Comedian Nate Bargatze Gets ‘Yelled at By a Clown’ [INTERVIEW]
Nate Bargatze is a New York-based comedian who was recently mentioned in Rolling Stone magazine as a “comic who should be big.” He’s already big in our books; the funny guy has had his own Comedy Central Presents and he’s performed on ‘Conan’ three times! Bargatze also won both the NYC and Boston Comedy Festivals in 2010.
We recently caught up with this Tennessee native to talk about a first encounter with the Easter Bunny, his chin strap beard circa 2003, and of course, Bargatze’s recently-dropped first album, ‘Yelled at By a Clown.’
‘Yelled at By a Clown’ — the cover itself is hilarious, but tell us where the idea came from.
My dad’s a magician now. He started as a clown when I was a kid, so I have a joke on the CD– I’m saying it’s weird. I was like ‘have you ever been yelled at by a clown? Cause I have.’
Did he yell at you in full makeup?
He was in makeup stuff a lot, like he would go do gigs and put his clown makeup on, and then just head out to a gig. I always think too, it’s weird. When you’re driving dressed as a clown, everybody just knows you’re a clown. There’s no “so what do you do for a living?”
Did your dad ever play any of your parties?
He came to one party of mine, but I stopped it because I was annoyed. I’ve seen it all. When I was younger, I’d brag about it, because it was cool when I was like 5 or 6. But after I’ve seen it and you’re getting older, you’re just getting tired of it. Everybody at birthday parties would go to him because they want to watch the magic, so I’d just try and pull one friend off to the side and say, “why do you wanna watch this loser?”
So how was it in high school — bringing home girls and your dad’s a clown?
By that point he transitioned into a magician, so luckily he was past that point. It’s crazy, and it’s something very different. It’s something I’ve always grown up with so it’s not weird to me at all.
Is that where you got the idea that you wanted to be a performer?
I guess so. I would help him do shows sometimes, but nothing crazy. Doing standup, I never thought I would be a standup comedian. Luckily, I was just not good at anything. Everyone’s funny with their friends, so I thought “maybe I could do this.” Then I ended up trying when I was 23.
Did you ever think about clown college?
[My dad] didn’t go to clown college. He would do cruise ships back then. He would still do magic, too. A lot of kid’s shows, and we worked at the mall a lot. He brought the Easter Bunny home…That’s probably my earliest memory–seeing the Easter Bunny just sitting in the passenger seat with a seatbelt on. Safety first. He came home dressed as Batman too, once.
You’re originally from Tennessee. When you started out in comedy, did you start there?
I moved to Chicago first. I had a buddy who wanted to do improv in Chicago, so we moved and did improv for Second City. I hated it.
What did you hate about it?
I didn’t want anyone else pushing me to go in a certain way comedically. I think improv’s the best, though. Good improv is terrific. But if you’re watching bad improv, it’s probably the best thing you’ll ever see in your life. If one person’s bad in the troupe, you can see [the rest of] them try not to make that person talk.
Did you find that comedy classes helped?
They’re not going to make you funny. I think it’s just motivation. I had no idea what to do. When I moved to Chicago, I didn’t understand mics, or what was going on, so I think it’s a good support. You’re starting with other people who are just as scared as you are. You don’t have to do them by any means, but I don’t hate them like some comics.
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Your first stand-up was where?
Chicago. I have the tape of it. It’s crazy bad.
Do you watch it?
No, I can’t. It’s unbelievable. I had a chin strap beard. I have a fat chin, so I tried to do something to hide it. I could never do a mustache, so it was just on the bottom.
Would you ever put something like that online?
I always think about that. Maybe if I was known more, it would be not as bad. If they find that original video first, and they don’t know my other videos, they’ll be like ‘get out of this business!’
Do you remember any of the original jokes?
We had a rat problem in Chicago, so it was the first time I’ve ever seen rats that big. They were the size of squirrels. I’d make a joke about walking into the apartment and the rat would be sitting on the couch watching TV and having to pay for rent.
Have you ever been yelled at or heckled during shows?
You know what’s funny, heckling is not as crazy as people think it is. It does happen. The biggest problem I’ve had is just drunk people talking during the show. I’ve been told I suck or I’m not funny, and that kills you. I had a shirt that says “Coach” on the back, and I was doing a show in the back of a Friday’s. It was just the worst. This guy is sitting there as I turn my back. He goes, “maybe you should get a joke coach.” I was like, “that was pretty good!”. Now I’m the joke coach.
Did you ever open for any musical acts?
One guy played bluegrass, and I did a show for him. I’ve never done a famous [singer], but I’ve heard horror stories. People open up for Cher or something, and no one even knows them.
What would you say to a person who wants to start out in comedy? Besides the fact you’ve got to do comedy at TGI Friday’s.
You’ve gotta just become obsessed. It’s like anything anybody wants to do. You have to become obsessed with it. You have to go do open mics every day. I go up every night here [New York], multiple times a night. I’ve been doing that for 8 years, so you get better that much faster. It’s an obsession that you have to have. Start with open mics, and just be around.
‘Yelled at By a Clown’ is available on iTunes, Amazon or on IamNate.com.