by Ryan Meehan
As a comedian and writer living in New York City, Pete Bladel likes to pretend that he’s artsy. The truth is, he comes from a very non-artsy background. A former football player at the University of Virginia (despite never being very good at football), Pete based his whole career off of grit and scraptitude. He brings that same mentality to the stage, performing all over New York at places like Caroline’s On Broadway, Stand Up NY, and Gotham Comedy Club. A contributing writer for Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update, Pete has opened for some of his favorite comics, including Amy Schumer, John Mulaney, Neal Brennan, Artie Lange, Colin Jost, and more. He also hosts a weekly podcast called “Comedy Jocks” where he and some fellow comics discuss the biggest stories in sports. Look him up online, become his new best friend, and learn more about him here as he’s our guest today in 7 questions.
RM: How would you best describe the moment you realized that your life as a football player was effectively over? Were you at all relieved in any way?
PB: It sounds cliché, but bittersweet is the best way to describe it. It was a huge part of my identity for so many years, and being on that team filled me with a lot of pride. I’ve never been naturally athletic, so just warming the bench at UVa was a major accomplishment for me. I busted my ass for years and completely maxed out my potential to get to that point. So to close that chapter on my life was kind of tough. On the other hand, I was excited to sleep past 6am and not get my ass kicked every day by future 1st round NFL Draft picks. So the feelings weren’t all bad.
RM: What is it like working the stage with Colin Jost? How would you best describe his own personal sense of humor?
PB: I first worked with Colin at this great club down in Virginia called the Arlington Drafthouse, and it was a very cool experience. I hadn’t met him before that weekend, but he was super friendly and complimentary. He even took the time to hang out in the back of the room and watch my set, which is a big deal for someone at my level.
I think the best way to describe his humor is “sharp”. The jokes are very tightly crafted, so they hit the audience with a little extra oomph. I’m always trying to improve my word economy and make everything tighter with my writing, which is something he excels at. So getting to work with him over a weekend was a huge help.
RM: “Weekend Update” recently acquired the services of Michael Che, one of New York’s best comedians….How has his presence on the program changed the way you go about writing jokes for that segment; and what is it about his delivery that makes him so funny?
PB: Michael Che is one of those rare people that is 100% comfortable in their own skin. Any time I’ve seen him perform he’s always in command and relaxed on stage. At a show, I feel like audience members are inherently nervous for the performer. Whether consciously or unconsciously, they project themselves into that situation. They imagine what it’s like to be on stage, and that thought genuinely terrifies most people. So if a comic is completely confident on stage, the audience relaxes and they laugh more. Plus Che has really damn good jokes. So when you combine the jokes with that type of confidence, you get something special.
As far as Update goes, Che has a really great way of delivering strong punchlines. Something about his cadence just makes a funny joke pop a little harder. So I’ve been focusing more on the joke coming strictly from the words, as opposed to maybe relying on a funny voice or a picture.
RM: How does your own personal writing process go during the week when you are trying to come up with jokes for the show? While writing jokes for WU, do you ever end up with bits that would work better in your stand-up set?
PB: So the way the process works for contributing writers is the producers send a list of set ups every day leading up to the show, and we have to submit 10 jokes by 5pm on Thursday. Now, I still work a regular day job, so time management is a part of the process for me. Usually, Monday-Wednesday, I’ll take my hour lunch break and write a joke for each set up that gets sent through (We’ll get anywhere from 30-40 a day). Now, most of these jokes aren’t good or worth submitting, but just getting words down on the page helps my creativity. It kind of clears the lines out and makes room for good jokes to flow.
Then, Wednesday night before I go to bed, I’ll read through everything I’ve written that week, pick out the best ones, and tighten them up. On Thursday I’ll write jokes for the set ups that came through that morning, pick the best out of those, and add them to the list from the night before. At that point I go through that list, tighten some more, and finally pick the 10 I’m going to submit. So I end up writing about 120-150 jokes during the week to get the 10 that I feel confident about.
I’ve never written anything for Update that I’ve wanted to use in my own act, because all of the jokes are topical for that week. My stand-up is mostly about personal stories and feelings, so that’s two different styles which don’t really cross over. Although, writing Update jokes has helped immensely with my stand-up writing. I’ve learned how to get to a joke faster, cut unnecessary words and make a punchline jump.
RM: What is the best way to define “scraptitude” and how does that word apply to what people see in you onstage at a comedy club?
PB: To me “scraptitude” just means giving a shit. It’s kind of a jokey term in the sports world to describe high effort guys, but it can definitely be applied to comedy. Stand-up requires insane amounts of effort. You have to take the time to write every day, run around all over the city at night hitting up open mics and shows, stay out late hanging at comedy clubs trying to get noticed and passed, all in addition to your real life responsibilities. There are so many moving pieces. All of that can wear on you if you’re not in the right mental headspace. So I try and take the approach I learned from football, of just showing up every day and putting in effort regardless of how you’re feeling, and apply it to comedy. When it comes to being onstage, I’ve seen a lot of comics who come across like they don’t care, like they’d rather be anywhere else but in front of the audience telling jokes. I always want to come across like I care, that I’m trying my best and giving 100%. I’m like the Wes Welker of dick jokes.
RM: Recently you had the opportunity to work with Dave Attell, who is one of the best in the game at keeping the audience rolling the whole time. Even after all of these years, what can a comic such as yourself learn from watching a guy like that and seeing the total control he has over the audience?
PB: I’ve only been doing stand up for about 5 years, so I’m still a newbie in the grand scheme of things. It’s inspiring to see someone who is totally unflappable on stage, who knows what he’s doing at all times and is prepared for whatever goes down. Watching him switch up his set list, try new tags, and do crowd work over 5 shows was like taking a master class in comedy. Definitely one of the highlights of my career so far.
RM: There are a lot of podcasts out there which discuss sports and/or comedy…How would you best sell “Comedy Jocks” to someone that is looking for a podcast that covers those two genres to listen to on their commute?
PB: Most sports podcasts I see are done by sports writers or commentators, and they try to be informative with a little bit of humor thrown in. For us, we just want it to be funny first. Also, some podcasts can go on for too long, or they kind of meander among topics. We like to have a pre-determined list of topics, and just knock it all out in under an hour.
So if I had to do a quick pitch for the podcast, I’d just say it’s “Funny, sharp, and quick.”
RM: If you could do one thing in the entertainment industry that you have not yet had the opportunity to do, what would it be and why? In five years, do you think you’ll be able to say you’ve done it?
PB: Right now all I want to do is become a full time comic. I still have my day job, so my life consists of waking up at 7am or earlier, putting on business casual clothes, sitting in an office for 9 hours, and then going straight to open mics and shows for the rest of the night, usually until around 11pm or midnight. Throwing myself into this full force is the most spiritually fulfilling thing I’ve ever done, but it can be exhausting. I’m always dreaming about the day where I can wake up and know that the only thing I have to do that day is be a comedian. This is going to happen within five years. Either that or I go crazy.
Big picture, like way down the line, I’d love to write and direct a movie like “Dazed and Confused”, something that’s hilarious and emotional without being sappy. I’d also like to date Taylor Swift and be the one guy who treats her right, but I don’t know if that’s happening in five years.
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2014 and into 2015? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
PB: I’ve got a few cool road gigs in Albany and DC at the end of the year, so I’m pumped about those. Moving forward, I’m focusing a lot more on writing, putting sketches and scripts together and whatnot. It’s like that Mitch Hedberg joke about being a comedian and people asking you to do to other things, like acting and writing. Eventually there’s going to come a day where a person who makes decisions is going to say, to me “Ok, your stand-up is funny, what else can you do?” So I want to have a portfolio of stuff ready to rock whenever I end up having that meeting. I want to show them that I’m a pretty good farmer in addition to being an awesome cook.
Official Website: http://www.petebladel.com/
Pete on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pete.bladel
Pete on Twitter: https://twitter.com/PeteBladel
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