by Ryan Meehan
Mark Normand is a fun-loving New York comedian. He has done a Comedy Central HALF HOUR special, has appeared on TBS’s Conan twice, Showtime’s “Live at SXSW”, Inside Amy Schumer, TruTv, Best Week Ever, Last Comic Standing, @Midnight and released an album with Comedy Central Records titled “Still Got It” (It’s not bad). In 2013 he won Caroline’s March Madness competition, beating out 63 other comedians. And this is a real shocker for all of us but he was also voted Village Voice’s “Best Comedian of 2013” (I know right?) In 2012, Mark appeared on “John Oliver’s New York Standup Show” on Comedy Central, and in 2011 was picked as one of Comedy Central’s “Comics to Watch.” Mark was born and raised in New Orleans, LA surprisingly to two normal parents. Mark started doing comedy right after college and quickly moved to New York. Mark now does comedy clubs and colleges across the country and has been involved in many festivals including Portland, Seattle, DC, Boston, and was featured as a New Face at the Montreal Comedy Festival. More annoying accolades that no one really cares about: Mark was named one of Comedy Central’s Comics to Watch for the 2011 New York Comedy Festival. Mark was also named Esquire’s “Best New Comedians 2012”, Splitsider’s “Top 10 Up and Coming Comedians on Each Coast”, and Time Out New York’s “21 New York Comedy Scene Linchpins”. We are delighted to have him as our guest today in 7 questions.
RM: What were some examples of the subject matter that you explored while making films as a youngster? Did they generally have a comedic premise?
MN: Most of the shorts we made as a kid were parodies. Fake commercials or a goof on Star Wars, stuff like that. We also filmed each other fake fighting a lot. That and stump porn.
RM: When you first moved to the Big Apple from Louisiana, what was the most unexpected thing you experienced as you were doing your initial set of gigs in the city that never sleeps? How would you best describe the response that you got from crowds in NYC in that first stretch of shows?
MN: I guess the best way to describe my early sets would be “horrific”. I bombed for a year straight all over NYC. Occasionally, I’d get a laugh off a riff at an open mic or something but as far as shows went, I was dying up there. I was heckled all the time because I sounded so ridiculous. A lot of “What’s the deal with?” and “Did you ever notice?”. After about a year and a half of eating my own lunch, one night at Mo Pitkins (No longer there) I got heckled by this guy and I just snapped on him. I started chewing him out and it was crushing! It was the best set I’d had in NYC up till that point. It’s because of that three minutes of cutting that guy down I was finally being myself. That was a game changer.
RM: What are your three favorite clubs to do stand-up within the five boroughs? What are some of the characteristics each spot possesses that allows you to work so comfortably with your established jokes as well as try out new material?
MN: 1. Comedy Cellar 2. Gotham 3. The Stand
When Gotham is sold out and the crowd is hot, there’s nothing like it. You get that roar of laughter, that pop. You feel like you’re the best comic. It’s such a big room that it’s gotta be pretty filled up to be great… (that sounded dirty) But I love the idea of crushing in this big room and being a few steps from 23rd street, there’s something fun about that. This special moment is happening and no one on the street has any idea, then when you walk out that door, you’re one of them again.
The Stand is quickly becoming one of my favorites in the city. The layout is great, its cozy, its dark and its a little gritty. The room fills up easily and you feel like the audience is on top of you, it’s killer. Plus The Stand has a low pressure fun feel to it. Gotham is all business, but the Stand feels looser. I like that. I get more work done at The Stand than any other club. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an A room but there’s also a play around vibe to it and you need to play around a little to find new material. Not to mention the whole staff is very attractive.
What can you say about The Cellar? I used to sit on a blue mailbox across the street from there when I first moved to NYC in 2007. I would get giddy if I caught Colin Quinn or Attell walking in. I got passed there in 2012, and it’s still one of the highlights of my career. Conan was great too, but you don’t get to keep doing Conan every other night, it’s a milestone that you can keep living. The Cellar is rarely not sold out, it’s comedy savvy crowds, the room is policed, the comics were handpicked, the staff is amazing and the room is damn near perfect. It seats a tight 180ish with a low ceiling and brick walls. You can really get a roll going in that room. I feel like that room is where you learn to slaughter. Gut laughs one after the other. You can really own a crowd in that room. The Cellar, I use as a barometer for jokes as well. If the new joke works there then it’s in the act. You can’t always trust a room but The Cellar is reliable. It’s also an interesting set too at The Cellar because you wanna kill for your own gratification but you also want to keep working there. If you have a few bad sets at the Comic Strip you’ll probably be back, but The Cellar won’t really stand for it. The booker watches those tapes, you really have to bring the juice every time, and phoning it in isn’t really an option. At least for a guy like me, I’m not on TV regularly or a huge draw so I’m constantly proving myself, it’s hard some time but it’s good for ya.
RM: It’s been almost a year since your album “Still Got It” was released on Comedy Central Records…When you go back and listen to that album, on a scale of one to ten how satisfied were you with the finished product? Have you given any thought to what you want to do differently on the next record; and when do you estimate that you’ll be able to release another offering?
MN: I’m trying to pump out a new hour by December but it’s tough. I’m about 25 minutes in. That’s the thing about new material, you always think you have 40 minutes then you do it on stage and it ends up being 9 minutes. It’s like collecting pennies, you think you have this big sack but if you add it all up, it’s like $5.89.
I have my album on my phone. Whenever I put my music on shuffle, a track of my album will pop up. I skip it every time. If I listen I’ll just get bummed out. I like about 30 percent of it. I rushed a lot of it, some of the jokes weren’t done or had a dumb unnecessary tag. When I do another hour I’m gonna really try to have every joke tighter. I was also stiff as a board, and I didn’t really veer for the set at all because I was too nervous. I want the set to be looser, but keep the jokes tight. I wanna have more fun on the next one.
RM: You’ve had the chance to appear on Chris Hardwick’s hit show “@Midnight” a couple of times…Is doing that show as fun as it looks on television; and is there anything you can tell viewers of the program about what goes on behind the scenes?
MN: It’s a fun show if you let it be. Basically, you go into the studio at 2pm and they hand you a bunch of topics and topical material, and you write jokes as fast as you can in your dressing room until they shoot at 4pm. It’s a fun process, you feel like a real comedy writer. You have that rushed but excited felling, you’re writing bits while a lady does your makeup and hair. You’re coming up with ideas all the way up to the action. Hardwick is a good host and keeps it moving. My favorite part of that show is going off the cuff though. No better feeling than getting a big pop from something you just thought of that’s gonna be on TV. It’s always fun to riff, but to be able to do it on television really gives that tight rope feeling. But if it doesn’t hit, it stings hard. The stakes make it fun.
RM: When you watch video clips of yourself performing, what is the first thing that you notice about your stage presence and the mannerisms by which you deliver your comedy? Why do you think you tend to gravitate towards that aspect of your performances when you see them; and how has isolating those little nuances in your act helped you become a better comic?
MN: My first thought is “Whew, how could anybody like this guy?” But that’s my own shit. I do a lot of weird movements in my act because I did them once and the laugh is bigger when I do so I just keep them. It’s that simple. If I move my arm that way it hits harder. But there are certain movements that are just kinda who you are and you should know what those are because you wanna know exactly what the audience is seeing up. Knowing how the audience perceives you is a big part of this game.
RM: I’ve noticed that you don’t really post status updates on Facebook very often, and when you do it’s usually for the purpose of promoting shows or projects that you’re involved with…Is your tendency to avoid posting anything you might be able to use on stage something you do deliberately to avoid wasting jokes, or do you just prefer to not use it for that reason?
MN: I don’t post for a few reasons. Firstly, I assume no one’s gonna care what I think. I’m kinda envious of people who just throw up their opinion on foreign oil or some racial debate. My first thought is “Whoa, you just assume people give a shit about your opinion? Must be nice to think that way.” Cut to me furiously reading their post. Secondly, I don’t wanna get into one of these jack-off comment fights with someone, that’s just a waste of time and when people start taking sides and egging each other on, it’s silly. That being said, I don’t think there’s a FB war I wasn’t aware of. They’re fun stuff. I’m more of a Twitter guy. I like the brevity of it. I like how it’s just about seeing how tight you can get a joke or who can get the best topical joke out the quickest. Facebook feels like the old kook in a bathrobe and slippers you bum into at the post office that you wish would wrap up but Twitter feels more like just a guy with a good zing every now and then.
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2015 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
MN: Lotta fun stuff cooking. I’m opening for Amy Schumer all over the place, including in New Orleans – my hometown – at the Saenger theater. That’s a big one for me. I used to go there as a kid to watch plays. It’s right on Canal Street and it is real swanky. It was ruined by Katrina and the city came together and rebuilt it, so it’s fun to go back and play it. Amy is also doing her HBO special at the Apollo theater, directed by Chris Rock and I’m gonna go to that. How crazy is that!!!? Pretty wild. What a biz we’re in here. I’m very lucky. Again, working on that hour, I have a set coming out on Showtime in the summer that I was proud of. Working on another late night set, I have a guy running around town shooting a documentary of me for some reason. My podcast is doing well, check that out (Tuesdays with Stories) and I’m writing a show with a funny friend so hopefully something comes from that. And NEW JOKES, I want new jokes. That’s my main goal. They always say you need to spice up a relationship with new things in the bedroom, well that’s why stand up can’t get old…those new jokes make it fun again every time. I love a new bit, it keeps you going.
Official Website: http://marknormandcomedy.com/
Mark on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Mark-Normand/21895626989?ref=ts
Mark on Twitter: http://twitter.com/marknorm
Mark on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/heresmarkk
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