In his 2012 special Yelled at by a Clown, Nate Bargatze opens his show with a bit about retiring from comedy. According to Nate, though, “It’s pretty tough to quit something no one knows you do.” Two years later, the rising comedian is still doing stand-up and more people are beginning to notice, including some of the biggest names in comedy. After meeting Jimmy Fallon at a comedy club in New York, Bargatze was asked to perform on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon a few months later. Following his appearance on the show, Bargatze joined Fallon, alongside Julian McCullough and Nick Thune, on the Clean Cut Comedy Tour in 2013. Bargatze has also become close with comedian Marc Maron, and will be appearing on an upcoming episode during Season 2 of Maron.
Talking to Nate, it’s obvious that comedy comes naturally to him. Being the son of a clown-turned-magician, humor runs deep in the Bargatze family. Although he often likes to make it clear that his roots are humble, and that he “doesn’t come from some rich magic family.” We talk to Nate about being from the South, learning to do stand-up in New York, his decision to move to Los Angeles, and creating a TV pilot with Jimmy Fallon.
Paste: Hey Nate.
Bargatze: Hey, what’s up man? Are you from Birmingham?
Paste: I am actually. Did you recognize the area code?
Bargatze: Yeah, my wife’s brother lives in Birmingham and I’m from Nashville. Her niece got married and we were just down there for her wedding.
Paste: I knew you were from Tennessee, but I didn’t know your wife was from Alabama.
Bargatze: Yeah, she’s from Huntsville
Paste: No way, that’s where my mom is from.
Bargatze: Oh yeah? Her mom still lives there [Huntsville] now. We go there every Christmas. They actually have some comedy there. I ended up finding it because we always ended up being there, and I was like “I want to try and do some comedy somewhere. Is there not anything?” I ended up finding a couple little places where they do shows.
Paste: Really? Is there a comedy club in Huntsville?
Bargatze: No. They do have some kind of “barn”-type of thing. I haven’t been to it. They do theater and a bunch of different stuff, and stand-up is one of them. I heard that the show is actually crazy awesome. I haven’t gotten to do it yet. The one I did was in a bar. [It’s] a place with music and stuff where you just jump up there and do it.
Paste: You live in Los Angeles now, is that right?
Bargatze: Yeah, I’ve been here for about a year and a half now.
Paste: I think last time I was listening to your stand-up you were living in New York.
Bargatze: I lived there for eight and a half years. That’s where I learned to do comedy.
Paste: Just doing nightly gigs at clubs?
Bargatze: Yeah, doing spots every night and all that.
Paste: Are you still doing that in LA?
Bargatze: I bounce around and go do spots. I was at the Improv last night and I’ve got a spot tonight. I mean, it’s not as much as New York. New York takes awhile. You don’t just walk in and get to do a bunch of spots. [It changes] after you’ve been there awhile. Like me, I tried to do two [shows] a night, Sunday through Wednesday. Thursday you could maybe do three. Then Friday and Saturday are when you can do four to five a night.
Paste:Four to Five!?
Bargatze: Yeah, if you’re in town that’s where you would make your money in New York. You bounce around. You could just line them up if the club had two shows. Some clubs are next to each other. There’s a new club called The Stand, it’s been there over a year now, and the EastVille Comedy Club. You could walk between them easily. EastVille could have two shows, The Stand would have maybe three, so if you timed it out right, you’re walking back and forth all night [between the two]. It’s a lot. After being there for a long time, there’s parts where moving out here [Los Angeles] was a nice break. You can take a breather and be like “Alright, I [literally] can’t go up as much.” So it felt good.
Paste: What prompted the move to LA?
Bargatze: Just to mix it up. I was in New York for a long time. It was great and I was getting spots, but it was a book actually [that prompted the move]. This guy named Jerry Weintraub, who was like Elvis’ producer, and produced Ocean’s Eleven wrote it. He’s a very famous, powerful movie dude. In his book, there was a quote saying anytime he started feeling comfortable, he knew it was time to make a change. I really liked that. It struck a chord because it’s easy to get comfortable. Not that I was dominating New York or anything, but I was getting onstage a lot and maybe not having to hustle as much as I did at the beginning. New York is where you learn how to do stand-up. The best comics, I think, come out of there. The work ethic that everybody has there is great. But, you know, I think it was time to change it up.
Paste: You were recently on an episode of @midnight along with Marc Maron and Natasha Leggero. You guys have known each other for awhile now haven’t you?
Bargatze: I’ve done shows with Natasha [Leggero], but that was the first time I really met her. But, Maron, I’ve been fortunate enough to become friends with. I’ve done shows with him and we’ll go eat and stuff afterward. He’s a great dude and he’s helped me out a ton. I’ll be on Maron this year. I don’t know when, but it should be coming out soon. I also did the podcast last year, or two years ago.
Paste: You had a podcast for awhile didn’t you?
Bargatze: For a little bit: It Could Be Better. We named it that so no one could ever say anything to criticize our podcast. We would just say, “Yes. We call it It Could Be Better. We know this could be better.” I did it with Yannis Pappas and Chris Laker and it was fun. We did it early too, so I feel like if we had stuck it out, we could be doing good now. They [podcasts] were starting to [get popular] so who knows if we could have made it.
Paste: I was listening to Maron’s 500th episode of his podcast a few weeks ago and he was discussing the difficulty of using friends and family members for material. That it sometimes causes tension in those relationships because people have a problem with being used in comedy acts. You talk about your family quite a bit in your act. Do you experience similar struggles when using friends and family in your stand-up material?
Bargatze: I think the hardest person I could be on is my wife, but she’s pretty cool. I run stuff by her sometimes just to make sure. Sometimes I’ll do it after I’ve tried the joke. If the joke works, then, obviously whatever she says I’m going to be like “Well I’ve got to do it because it works.” So, it’s [usually] more after. You know, I try to do the nice thing, but if the joke works, I’m like, “Regardless of what you say, I still have to do this joke.” As for my dad and my family, they are great. They don’t care and their feelings don’t get hurt. I would’t want to, or try to hurt anyone’s feelings. So, I haven’t run into any problems yet. You know, my daughter’s so young, she’s two, so she doesn’t know what’s going on. We’ll see when she gets older. She could hate it eventually.
Paste: You recently worked on a TV pilot with Jimmy Fallon? How did that come about?
Bargatze: He [Fallon] came into The Stand, that club I mentioned earlier. It was December 30, 2012, right around New Year’s. I had just moved to LA, and I was back in New York for New Year’s to perform some club sets. I was performing at The Stand and he came in randomly. He left after my set and I didn’t talk to him until I got a call in April to do Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. The next day [after the show] he called and wanted to meet, and talk about developing a show.
Paste: It [the pilot] did not get picked up initially correct?
Bargatze: It did not work out. It was a very fast paced thing. We wrote it and sold the idea to NBC, and they just didn’t want to do the pilot. The good news is we are doing it again. We did it last year and it was great. But, we started very late in the process. We are now starting it again and starting to figure it out. We are meeting with writers now to write a new idea for a show. So it’s back on.
Paste: So is TV what you want to focus on next?
Bargatze: I would love to work on a sitcom. And hopefully, I think I’ll be doing a [comedy] special that will shoot sometime later this year. It would come out late this year or next year. That’s the idea I have planned. Then the next step would be to do a sitcom. It’s tough. You know, you hope it happens. And you see how competitive it is, so it’s a big dream.
Paste: Several comedians like Louis C.K. and Jim Gaffigan are producing and selling their specials on their own online. Would you do something like that with your next special or are you looking to do it with a network?
Bargatze: I’ll probably do it with a network. I’d try to do a Comedy Central or something. That would be my plan. Not that I’m against the other stuff, but Louis has a huge fanbase. With it being my first one, I would like to do it with a network, and then from there, you can just see what happens. For the next few you could change it up. But for the first one, I think I hope to do a network.