand out, but on the other hand stupid people go, “Hey, you don’t want to stand out. You’re doing it wrong.” No, I’m not doing it wrong; I’m just doing it like everyone else. It doesn’t mean it wrong, I’m just doing it differently.
You settle on whatever you’re comfortable with.
Yeah, I’m not sitting at home like mixing things in a beaker until I find the perfect delivery.
What’s the worst advice you’ve ever received?
One guy said to never talk about race. That was annoying because I’m like, “Why not?” He’s like, “Because you’re a white guy.” I’m like, “Well, that’s just stupid. Now you’re judging me on the color of my skin. You’re oppressing me now.” That was really annoying. Oh man, I’ve gotten such bad advice. A guy told me to move around more. He’s like, “You’ve gotta use the whole stage!” I was like, “Why? I’m a comedian.” Bill Cosby sits in a chair! He isn’t moving at all. That was annoying. Use the whole stage? What, are you insane?
You didn’t become a vaudeville actor.
Yeah, like he wanted me to juggle and shit. Get on the floor, lay down once in a while! Make an angel on the floor! Yeah, I guess, “use the whole stage.” That was probably it.
I mean I’ve heard great advice too. Tom Papa gave me great advice. He said I tell joke after joke after joke, but I don’t link them. I need to make them one fluid movement. Have like five jokes linked together on one subject and then move on to another subject. Don’t just go from pedophiles to chairs to airplanes to Puerto Ricans. Link them together.
Do you have new jokes in the chamber that you’ve been itching to test out
Yeah, I have a new 10 minutes that I’m already doing in clubs around the city. I’ve got a couple of ideas that I’m really itching to nail down because they’re all just premises right now, but I think they could be big.
I want to just knock this Conan out, and I’ve just been working on Conan like crazy. So I want to work on my Conan, finish that, and then really get back to the lab.
You have part in Judd Apatow and Amy Schumer's movie Trainwreck, right?
I mean, I don’t know what I’m allowed to say. Judd Apatow’s directing it, which is terrifying because he was giving me notes on shit and he’s the guy who did 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, giving me notes like “Don’t say that, say this! Try that again, that wasn’t funny. How about this? Try this!” And you’re like, “Okay I’m sorry, don’t hate me! You’re a legend, I’m terrified.” I have one line. That was a surreal moment.
I’ve been opening for [Amy] Schumer like four or five years, and now I’m watching her and Judd Apatow argue over a line, whether it’s funny or not, on a movie set with cameras and grips and gaffers and lights. That was wild.
Was it stressful more than you liked? Or was the overall experience worth it do you think?
It was totally worth it. I learned a lot and it was cool to go through, but movies just stress me out especially when I have no control. It’s like “Okay, you guys figure it out. Just tell me what to do. I don’t want to be here.” It’s a huge multi-million dollar production and you feel like you’re gonna fuck it up. I felt like I would step backwards and a chain of events would cause the camera to slip and a light would tip over and hit a lady in the head and she’d wobble over to a thing and that would fall and the whole set would fall down.
Phil Stamato lives and writes in New York, where he may also be seen standing up and telling jokes.