The Young Standup: Brandon Wardell on Drake, Bob Odenkirk, and Taking the Unexpected Path
At 22 he may be young, but he looks even younger. With a recent move to Los Angeles from his native DC, Brandon Wardell’s notoriety in the comedy scene is growing.
He was included as the opening act of Bob Odenkirk’s latest album Amateur Hour and even featured on the album’s cover — a dream for any young comedian. He’s even begun to make the podcast rounds as a recent guest on the OMFG Earwolf podcast and The Todd Glass Show — listen if you are prepared to hear a Brandon Wardell song stuck in your head for days.
To understand his humor, read his Twitter feed of one-liners about pop culture, hip-hop, and the life of a standup that makes you wonder what you did in your early twenties. The backpack he carries around must literally and figuratively be full of potential material.
I recently woke Wardell up from a nap to talk about the Canadian drama Degrassi, starting standup, and what’s next.
I’m in Canada, just east of Toronto.
Oh right, we were talking about that and Drake. That’s so sick.
The funny thing is, I remember Drake from being on the show Degrassi. Have you ever heard of it?
Oh my god! I mean, this is some fan shit. What I’m telling you is so lame on my part but I’m such a big Drake fan that I went through the list of Degrassi episode summaries on Wikipedia and control-f’d Jimmy. I watched all the Jimmy-centered episodes. [laughs]
That is amazing. I have a friend who was on the show with him. I grew up watching the old series repeats after school and then the new generation when it came out.
Oh yeah, the old, old one? Wow. I mean, I watched the old “new” generation but I haven’t watched the old “old” ones.
The old one was pretty good for its time. They showed teen pregnancy and AIDS when it was obscure to mention. Not many Americans have ever watched it. [laughs] But let’s shift it back to you — tell me a bit about getting into standup.
I was a big standup fan. For my 16th birthday I asked to see Bob Newhart, which is so weird for a 16 year old. I was a huge comedy nerd. At 17, me and my friend told our parents we were going to the school play and we went to an open mic… then just kept going. He quit like a month in and went on to go to school. I think he’s in graduate school now. It’s weird because our two lives are alternate timelines. We started standup at the same time, I kept doing it and he is doing adult shit.
You mentioned Bob Newhart — what were your influences growing up?
I wouldn’t call Bob Newhart an influence. I like him, I love him; he’s a legend. Adult Swim is what got me into comedy. Off the top, I was a huge comedy nerd back then. I don’t watch a ton of comedy now, in my free time I mostly keep up with hip-hop. When I was younger, Adult Swim was really big for me — Tim and Eric, Zach Galifianakis’s Live at the Purple Onion special, and then I watched all the Mr. Show DVDs. Oh and Space Ghost was really big for me.
How did you make the move to LA, and when did you decide to cross the country?
Well at the time, I got my manager and agent while I was living in DC, but I’ve since left both of them. My manager saw me because I was in this Washington Post article, his Mom sent it to him and he watched a clip. I took a trip out last summer [to Los Angeles]. I dropped out of school late 2013 and thought I might as well make the move now.
That’s a big step. When did you meet Bob Odenkirk?
I met him the night we recorded the album. What happened is he went to A Special Thing Records and said, “I want to record an album next week. I want to have a younger comic who is kind of green open for me.” They referred him to me, he watched a video and liked it, and I met him that night. I didn’t know I was being recorded for the album. I would have maybe done a different set if I knew it was for the album. I thought I was just opening for him and his album recording. We finished afterwards and he was like, “Oh Brandon, how do you feel about being on the album?” Then we took the cover photo there, the day I met him. Then I just sort of maintained a friendship since then.
That has to be nerve-racking to meet someone like him who has been influential in comedy, starting with Mr. Show and now doing everything in nearly every part of the entertainment field.
Yeah, now is his busiest year. What is amazing is that he is 52 and with such a long history of success. Now he is having this year, its crazy! Initially, that night I was nervous about the show. But talking to him, he is very easy to talk to and very quickly he became like any other person. I got really comfortable. I don’t think about his IMDB page when I talk to him, you know.
How was the tour? Have you gone on tour before?
I had never gone on a city-by-city thing. I’ve traveled for comedy before but just for a show but never where it’s like flights to hotel to show, flights to hotel to show and that cycle. It was super fun, those shows were so great because he would come out and start the show. He would do 15-20 minutes of standup, read from the book and do some songs. Then he would bring me out like here’s this guy whose standup I like. I would come out and do 10-15 minutes of standup, read from the book, and then I was done. It was so fun.
That must be the dream for any young standup — going on the road with someone like that.
Yeah and that versus a cold intro is so great. It’s huge for him to have me come out in the middle of it. It’s then easier for me because I don’t have to deal with Breaking Bad fans being like, “Where’s Saul?” If I was doing a cold open they’d wonder, “Who this is? I wanna see Bob!” But instead they’ve seen him already, there’s a 15 minute break, and he’s gonna come right back.
The year is almost over, what are you working on for the future?
I’m working on a thing with my roommate, Bill Kottkamp. We’re trying to make a show together which I can’t talk too much about it, but wheels are turning. I’ve been focused on that and there are a couple things I can’t talk about yet, but yeah!