The Illuminati of Mirth: Comedy Is a Small World. We Establish a Few Secret Connections

From SF Weekly

The Illuminati of Mirth: Comedy Is a Small World. We Establish a Few Secret Connections
By Emilie Mutert

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


Southerner-turned-Los Angeleno and Sketchfest first-timer Nate Bargatze‘s comedy style has been referred to as “low-key,” but in person, some say, he can be “excitable.” He’s performing this year at several events, including Kurt Tub, Crash Test, and Prompter, which is a spur-of-the-moment type improvisational comedy show that makes Bargatze feel as nervous as he used to feel performing as a young stand-up.

SF Weekly: How do you expect this to compare to other comedy festivals?

Nate Bargatze: I’m excited. I’ve heard nothing but good things, and festivals are a lot of fun. You get to see a lot of comics you don’t get to see a ton throughout the year. The shows are always fun. The people are there to specifically to see the show, instead of sometimes, being at a club, it’s just people are just there, they go out for whatever reason.

Some people say it’s like going to camp.

It’s nothing but fun.

What do you like to do when you visit San Francisco?

I was there just recently. It’s pretty awesome just to walk around and stuff. I lived in New York for a while, so it’s fun to go walk around.

When and how did you first know you were funny?

I knew I was funny growing up. In high school I was always making people laugh. I guess right about then. I was thinking about doing comedy, but nothing too crazy. I wasn’t going to start yet, I just would joke about going to the comedy club, and people would say, you should go try it. When I was 23, I moved with a buddy of mine to Chicago, and I started then. I really was like, “Finally, I’m going to do it.”

What made you want to pursue it as a career?

It’s just working out. Once you get in it, it’s awesome, and once you start, it’s very addictive. I just love doing comedy so much, and being around comics. Comics are the funnest people to be around. It’s awesome to make people laugh. It’s such a thrill when you get a new joke that works good. So you know, it’s a weird career, you just hope you can make it a career. It’s not something that is guaranteed to be a career. It’s almost like you feel like you’re getting away with something by making it a career.

Does it bother you when people ask where you’re from, because of your accent?


Where are you from?

I’m from Nashville.

What’s different about comedy crowds in the South from crowds on the coasts? Are you received differently?

There’s a difference. Maybe in Nashville, it’s like, people can laugh at stuff differently. Just because it’s maybe that they have the same mindset as I do. Versus someone else, if you’re talking about the South and you’re not in the South, they don’t know what it’s like. But, I was just in San Francisco, and I loved it. And so many people move there, people are from all over there, so it’s great because you kind of get everybody. People from every place, laughing.

You’re doing a number of different shows at this year’s Sketchfest. Which one would be the best one to take a first date?

The Crash Test show is going to be stand-up. The others, I think I’m doing that Prompter show, and it’s like Set List, and Set List is one of the funnest shows I’ve ever done. It’s the same feeling as when I first started doing comedy. You’re making it up on the spot, on your own, it’s the most nerve-racking feeling, and when I’m about to do it I feel like, I don’t want to do this. And then you just do it and hope it works out. So, I think Crash Test is like if you want to see my stand-up, and then the other shows, they’re just a lot of fun to do.

I talked to Ron Funches; do you know him?

I’m a big fan. I think Ron Funches is great. He’s a super nice dude, and he’s very easy to root for, because he’s such a genuine guy and a great guy to be around. And he’s just a really funny dude.

Ron Funches

Stand-up performer, television actor, and comedy writer Ron Funches has been called “a super nice dude” and “a really funny dude.” You can get a taste of his comedy writings on the Kroll Show on Comedy Central, but you haven’t fully experienced the Ron Funches experience until you’ve heard him speak aloud, his airy voice transforming each joke into a whimsical cartoon melody. This will be Funches’ third year at Sketchfest, and there are at least three opportunities to catch him perform.

SF Weekly: How does Sketchfest compare to other comedy festivals?

Ron Funches: I’ve been to Just For Laughs in Montreal, [and] Bridgetown in Portland. Sketchfest is a nice balance between a comics-hanging-out party, like Bridgetown, and Just For Laughs is very corporate-y, and Sketchfest is just right in the middle. There are a lot of great shows spread out over some weeks, and you get to hang out with some friends that you don’t normally see, and see some really famous people that you like, like Amy Poehler. I like that. I saw her last time I was there.

What do you like to do when you come to San Francisco?

I like to hang out with my friends. I used to live in Portland and came down to San Francisco quite a bit. I have a lot of friends there, and I enjoy hanging out. And I enjoy your delicious edibles, and food, that you have. I like to hang out around the Punchline and have a good time, eat a lot of pizza and play video games.

How did you get started in comedy, or if you prefer to answer a slightly different question, how and when did you first know you were funny?

Thank you for giving me an option. I think I first knew I was funny when I was probably 12 or 13. I was very shy. I kind of developed this odd sense of humor, and I’d make fun of my family members. And I wouldn’t get in trouble for it; they liked it. They thought it was funny. So that was when I first thought, oh, I was me, and I was unique to people.

You’re doing a number of different shows at this year’s Sketchfest. Which one would be the best one to take a first date?

It depends on what you’re trying to get out of the date. If you’re really interested in her or him, and want to get to know her, or him, then maybe you’ll want to go to the Slipnutz reunion show. There’s going to be a lot of weird sketches, you’ll able to judge your date’s intelligence, and whether or not they like quirky humor. I think that’s very important to know. But, if you just want to hook up with him or her, then maybe you want to take them to the Erotic Fan Fiction show and see if they’re into having sex with robots or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

For Erotic Fan Fic, are you a regular writer of fan fic or are you preparing something special for the show?

I don’t think I’ve written much. I will definitely pull something out for the show though, I’ve got a vast knowledge of cartoon characters and fictional people I wish I could have sex with.

You have made the observation before that the Muppet Babies theme song is somewhat disturbing. Have you ever thought about how the Muppets had babies in the first place?

Miss Piggy was always very rambunctious. But in real life, I am aware that Muppet Babieswas the prequel, so that wouldn’t be right.

I guess it’s important to respect the canon. What else are you working on currently?

I’m a writer and performer on the Kroll Show. I’m also a character on a show calledUndateable, which comes out sometime in February.

What do you think about your fellow comedian Jenny Slate?

I know Jenny. I worked with her on the Kroll Show. She was probably the most intimidatingly impressive person I’ve ever worked with, as far as acting and improv-ing on anything. It was a pleasure to watch her work. She’s amazing. I think she’s one of the hilarious people out today, and she’s just great. I can’t say anything but glowing praise about Jenny Slate. I don’t know much about where she came from. I feel like she has this theater background, and I want to know how she’s like this cool pot-smokin’ chill girl that also seems like she might possibly be rich. I don’t know how she has every cool trait.

Jenny Slate

Jenny Slate has been called “chill” and “seems like she might possibly be rich.” She’s also a trained and talented comedian and actress with a lot of love for the craft and her peers. She’s never been to Sketchfest before, and this year you can catch her performing stand-up as host of the Big Terrific show and for Jenny Slate and Friends. You may have seen her on the TV box before, playing characters on House of LiesParks and RecreationKroll Show, and even once on a little-known HBO show called Girls.

SF Weekly: How do you expect Sketchfest to compare to other comedy fests?

Jenny Slate: Usually I do three to five festivals per year, a lot of them in Austin. San Francisco is such a beautiful unique city, and the people are so up for anything, so that will be one of the highlights for me. That and the delicious food.

What do you like to do in San Francisco?

What’s that big beautiful park? It has a fancy name. The Presidio? Because I miss walking so much, I’m a New Yorker, and I miss walking everywhere. So when I go to San Francisco I really enjoy busting my buns on the hills. Great hills. The city’s so vibrant. My sister just moved from Noe Valley, so I got a good local tour for many years. And I like getting over toBerkeley. I want to eat at Chez Panisse.

How did you start in comedy, or if you’d prefer to answer a slightly different question, when and how did you first know you were funny?

I got my start technically in college. I joined the improv group at Columbia Universityduring my undergrad. I knew what improv was, I had never done it, and it was really, really fun. And that’s also where I met most of my best friends, and my comedy partner Gabe Liedman, I met him there. When we graduated, we started doing stand-up together.

You’re doing a number of different shows at this year’s Sketchfest. Which one would be the best one to take a first date?

Oh, hmm. There’s not going to be a difference in format really. The one on Saturday is called Big Terrific because it is a version of the show that Gabe Liedman, Max Silvestri, and I all started together. Both shows I’m hosting. They’re all just stand-up shows. Maybe Saturday’s the best one to bring a date to, because it’s always nice to be around people who love each other. And Gabe and I and Max, we’re close friends for forever, and Max lives in New York, and there’s a lot of fun, playful energy in the air. And the shows we do at Big Terrific are all focused on making people laugh, not making fun of people. Your date won’t get made fun of. That’s not my style.

People might recognize you from Parks & Recreation on which you play a character Mona-Lisa. Have you seen the real Mona Lisa, the painting in France?

I have seen it. And like many people say, it’s a lot smaller than you’d think.

What do you think she is smiling about?

I mean, I’m a comedian. I don’t know.

Is there anything else you’d like to plug? What else are you working on?

Right now I have two television shows that are airing. You can see me on the Kroll Show on Comedy Central, and I’m also on House of Lies on Showtime. We had our first episode of that last Sunday.

What do you know about Kurt Braunohler?

I know Kurt, he’s a dear friend of mine, he lives down the street from me. I think that he’s incredibly hilarious, very unique, and beautiful inside and out. That’s what I think. I love him. I love seeing him perform. I just did a show with him last Monday, he hosts a great show in L.A. with Kristen Schaal called Hot Tub. One of the things that most people expect from Kurt is something that’s very high-energy and highly creative, maybe even a bit experimental, and new. Which is a great thing to do in comedy.

Kurt Braunohler

A veteran of Upright Citizens Brigade theater in New York, Kurt Braunohler’s been in the comedy game since the ’90s, in which time he’s cultivated a reputation as a comic who’s “hilarious, very unique, and beautiful inside and out.” He’s also not afraid of experimentation, creating high-energy, one-of-a-kind shows and performances. He’s been to Sketchfest like a million (four) times before, and this year he’s bringing his own podcast, The K Ohle, and his own stand-up showcase, Kurt Tub.

SF Weekly: How does Sketchfest compare to other festivals in which you’ve participated?

Kurt Braunohler: It’s a really nice party. You get to see everybody you haven’t seen in a long time, and it’s like everybody in comedy is there for one of the weekends. Everybody’s there, it’s great.

What do you like to do when you come up to San Francisco?

I like to go up on top of that tower — what’s it called?

Coit Tower?

Yes, the Coit Tower. I always go to the top of there and just look at everybody. And walk along the water usually.

How did you get your start in comedy, or if you’d prefer to answer a slightly different question, when and how did you first know you were funny?

I got my start in the late ’90s in New York City, I started improvising at the Upright Citizens Brigade theater. Then I just did improv for a long time, and I did not start doing stand-up until seven or eight years ago. I just wish I had started stand-up earlier.

Why is that?

I like stand-up so much better than anything else. I wish I had it in my life before.

You’re doing a number of different shows at this year’s Sketchfest. Which one would be the best one to take a first date?

Oooooh. I think probably Kurt Tub. If you take a date out to my podcast taping, which is at 1 p.m., you’re probably a youth pastor. Or you’re a horrible alcoholic.

Your stand-up show is called Kurt Tub. In what ways is the show similar to a hot tub?

It’s bubbling with fun, it’s so hot with talent, it’s wet with possibility. And it only fits five people.

Is there anything else you want to plug?

You can pick up my album, which just came out recently, How Did I Land?

Is that your first stand-up album?

It’s my first. It’s on the Kill Rock Stars label.

I’m interviewing Nate Bargatze. Do you know him?

I know Nate. He’ll actually be on Kurt Tub. I love Nate. I think he’s really funny. And he’s very low-key, but in person I find him to be very excitable.

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