Mark Normand (Conan, Inside Amy Schumer) is kind of an old-fashioned comic. By old-fashioned I mean he occasionally sounds like your favorite 1940’s radio broadcast. If you close your eyes while listening to him you half expect the words dame or patsy to slip out at any moment. This is a good thing. The juxtaposition of that aw shucks demeanor against his not-so-boy next door jokes is really quite refreshing. Tonight he brings that slightly Eddie Haskell but not the Eddie Haskell you hate vibe to The Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage with local opener and favorite Rahmein Mostafavi (The Arlington Drafthouse, Cool Cow Comedy). We asked them both to chat about comedy origin stories, hits & misses and of course, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Rahmein Mostafavi: I’ll start with the mundane…Tell me about the first time you ever tried stand up comedy? A little back story on what inspired you to do so might be cool too.
Mark Normand: In college I had nothing going on. A lot of boozing. Sometimes I would go to comedy shows and just observe and think “He’s funny. He sucks. He’s not bad.” I used to work at a Mexican restaurant in Baton Rouge as a waiter. Another waiter said, “I’m going to do this open mic. You’re mildly humorous. You should come.” I always saw stand up and just some crazy thing Tim Allen did. I never thought I could do it. But I was dating this girl and she gave me a yeast infection. So I said screw it, I’ve gotta talk about this. I drove the 2 hours to the mic, panicked, got insanely drunk on vodka and went up. I was terrified. I was supposed to do 4 minutes and I ended up doing like 9. I was so scared and out of it up there that I didn’t know he was waving a cell phone at me. They eventually cut my mic but that didn’t stop me. Finally they turned music on and I got off. The host was pissed I think. But I felt great. I was hooked from then on.
And the yeast infection?
All gone baby!!!!!
That’s good; vodka tends to clear that up, when applied generously. So you only observed in college, or was that open mic in your college years as well? If not, how much time passed between crowd member and aspiring comic? And how long have you been perfecting your craft?
I’m about 8 and change now. I was such a wuss. I watched open mic-ers for about a year before I actually put my name down. That’s not true. I once put my name down and ran out. I guess you could say I was in ‘college’. I hated school and just wanted out but my folks made me finish. I failed out of my first college then went to community college to get back into another college then moved to NYC with one year left and finished the whole thing online. It was hell. My mom asked me if I wanted her to mail me my diploma, I said, “You keep it.”
Regardless of your hatred and struggle with academia, most folks say it takes a smart person to be a good comic. Do you agree with that? And my very original follow up…if so, why?
I think it takes a smart person to organize your thoughts and figure out how to structure your set. But I know a lot of great comics who are close to Down syndrome. Being funny is more about awareness and figuring out how people see things I think.
So, an insightful people person, who may or may not be mentally handicapped; got it. You have a style of comedy that is all your own and that has gotten you to a level that most comics are never talented or lucky enough to see. However, every comic encounters people that are not afraid to express the fact that they don’t like their comedy. Do you recall any instance where someone was especially outspoken about their feelings on your comedy? How do you respond to this type of criticism?
Wow, thanks man. That means a lot. Especially since I’ve had every type of critique there is. Someone once told me I don’t smile enough. A guy told me I should never mention race. Someone told me to move more. A million horrible prices of advice. I listened to a lot of them and tried to adjust but you’re just gonna be you at the end anyway.
“You” is working well. I’m glad you’re sticking with it. In fact, your seldom-smiling, race-mentioning, motionless self has gotten you a late night talk show appearances, a Comedy Central special, and you regularly open for Amy Schumer. Did I get all of that right?
Yes, sir. Couple other things too but those are the fun ones. Comedy!
Indeed, I was just naming a few. Are you aware that Amy Schumer has a crush on me?
I think I read a blog post about that.
Ya, it’ creepy. Anyway…
She loves non-famous people. That’s her thing
By that theory, she’ll never stop loving me.
Rapid fire…you ready? Cats or dogs?
Kirk or Picard?
Spock was not an option. No wonder you had trouble in college…
I guess Picard. I like Kirk but I like a bald captain
Nutella or more Nutella?
My mom or my dad?
Israel or Palestine? Just kidding, PLEASE DON’T ANSWER THAT. I’m sure it’ safe to assume that love, peace and understanding is the sentiment for both sides. #gopalestine
Haha! I like your passion. Okay just a couple more questions and I think will be good. What is your end goal in comedy? To always do standup? To be a writer? To end up on a sitcom?
Stand up all the way. I’d love a show where I host. Something where I can be myself. But anything I do would just be to fuel the stand up. Aside from that, Fed Ex guy doesn’t seem like a bad gig.
And I can see where you could transition well to be Fed Ex guy, because much like standup comedy, it’s all in the delivery.
Is there one standup comedy set that stands out to you has the most important in your life?
Me or someone I saw?
Oh…interesting. Now I have to know both.
I’ve seen so many huge sets in NYC. I saw Louie work out Chewed Up. I saw [Chris] Rock working on his SNL monologue. I saw [Bill] Burr bomb at the Strip recently. I saw [George] Carlin before he died. Cosby before I fell asleep… All had big impacts on me. A set I did that really stuck out was when I moved to NYC in 2007. I must’ve bombed for a year straight. I was getting heckled, panicking, nervous, flop sweating, hacky and I sounded like Seinfeld. It was ugly. I knew I was funnier than this. So one night at Mo Pitkins I got heckled and just snapped. I shit on everyone in the room, said what I was thinking, got too honest and I killed. It was crazy. I think I had to shed that skin in a way to become a comic. It was so obvious that I was being phoney up there and that set was a turning point.
Mark Normand and Rahmein Mostafavi will be at The Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage tonight! This program contains mature themes and strong language. Free general admission tickets will be distributed in the States Gallery starting at approximately 5:30 p.m., up to 2 tickets per person.