Nate Fernald on Standup in NY vs. LA and His Comedy Central ‘Half Hour’
“I’m in a bit of a haze right now,” said comedian Nate Fernald as he settled down to record this interview prior to his Comedy Central Half Hour taping in early June. It was 1:45 p.m. and Nate had arrived to New Orleans a mere 10 hours earlier due to a delayed flight. I apologized for being another cog in his busy pre-taping wheel, but he assured me that this was the best part of the whole experience. I’m assumed he meant getting to sit on a comfortable couch for 15 minutes. Over the years, Nate has been able to channel his unconventional sense of humor (his current pinned tweet is, “My dad caught me smoking and made me smoke the whole pack. Worst part is that he caught me SMOKIN’ A WOLF’S DIIIIICK”) into a burgeoning career as a standup and current writer for The Late Late Show with James Corden. Nate and I talked about NY vs. LA, painful pre-show rituals, and his hilarious born-from-insanity audio projects.
When did you get the news that you were going to be doing a Comedy Central Half Hour?
About a month and a half to two months ago.
Had you been submitting for a while?
No, this was the first time I’d submitted. I have a standup duo as well called Team Submarine. We’ve submitted before, but this is my first time submitting as a standup by myself.
You’ve worked with Comedy Central on things in the past.
I had done their Comics to Watch a couple of years ago. I’ve done a few other shows for them over the years as well, so I know most of those people pretty well at this point.
You got your start in Chicago, right?
I was in Chicago for four years, then I made a move to New York seven or eight years ago. I’m in LA working right now, but still living in New York.
Do you keep a place in LA?
I have a place in New York and whenever I get a job in LA I find a sublet or something. I have a lot of friends who are comics who go out of town to tour. Sometimes I luck out and get to stay at their place for a while. Emily Heller — who is also doing a Half Hour this year — I got to stay at her place for a month while she was out of town. It’s worked out pretty well so far. Now I’m just trying to decide if I want to move there permanently or not. [Since the recording of this interview Nate pulled the trigger and decided to move to LA.]
Those two scenes are very different for standup. If you were to make the move to LA would it be because of something outside of traditional standup, like film or television?
Yeah, every time I go out there it’s for writing jobs. There are a lot more of those in LA than there are in New York. I like the New York standup scene a little more. I think that’s one of the reasons why I put off the move for so long. I wanted to accomplish more in New York before going to LA. I feel like if I live in LA I’ll probably do less standup. It’s harder to do there because there are not quite as many shows and things are farther away. Whereas in New York you can do three or four shows a night, no problem. Everything is so close by. If there’s a show with only five people in the audience you only walked 10 minutes to get there, so who cares? In LA if there’s a show with five people you drove 45 minutes to get there. One thing that is great about LA is that the crowds usually stay for the whole show. Going out is an event. In New York people can pop in, check out the show for 20 minutes and go do something else. But LA feels like there’s a lot of pressure. There’s so much industry out there, so every time you do a show you get the sense that somebody’s watching. In New York I feel a little more off the radar and more comfortable in trying stuff out.
I want to talk about some of the stuff you put out online audio-wise. Like the thing where you co-host WTF, Week Music, your “debut” album Live at the Rivera Theater. These projects are done in a way where the average listener might not be able to tell if you’re serious or not. What got you interested in doing these kind of comedic audio projects?
It was kind of born out of…when I first got to the point where I was able to essentially quit my day job I found myself at home with a lot more time during the day than I was normally used to. I was going a little bit insane. The WTF thing came out of me listening to podcasts at home by myself and trying to join the conversations because I had no one to talk to. Even the Week Music thing came from me going a little bit insane in my apartment by myself. But I ended up enjoying doing them and people seemed to like them, so I just continued doing stuff like that. Also, my computer was too old to edit video, so audio was my only option.
So, I know you just got into town and you’re really tired from a bad travel experience, but you have to take the stage in about 36 hours. What are you going to do between now and then to get prepared?
A nap is definitely in the cards. I want to check out the city and visit some record shops and stuff. I’ve had such a busy couple months that it has never really settled in what’s about to happen tomorrow. I’m sure once that hits me I’ll just freak out and stay in my hotel room going over my set all day.
Do you have a pre-show ritual?
Not really. Me and my friend Steve used to perform together a lot and we had a ritual before a show. We started doing this very young. We would hit each other in the balls. That was when we first started doing comedy and every show we were so nervous about. I think that hitting each other in the balls was a way to distract us from thinking about performing. But now I try to just not think about it before I have to go on stage.
Is there anything coming up that we should keep an eye out for?
I have an album in the works and I’m very excited about it. It’s called Trim the Fat. It’s the first ever standup album that is just punch lines, no setups. I think it’s going to revolutionize the way people do comedy.