Two years ago this month, Netflix dropped six new half-hour comedy specials. The Standups, as it was called, featured up-and-coming comedians like Beth Stelling, Deon Cole and Nikki Glaser. But the first special in the series belonged to a then 38-year-old comedian from Tennessee named Nate Bargatze.
“I got lucky that I got to be first, which was huge,” Bargatze tells me during this week’s episode of The Last Laugh podcast.
By that point, he had already put out an hour-long special with Comedy Central, so he worried that doing a half-hour might feel like going “backwards”—a concern shared by my previous podcast guest Ron Funches, who turned down the same opportunity. But he took the chance and says the exposure he got has transformed his career. By the weekend after The Standups premiered, Bargatze noticed significantly more people showing up to his live shows.
This year, Netflix released Bargatze’s new hour-long special The Tennessee Kid and in May, ABC announced that it was greenlighting a sitcom pilot based on his stand-up with comedian Jerrod Carmichael producing.
It’s been a long road for Bargatze, who made his TV stand-up debut more than a decade ago on Late Night with Conan O’Brien—back when he really was a “nobody”—and has been a touring comic ever since. He says he’d “probably be dead” if he had made it in his 20s, but now that he’s 40, he’s finally ready to be famous.
On Jerrod Carmichael as the next Norman Lear
“Jerrod is going to like run Hollywood. I mean, he’s already huge, but he’s extremely smart, knows shows, knows old shows, can bring up shows where you’re like, I don’t even know what you’re talking about. And he just knows what he’s doing, like Norman Lear, I think he’ll be like that. He’ll be a guy who can just be in charge. You just want to be in his business. Whatever Jerrod asks you to do, say yes.”
How Netflix changed his life
“We’re all in this business trying to move up and make it. So when [Netflix] first brought it up to me about doing a half-hour—I had already done an hour on Comedy Central and it doesn’t seem like you’re supposed to go backwards. I made it to the hour, shouldn’t I stay in the hour? But I knew Netflix was a huge deal, stand-up was such a big thing on Netflix, so I just thought alright, I should do that, I shouldn’t pass up on this and get introduced to a bigger audience.”
On his preference for self-deprecating jokes
“I like making fun of myself. I have no desire to offend someone. It’s just not what motivates me. Some people like to push buttons, I just like everybody to have a good time. I always think, I’ll make fun of me instead of making fun of you. And then you can either laugh with me or you can laugh at me. You’re either laughing because you think you’re like me or because you think I’m ridiculous.”
What he learned from Dave Chappelle
“I’d watch Chappelle go up in front of four people—and this was when he was doing Chappelle’s Show. Him, Patrice O’Neal, Bill Burr, I would see those guys. I remember them talking about being conversational. Like [Jerry] Seinfeld writes word for word what he’s going to do. And they didn’t. You’re not saying the words that matter different, but you’re changing the rhythm up a bit and it helps it be more where it sounds like you’re just talking to the audience. To see Chappelle do that, to see him go on—I mean Chappelle’s Show is the biggest show on Earth and he’s performing for six people. Seeing the fact that he wants to perform for those six people and he loves it, when you see that, you’re like, alright, this is the effort it takes to be great.”
On his late-night stand-up debut on ‘Late Night with Conan O’Brien’
“So the first time I did it, they said they were picking me up in a limo. And New York throws around the word limo pretty loosely. It was just a regular car. So my wife was with me and we pull up in front of 30 Rock and there’s paparazzi taking pictures of celebrities going into 30 Rock. So they all come to the door. And they don’t know who’s in the car, but I do know who’s in the car. And I know that they don’t know who’s in the car. And I open the door, and right when I open it, one of the guys just goes, ‘Alright, it’s nobody’ and they all walk away. And that was my first late-night appearance, just getting told I’m nobody and then going in and doing the show.”
Next week on The Last Laugh podcast: Emmy-winning actress and host of Hollywood Game Night, Jane Lynch.