Getting Dark with Drew Michael

drew_michaelWhile watching New York comedian Drew Michael tape his Comedy Central Half Hour I couldn’t help but think that thirty minutes barely scratches the surface of what’s going on in his brain. Brooding and cerebral, Drew paced the stage of New Orleans’ Civic theater, weaving his philosophical bits in intricate patterns that kept the audience at full attention as they processed his darkly comedic point of view and eagerly awaited the sweet relief of laughter. After the taping, I wasn’t totally surprised to learn that Drew used to have a monthly comedy show called “An (Exhausting) Evening with Drew Michael,” in which he would perform a full hour – with only one other comic on the bill – in preparation for his second album recording. That album, Funny to Death, is available today on all digital platforms via Comedy Central Records. Today also marks the premiere of Drew’s Half Hour on Comedy Central. I talked to him the day before his Comedy Central Half Hour taping about how he prepares for a big show, fighting the negative thoughts in his head, and the importance of failure.

What are you doing to prepare for your taping tomorrow?

The biggest thing for me is making sure my energy is good. When my energy is good I’m at my best onstage. I want to make sure I have a good rhythm, a combination of feeling confident and loose. A lot of times I’ll run a lot of sets before a big show, but not necessarily the material I’m going to do. The material I’m going to do is the stuff I know best. But I want to stay active and make sure I’m not in my head too much. I also need to be out interacting with people. Good vibes. Not locked in my room all day.

Are isolation and depression things you struggle with?

Absolutely. Anyone who has those issues knows the feeling when you wake up, that slight pull. Sometimes it’s overwhelming, like, “There’s no way I’m leaving the house today.” But other times it starts small, like, “Eh, I’d rather not leave the house today.” So you look at your computer, you look at your phone, and now it’s two hours later and you start to feel guilty about wasting two hours. You haven’t eaten. You haven’t done anything. It starts to snowball. Sometimes it takes you all the way to 8:00pm.

And then you can’t sleep because now you have guilt and anxiety about wasting the whole day.

Right. That’s why I like to have shows set up, so that even if I do that all day, I can do a set and the day flips. The energy that I wasted during the day is back now and I want to stay out all night.

Is comedy the driving force that helps you power through those low feelings, or do those feelings have more of a negative effect on your standup and writing process? Which is more powerful?

That’s a good question. It’s a mix of both. The best way for me to perform is if I’m feeling good, but I also write about those bad feelings a lot. Writing is a way to put those feelings in context. If I’m feeling self-defeated and miserable I don’t write my best stuff. But the next day, if I’m feeling better, I can look back on it and reflect. Once I’m out of its orbit I can see it for what it is. It’s kind of like when you do mushrooms. You can’t quite make sense of it then, but when you come out of it you’re like, “Oh, okay.” You start to see what the paradigm shift actually was.

You allow yourself to go to very dark places in your standup. You’ll propose a very relatable scenario, but then take it to a deep place in order to let people know how things work in your head. Quite often that takes the audience into troubling territory. You have an old bit about hanging ex-girlfriends heads over your bed. During a more recent set at Meltdown you talked about Oklahoma’s stance on gay marriage and why that makes Oklahoma your favorite state. Those jokes obviously push the audience, but they work consistently well. As with any joke, it takes time to get it where it needs to be. With dark, potentially risky jokes, what are you going through to discover where those jokes are and aren’t working?

Early on it can be difficult to find your footing. But I’ve always been a big proponent of failing. I started in Chicago. Chicago is great for that. It’s not New York or LA. Nobody is looking at you. You don’t think about ruining your career because the industry isn’t present. I would have an idea of what I wanted to do and I would go out and just do it. A lot of times it wouldn’t work. People would get mad. I’ve had a chair thrown at me. I’ve had a book thrown at me. I don’t take pride in that. It’s just the reality of what happened. Some of that was my own immaturity and lack of ability. What I’ve gotten better at is understanding how to thread that needle a little bit better. I worked on better delivery and more confidence. The audience picks up on that. Part of getting better is failing. It’s like lifting weights. If you want to get stronger you have to lift some shit that you can’t lift until eventually you can.

Photo credit: Gijs van der Most

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