Nate Bargatze on Recording His Special and Playing Baseball With Pizza Boxes

Nate Bargatze has been on the cusp of stardom for a few years now. For a comic whose fanbase includes luminaries such as Marc Maron, Bargatze's act is much more approachable than his reputation might suggest. Affable and generally TV-clean, Bargatze has a playfully dark sensibility that's buoyed by innate comic timing and a Southern accent. He's appeared on Conan, Maron and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, who also featured Bargatze on his Clean Cut Comedy Tour. His debut album, Yelled at by a Clown, made it to the Billboard Top Ten Comedy Charts and he's toured extensively with the USO, performing for deployed troops in Iraq and Kuwait. Bargatze has already endeared himself to Denver crowds with a strong showing at last year's High Plains Comedy Festival; in advance of his upcoming headlining gig at the downtown Comedy Works, we caught up with Bargatze to discuss comedy festivals, his new special, and playing pizza-box baseball at High Plains.

See also: John Leguizamo on His Standup Tour, Fugly and Summer of Sam

Westword: So, you hail pretty proudly from the Nashville area. Was there any sort of local comedy scene there when you started out?

Nate Bargatze: I started out in Chicago, but there was a local scene. There's a lot Nashville guys, and they're doing pretty good with their scene. I didn't do standup until a buddy of mine wanted to move to Chicago. I don't know why I never did it in Nashvhille. I went to an open mic just to watch. I guess I was still scared to do it there, so I figured I'd go as far away as I could.

But you've been back there since?

Oh, yeah, I performed there. In between moving from Chicago to New York, I lived back in Nashville for about three months. I really got to be part of the scene during that time.

How has it been to watch the scene grow when you come back to visit?

It's been awesome. You see comics change and then people move away, so you see it evolve. It's pretty neat to see it. All these scenes are funny the way they change. Now there's a bunch of newer, younger comics that I don't know, even in New York and Chicago; when I go back there's a whole new group that's already funny.

How long have you been in L.A.?

About two years now.

Your act has a lot of quick, structured jokes interspersed with longer, story-based bits. Has your writing changed since you started out?

I think I've just kind of refined it. I don't know if I ever consciously did it one way or another. I think I'd have jokes that were always about me. Maybe they were tighter, not so much story-based. I don't know. I think they've just gotten longer.

It's a good balance to strike. To have a quick joke get big laughs, but also have some longer bits that give them an idea of who you are.

I know, try to not ever get too far away from a laugh. Even if it's a story, I'll try to have points in the story that get laughs. The farther away you get from a laugh, the bigger the laugh has to be.

What do your wife and your parents tend to think of your material about them?

You know, everybody's been great. No one's said anything bad. My parents are completely just like, "yeah, whatever," and down with it being funny. My wife's been perfect, too, with all of it. Though, sometimes I will tell her the joke before, just to be like, "Hey, just so you know I've been doing this joke..." I ask her if she'll mind.

So they're submitted for her approval?

Yeah, you submit them. But if the joke's working, I'm not going to not do it. I'll just do it when she's not there. So they've all been cool. There's been no complaints. Sometimes, with a joke where there's like a story about me drinking, I'll tell my parents, "Yeah, a lot of that is just made up." So you can use that excuse if anybody ever gets mad at you: "I just made all that stuff up."

In general, where do you weigh in on that? You know how some comics have an ethos about everything being honest and rankling at false premises? Are you more of the persuasion that it sort of doesn't matter?

I don't think it matters. I guess there's really no rules in comedy. I'm starting to get, the longer I've been doing it, I like guys who talk about themselves. Either their opinion or their experiences. Those are the guys I like.

Well, if you're following a comic for a long time, you kind of want to know who they are.

Yes, exactly. I mean, it's all just jokes, but after a while you want to know, "What is this guy even like?" And it helps when you meet the guy when they're kinda like the person they are on stage when you hang out with them. If you see Maron, you know that's who he is. You do have to exaggerate it for the stage, but it's basically the same guy, and that's great.

You're pretty active on the festival circuit, performing on several each year, including High Plains. Do you think they've been productive for your career or are they mainly just a way to hang out with everybody?

No, they've been very productive. They're important to do. Your name has be around out there. You could be doing every show in whatever city you live in, and people know who you are because you've been on every show they've seen. Festivals are doing that for the rest of the country. Your name's out there, and people are seeing it. And once you're there, it's a way to meet all the other comics from all the other different scenes. It's been very important for me, and I'm going to try and keep doing them as much as I can. Because it's a fun time. Comics now go on the road so much that it's hard to really see each other. So festivals are the only time that all of us get together. So now, yeah, they kinda are the best hang in the world, but they're also important.

It is fun to just kind of take over part of a city, and keep running into people you know walking around or you know, all lining up at the same place to get a free burrito.

Yeah, and comics are pretty good about -- well comics can be very lazy. You go on the road by yourself and mostly just stay in your hotel, you don't really get out and go do anything. Because you're by yourself. But when we're together, we go do stuff. We just did the Maui comedy festival, and it was awesome. It was unbelievable. But I was happy to see that all the comics did everything. We went snorkeling. We went on tours. I know that it's Maui and everyone would do that, but you'd think that comics would find a way not to do stuff. So I was very happy that all the comics didn't do what you'd think we'd typically do, which is blow everything off.

Do you have -- I mean, I imagine that one would be hard to beat because Maui rules -- but do you have a favorite comedy festival at this point?

Uh, High Plains? It really was great, though. They're all great. With High Plains, I really loved that you could kinda walk around. My favorite festivals have that where everything's close. You're not staying twenty miles out of wherever you're gonna be. You get done with your show, so you can go to another show close by to hang out and watch. I like High Plains, and I like the way it started. Just some dudes putting it together. Having comics do it is best ,because they know how to run it and they know what they like.

High Plains has more quality control at work because they don't take submissions, they just kind of curate who they want.

Yeah, that also makes for a good hang. And the pressure's not on -- I mean, you always want to do good -- but there's no industry. You're just having fun. This last one, I think we played baseball with rolled-up pizza boxes. That was one of the funnest times I've ever had at a festival. Just a pure moment.

Yeah, everybody just kinda went with it.

Yeah, although maybe everybody shouldn't have. We played for a long time, man.

Comics do have that competitive streak. Sometimes it comes out in weird ways. People got way into that game.

And it's not even a game. But everyone was real into it. I played baseball growing up, so I guess I was re-living that, having my big moment. It was funny to play that game, though, because those are the moments you love. It started out with just a few of us in there, but next thing you know everybody's watching.

Keep reading for more from Nate Bargatze.

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Byron Graham is a writer, comedian and gentleman thief from Denver. Co-host of Designated Drunkard: A Comedy Drinking Game, the deathless Lion's Lair open mic and the Mutiny Book Club podcast, Byron also writes about comedy for Westword. He cannot abide cowardice, and he's never been defeated in an open duel.
Contact: Byron Graham

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