You know Nick Thune right? He’s that guy with over 3 million Funny or Die views of his viral video “masturbation”, he’s the guy that made Jay Leno’s short stint on prime time worth recording then fast forwarding to only the sketches he was in, he’s the guy who popped up in movies like “Knocked Up”, “Extract”, and killed on pretty much every late night talk show, he’s the good looking comedian who “scores” his comedy with his guitar, not singing, (well, sometimes singing) but telling stories, in a beautifully, funny, and witty way. He has a cadence that cannot be copied, almost soothing. He is also super nice, and has a totally different and interesting story of what led him to where he is now, which is one of the best comics performing today. If you really do know Nick Thune, you are about to get to know him a lot better, if you don’t know him, I’m glad I could be the one to make the introduction. Enjoy this one, it’s supreme.
Serial Optimist: Thanks so much for taking the time; I appreciate you doing the interview!
Nick Thune: Yeah no problem, thanks for having me.
SO: Last week on Leno, great job, I enjoyed it big time.
Nick: Well thank you very much, I appreciate it.
SO: When Leno did the whole dramatic change to prime time, it seemed as if he hired younger, more hip comedians to do sketches and perform, in particular you and..I can’t remember the other guy, Mikey Day I think? Basically they were attempting to hit a younger demographic. Now that all the late night drama is over, are you still on good terms with Leno as far as doing sketches, or are being booked only for stand-up?
Nick: I’m not a correspondent anymore. I could see them calling me and asking me to do something like that but I don’t think I’m officially one of their go to guys anymore. Unfortunately I think my last sketch didn’t quite hit the mark, not the stand-up one I just did, one prior to that.
SO: Which one was that?
Nick: It’s called “How to write a piece for The Tonight Show”.
SO: And they didn’t like it?
Nick: I’m not sure if it was taken the right or what, you never really know why decisions are made. You can tell why they hired people like Mikey and me to be on the show because they do want to hit a younger demo, and also give them a little street cred, to have some younger guys that aren’t necessarily in the mainstream and to give them a shot. Jay’s always been super nice to me, and anytime they want me to do something, as long they let me do what I want to do then I have no problem.
SO: The “hip” thing is to not like Jay Leno. I’m by no means hip, but I did grow up on Letterman my entire life, and I’ve just never found Leno to be funny. When I mention this to other comedians, comedians who might not even be Leno fans now, will still tell you me to go back and watch videos of his stand-up in the 70’s or 80’s, and that he killed, that he was really kind of an icon at that time.
Nick: Yeah you know I’ve got nothing bad to say about the guy. He’s done nothing but give me a real big opportunity. He still is a comedian at heart, and you can tell. If he ever talks to me, he wants to talk about stand-up. But it’s one of those things, like I love Conan, and I just did his show, and I was so happy to do it after doing The Tonight Show so many times, I was worried that doing both ends was kind of like me signing a “thanks for everything card, see you later” to Leno.
Nick on Conan
SO: I saw that Conan performance, also super great, but it made me wonder if, and I know this is outdated at this point, but if the Conan/Leno drama ever gets brought up conversationally. Like when you are at Conan, and they know you were a correspondent for Leno when he did prime time, is it discussed, or even joked about?
Nick: No not at all. I think the guy that books Conan, is this really cool guy who is right around my age, maybe even a little younger, and they’re not discriminating at all. They book people that they think are funny.
SO: You’re from Seattle, and we are similar in age in that I turn 30 this summer, so you were right in the middle of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and the whole grunge scene that came out of Seattle. Were you into that at all? Who were you in Junior High/High School?
Nick: Here’s a good description of me: I was into that music, and I remember the day that Kurt Cobain died I was in Junior High School and they gave us the rest of the day off and the next day you could leave class whenever you wanted and go speak to a counselor.
SO: Wow. That’s crazy, but thinking about it I guess I’m not super shocked by that, but still, wild.
Nick: In some ways it made me realize how small the world was. I think Kurt Cobain, and how significant our city to the world was, was kind of shocking to me. Even Ken Griffey Jr, I thought he was only popular in Seattle. When he became huge I was like oh my gosh, that guy is really a superstar. And then, when Kurt Cobain, after he died, I wasn’t really old enough to kind of understand how famous somebody could be, and then seeing on the news people making memorials basically in my back yard, it was just crazy but it gave me perspective on the world for sure.
But the type of guy I was in Junior High, I think the best way to sum it up is I remember going into the counselors office one day and I was in a waiting room and they had a couple old year books on the table and they had the one from the year before, the one from 7th grade. I opened it up and went to find my picture and somebody had circled my picture and put “Mouse Boy” next to it, and I was crushed! I had big ears and wore glasses that were like circles, John Lennon type glasses, and I just remember being like “this sucks!” It was brutal. And that was like the worst YouTube comment ever I think, correlating it something like nowadays.
SO: Seeing something like that at that age is the worst. I had a huge head, like my head had grown full but my body hadn’t caught up with it, which, like big ears or glasses, is prime material for Junior High kids. After High School, when did it kind of hit you that you wanted to move to LA to pursue being a comedian? Did you move out specifically for comedy or did you want to act as well? What gave you the confidence to go for it?
Nick: I worked at the Boys and Girls club for five years as a teen director and I was very interactive with the kids and hated being in the office. Every excuse I could get to not be in the office I would take it. So I would go in and say “Hey, every Tuesday I’m going to do an open mic for kids at Starbucks” and my boss would be cool with it and just say “okay well you don’t need to come in on Wednesday then”. And I had this rule that if no one was performing, than I’m performing, never to act cool or anything, I was just doing bits. Some kid would be performing and I would have a wireless mic and I would go hop in the Boys and Girls club van as they were about to finish and I would announce the next kid through the drive-thru lane as I’m ordering a drink and then do a quick little thing with the barista, and then I would write a song for the barista. I was just constantly trying to take things to the next level.
I actually came out to LA to maybe do talk show for kids, almost like a tonight show but for kids and teenagers like on a Nickelodeon type channel. That was my first goal when I moved to LA.
SO: Super interesting. I had no idea about that. I almost feel like that is “you heard it here first” kind of stuff. Love it. So what happened with that?
Nick: I knew nothing about what to do. I came with a u-haul and my Volkswagen Jetta named Penelope, which is kind of crazy because when I was Leno last week she was on the same night, you know, things come back around. I had named that car after her.
SO: Did you tell her that?
Nick: No. She talked to me for one second, and kind of looked me like “who is this creepy guy”.
SO: And then you just didn’t want to quickly slip in “oh and by the way I named my car after you, nice meeting you!”
Nick: I really wanted to! My first car was named Antonio Banderas and then my next was Penelope Cruz, they were both Jetta’s.
SO: Again, YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST PEOPLE!
Nick: But yeah, when I got down here is when I decided I had to get into comedy, because I was performing at open mics in Seattle all over the place, that was my thing, but I didn’t consider myself a comedian because I was not just telling jokes, I was telling stories about my parents and how one time they got gum out of my hair with peanut butter but making it like a full five minute kind of crazy story, kind of like what I do now.
SO: Were you using your guitar at that point?
Nick: Yeah I was from the beginning. I started performing at a young age at church or at school. I would kind of get pushed into that because I was kind of like the no fear guy that would just go for it. And I loved the attention, because I didn’t get it with sports like other kids would. I learned that guitar would soothe the audience and throw them off from the sense of where I’m taking them. I loved it and I would use it as my decoy. I would come up and act like a serious singer/songwriter but then go into something else.
SO: I love that in the sense that you don’t use the guitar to do that, and just perform funny kind of songs that rhyme or something. It reminds me of how Zach Galifianakis would use the piano in his comedy, I don’t know if he still does that, but it works so good for you.
Nick: Yeah and it’s kind of like a movie. A movie that’s scored really well, it really brings out that emotion, and I just kind of felt like if I scored these jokes, it would do the same in a funny way. If you watch a movie without a score it totally changes it. Some people probably think it’s a crutch, but for me, I don’t know, I just love it.
SO: What were some of your LA hardships, if you had any? What was your experience like when you arrived?
Nick: I came with a buddy, who now lives in Arizona, who was actually the guy with me on The Tonight Show last week as my butler, singing backup. That’s the guy I moved down with and now he’s actually a youth minister in Arizona and he just flew out to do that, because you know, when else are you going to get to do The Tonight Show.
My biggest struggle was trying to find time for stand-up because right away I got a job through a lucky contact and I was the casting associate for Nanny 911, which was that show on ABC where you send a British nanny into a house that has terrible children and then she fixes the kids.
SO: I remember that show! I never watched it, but I totally remember that show, Nanny 911!
Nick: Yeah I worked on that show, I cast the pilot, or I worked with the casting director. Three days after I moved here I got the job after I met the casting director at a birthday party of a friend of a friend and he hired me to start the next day and within a week I was in Memphis for two weeks filming crazy families and then North Carolina, so I was traveling right away, and made decent money acting like I knew what I was doing, because really production, especially reality TV production, you can basically make up shit and if that guy thinks your cute he’s gonna hire you. So I was doing that and then I actually got hired off Craigslist. This guy hired me and paid me $1500 bucks a week to cast a pilot for Ben Stein that was gonna be him helping a family get out of financial problems.
SO: That’s hilarious, like what a stereotypical Jewish reality show to be made.
Nick: Oh it was hilarious, and it was out of Maryland Public Broadcasting, so it was like this weird thing, and they were going to shoot it in LA, and they said: “You have a month, $1500 bucks a week for a month, and you need to find one family. Here’s one family that already contacted us over Craigslist, if you want to follow up with them.” I ended never finding anybody and going with that family that they gave me and really not doing any work. But I was just kind of finding random jobs that I would somehow talk myself into, because I guess I’m a pretty smooth liar?
SO: I think most people that are good talkers or smooth liars are basically just really good bull shitters.
Nick: That’s what everyone in reality TV is, everyone is just making themselves seem like 15 times better than they really are so they can get jobs because of the competition. But then I also realized while I was doing that, that I could collect unemployment. I realized after awhile I could collect unemployment for six months and just do stand-up everyday. And then I did that, I collected unemployment for six months straight, ran out of unemployment, and started to really get my voice down in stand-up and that’s when I just didn’t look back anymore.
SO: What was your first big break comedy wise?
Nick: I did a set at the Improv, my first set there, but before that happened, somebody said to me “you know Nick when you move to LA stay under the radar as long as you can because when people see you they see you and they judge you from there on” and that’s just the way the town is.
SO: First impression kind of thing?
Nick: Exactly. And they will. And so I did that. I did not go to the Improv for the first year and a half that I lived here and didn’t go up at a real comedy club. I did musical and poetry open mics and just honed like 15 minutes to a half hour of stuff that I could do. And then I had one set at the Improv on a Monday night that I got booked and the guy that was booking the Improv at the time, Jesse, came up to me after my set and said “hey you’re a regular, great set” and I was like oh my gosh. So I went home and the next morning I wake up and I’d missed a call from a 310 number, and in LA when you get a call from a 310 number you think “I might have just gotten my break!” so I call it back and it’s the guy Jesse, who says “so listen HBO is doing this thing, the Aspen Comedy Festival” and I had know idea what it was, but he said “today they’re doing their final casting and I have a tape from your set last night, can I show it to them? We have a meeting in ten minutes and they need two new faces for the thing so who knows?” I said okay great; I had no idea what it was. I hung up and I got a call 20 minutes later saying we want you to come to Aspen and be a new face in this. So I had to Google the festival, trying to figure out what this thing was, and next thing I know I’m on my way to Aspen, and that just kind of pushed me into…”the biz” I guess.
SO: That’s insane. I love that you didn’t know how big of deal the Aspen Comedy Fest is, but that you just rolled with it. I’m sure after Googling it you were like “whoa”.
Nick: Yeah I kind of just wasn’t in the comedy scene because I was scared of it and very intimidated, just because I didn’t know anything about it. I think that helped, or worked to my advantage in a big way in the beginning.
SO: How long now have you full on been doing comedy?
Nick: I performed my first five-minute bit about nine years ago. Once I did that, that was it, and then it just started like once a week I would do an open mic, then it would be a couple times a week, then it was “oh did you hear about this one that’s an hour away” and how much fun that would be to go up there and just fucking bomb, and nobody knows me, and I would go do that and tank, and just who cares it’s in Tacoma, I live in Seattle it doesn’t matter, and that’s where you get addicted at that point.
SO: Is that when you first felt like you were fully a comedian, that this was your job now, you are a comedian?
Nick: No. No not at all. At that point it was just a fun thing that I can do to kind of live vicariously, like I wish that could still do stuff like that, I wish had more access in high school or something. I never really went to college and it’s not like I had this huge group of peers to perform for. It was almost like I was a drug addict and didn’t know it, and I was going out and seeking these little hits and not really getting how much I needed it.
SO: After nine years, now do you feel that you have made a name for yourself, like “I’m Nick Thune, and I’m a comedian”? When you go out and perform now, in LA or in a random town in the Midwest, are people showing up just for comedy or are they showing up for you?
Nick: Yes, I definitely feel like a comedian now. It’s a mix that continues to weigh itself out in the other direction. It’s a real slow thing, and depending on the town. You’re always going to have people, like just a few people that adore you, especially if you are not a well-known person. They adore you not as much because they think you’re brilliant but because they think they’re the only one that does. And I feel that way about people, especially in comedy that are friends of mine like. I adore them not only because they are brilliant but also because I know it’s just a matter of time before everyone else figures it out, and right now I just kind of get to sit here and enjoy for myself.
SO: That’s literally the whole premise of Serial Optimist, or one of the main goals. I interview bigger names like you, or Nick Kroll, or Natasha Leggero or whoever, but in the beginning, and still now, it was all about interviewing comedians, or artists that I loved, and that I knew other people would love, and with me being based in Dallas, and really trying to represent the Midwest where these comedians don’t get perform that often, it always felt nice to feel like I was some what kind of introducing these people to a whole new audience. Or at least that’s what I wanted to believe I was doing.
Nick: I don’t know if I’m as big of a name as you think I am!
SO: Oh you’re big time. Now instead of “I’m Nick Thune, and I’m a comedian”, you can just say, “I’m Nick Thune, and I’ve recently been told I’m big time”.
SO: You are married correct? How long?
Nick: Just over three years now.
SO: How does the traveling, or when you are on tour affect the marriage?
Nick: I travel a lot, but I’m also here in LA a lot, and when I’m here, I’m here, I’m not always working during the day, even though it’d be nice to.
SO: I guess you are a bit passed the newlyweds stage, but I’m curious how the traveling, especially the way a comedian travels, how it would affect marriage in such an early stage.
Nick: You know it still feels like we are there, at the newlywed stage. A couple of friends are just getting engaged now and it’s exciting because you are happy that they are about to experience this as well. I love being married. It keeps me focused and there is just less things to worry about, like on the road especially, because it’s an easy thing to get caught up in comedy, just girls I guess or whatever on the road. Luckily I’ve been with my wife almost the whole time I’ve been doing stand-up so that’s been something I’ve never had to worry about or focus on.
SO: You’re a good looking guy, and it seems as if comedians in general, both male and female, have been getting better looking over the past five years or so, which is interesting to me, compared to how it used to be with guys either having no style, or girls playing up the “I’m unattractive” thing as part of there bit, I guess what I’m saying is there aren’t a lot of Rodney Dangerfield’s starring in big Internet videos.
Nick: I think that’s just like music, I don’t really know but I think comedy is just so out there now and available and more people are getting a chance to be seen, it’s just more diluted, more people involved.
SO: How much has the Internet played a role in that?
Nick: A huge role. It’s just like music videos when they would hit MTV, bands started looking different and acting different. And once comedy hit the Internet so many people had much more access to it and more people had a chance to be involved in it. There are kids in some small town all around making $500,000 a year off of YouTube videos. It’s crazy that things like that are even possible.
SO: Tell me about your debut album “Thick Noon” and what the process was for that, and how you feel about it.
Nick: I’ve been 100% happy with a few things I’ve done, I mean I’m not saying I’m hugely disappointed with most things I do, but my album I felt good about. It took a long time in the sense that it was just everything I had up to that point, all of my material from my first seven or eight years of comedy. It was like a big unload, and now it’s time to rebuild. People always reference that John Lennon quote “it takes you 20 years to make your first album and then they want you’re next one in three weeks”. For me it’s important to now do something different. Not that I’m going to totally change, but maybe I’ll go electric, who knows.
SO: Who’s your favorite late night talk show host?
Nick: Out of all time or currently?
Nick: I kind of like everybody for different for reasons. I really like to tune into Conan’s monologue, I really like the bits they do on Fallon because a lot of my friends write for the show, and I like Jimmy, he’s just so likeable, and the music things that he does, and The Roots are great, I love watching that stuff. I also love some of the bits that Kimmel does, he puts out a lot of great videos and a lot of funny ideas, the writers on that show I think are really great and take risks. And Letterman, I’ve always loved Letterman, and I guess I should say I love Leno too?
SO: Ha, that’s kind of why I asked the question. I wanted to know your response just as a fan, but then also see if Leno would come up and your general thoughts since you have performed or been a part of pretty much all of them.
Nick: I do love catching Craig Ferguson’s monologues, there’s just something about his free spirit that is great. They don’t really write much of that, he just kind of goes for it, and I enjoy that.
SO: What comedians currently do you love?
Nick: I love Jon Dore right now. You should watch “The Jon Dore Show”, it was a Canadian show that IFC picked up and now he’s in LA and he’s just absolutely brilliant. Also who is just great and just recorded a CD, and we’ve been doing some shows together.
SO: What are your plans the rest of the year?
Nick: I did shoot a pilot; I don’t know if it will get picked up, I guess I won’t know until they tell me. And just trying to create something, that’s my goal. Even if it’s an online thing, I just want to create a piece, even if it’s no budget, that’s my biggest goal.
SO: How do you know if it’s a full beard day, a trimmed beard day, glasses day, or no glasses day?
Nick: Depends on if I shower or not I guess. Like today no shower, so it’s a glasses, really dirty day.
SO: Well Nick thanks so much for taking the time, really great to talk to you, and all the best the rest of year.
Nick: Thanks as well, I appreciate it.
SO Note: Check out Nick’s website nickthune.com where you can watch videos, buy his album “Thick Noon“, and do other stuff. Also follow him on Twitter @nickthune, he brings the funny. AND go watch Nick’s Big Show, it is well worth it, I promise you.