Comedian Ian Karmel Dishes on the Tastiest Part of Touring

Food Features

Ian Karmel talks about food and comedy in much the same way: with gusto and real love. The rising comedian recently released his debut album cleverly titled 9.2 on Pitchfork and made his second appearance on Conan, all while maintaining a day job writing for The Late Late Show with James Corden . He discusses these accomplishments with the same glimmer in his eye that he has while describing a recent favorite meal at Baco Mercat — the man has his priorities straight. Karmel shared his favorite Portland eats, his philosophy on breaking bread with other comics and more with Paste.

Paste: Since you’re from Portland, where do you have to eat when you go back?

Ian Karmel: Whenever I fly back I always go to this place called Bunk Sandwiches. It’s just an amazing sandwich place. The best thing to do is to get a friend and go and get two sandwiches and you each take a half because they have too many good ones. The chicken salad sandwich with bacon and avocado is amazing and the pork belly bahn mi is super good.

For a special occasion, Ava Gene’s is a beautiful Italian place. It’s very fancy, there’s figs on stuff. Bollywood Theater is an Indian street food place with an amazing beef kati roll. And Pok Pok Love the wings. Portland is such an amazing city for food that it’s hard to pick any one place.

Paste: Where do you like to eat when you’re doing a show in Portland?

IK: The food carts in Portland are great. If you’re doing comedy then you eat at those a lot because they’re open late. And the food cart villages are usually next to a bar you can go to — there are carts right up the street from Helium Comedy Club, too. Potato Champion is like a poutine food cart, and they do a Palak Paneer Poutine that is my favorite thing to eat when I’m drunk, as I so often am when I go back to Portland.

I’m flying up on Tuesday, and I’m almost bummed that one of the days is Thanksgiving because then I can’t go eat at one of these places. I have to eat bullshit Thanksgiving.

Paste: Not into Thanksgiving food?

IK: I hate Thanksgiving food. I don’t like turkey, it’s usually pretty dry. And when you eat with that many people it’s really hard for the food to be cooked right. I like stuffing but I don’t like the sweet potatoes or yams. I don’t like sweet dinner dishes. I do like mashed potatoes. I would much rather go to one of those restaurants.

Paste: What are some other favorite cities to visit on tour?

IK: Toronto is amazing for both food and comedy. I recorded my first album in Portland, and I’d like to record my second in Toronto. The audiences are so good. There’s an interesting thing happening there comedy-wise I think. All of the best comedians in Canada end up in Toronto because it’s the biggest city—the country has such a proud comedy heritage anyway. And it’s almost impossible to get to the US. It’s super expensive just to apply for the visa to work here, and there’s no guarantee that you’re approved. So in Toronto all of the funniest people end up in this one place and they have to adapt to distinguish themselves. They’re so funny and weird and it’s great.

Paste: How’s the food in Toronto?

IK: Their food is super good. The best cheeseburger I’ve ever had in my life was at a place called Parts and Labor Burger. It’s a standard cheeseburger, but I think about it every time I eat another burger. I thought I had overly idealized it in my head, but when I went back and got it I was like “nope, I was right.” It’s that good.

Paste: Are there any other cities that are favorites for food?

IK: Philadelphia is great for food—I’ve been there a bunch because there’s a Helium Comedy Club there and one in Portland, and there’s kind of an exchange in place. There’s a sandwich place called DiNick’s with a sandwich that’s pork, broccoli rabe, and cheese and it’s so, so good. I was there opening for Kyle Kinane and I went and stood in the super long line and we split a sandwich sitting on the corner in Philly. We’re good friends now, but at the time it was such a nice moment.

Austin is the first place I’ve been where I’ve had true barbecue. We drove out to this place called The Salt Lick. They just keep coming by the table with things they just cooked up and you end up eating so much food. I can’t believe we did the show that night.

Paste: What do you think of comedy club food?

IK:I like club food in general. It’s bar food! There’s some clubs that have really good food like one in Toronto, and Acme in Minneapolis has great food. It’s fun, you order a thing of nachos for the green room and drinks are on the house. I think if you go on the road all of the time it gets old, but since I’m writing now and try to eat healthy when I’m in LA, I do it up when I have a show. I order fried pickles, all of the worst stuff. I’ll take all of the worst stuff.

Paste: Do you go out with other comics on the road?

IK: Yes, I think that’s such an important part of being on the road—those meals that you get to have together. It’s a big equalizer in an important way, and it takes a lot of the fear out of opening for big acts. When you start headlining, you can forget what it’s like to be an opener. Openers get super nervous, and if you’re opening for someone big, you see them as this comedy god. There are times where you’re less worried about the 300 people at the show, and more worried about the comic you’re opening for and what they’ll think of you.

But you get those meals after a show, a couple of drinks. Then you start to become friends and equals, and that’s so important. I know comics who don’t go out after shows, but I think it’s a mistake. The camaraderie and bonding is such an important part of it. There’s also a tradition, which not all comics do but I think that they should, which is to take care of the MC and the feature.

Paste: You mean take them out for a meal?

IK: If you work together on a Thursday-Friday-Saturday, you should be buying them at least a couple of meals. You get them dinner on Friday and you get like brunch on a Saturday and you cover the tab. Some clubs don’t pay that much for headliners so it doesn’t make economic sense, but if you’re one of those comics like me—I have a writing job—I’m going to treat them. It’s a nice tradition, and hopefully they pay it forward.

Paste: That’s such a nice way of approaching the job.

IK: There’s so much jealousy built in to what we do, the more you can foster a sense of community the better. And that’s one of the easy ways to do it. That’s advice I try to pass down to new comedians.

Laurel Randolph is a food and lifestyle writer hailing from Tennessee and living in Los Angeles. She enjoys cooking, baking and candlestick making. Tweet at her face: @laurelrandy.

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