By Ryan Meehan
Nate Abshire started performing comedy in 2009 to spite a girl who wouldn’t return his calls. The following year, he finished runner-up in the “Funniest Person in the Twin Cities” contest. In 2012 he ventured west and was a semifinalist in the Seattle International Comedy Competition. In 2013 Nate performed at Laughfest in their “Best of the Midwest” contest finishing runner-up, and he was chosen to open for Mark Maron, Whitney Cummings, and The Sklar Brothers at various shows in Minneapolis. In the spring of 2014 he was tabbed to perform on the 8th season of NBC’s “Last Comic Standing” in Los Angeles. I am stoked to have Nate Abshire as my guest today in 7 questions.
RM: What was the first stand-up special that you watched from start to finish; and what did you see in that special that sparked your initial interest in comedy?
NA: This question makes me feel pretty old. I used to watch Comedy Central with my dad since I was very young. Back in the 90’s, my pops and I loved “Critic’s Choice” by Dana Carvey, and the OJ bit still kills me. My favorite hour special of all time is “You’re all Diseased” by George Carlin, but the one that made me a fan of stand-up comedy in general (and put a worm in my brain about giving it a shot one day) was “Shut up You Fucking Baby” by David Cross.
RM: For those who aren’t familiar with the Minneapolis comedy scene, what is it about the Twin Cities area that makes it such a great place for young comics? What are your favorite venues at which to perform; and what it is about each particular location that makes them so comfortable for you as a comedian?
NA: I don’t want anyone to get the impression that I think I know what I’m talking about. So all of this sort of advice should come heavily salted, but it seems to me that when it comes to growth in performance skill, nothing compares to available stage time. The first thing you need as a young comic is not just going to shows all the time, but shows where you can get on stage and fall on your face. Minneapolis, when I started at least, was at the perfect convergence of having multiple comedy clubs, open mics every night, and there weren’t a staggering number of people trying to perform at them. As soon as I started I was able to get on stage multiple times a week, and a few months, I could do 5-10 sets a week. In some smaller cities, you’ve only got one or two stages a week and it’s tough to compete if you don’t have the time to make mistakes and learn from them.
My favorite place in Minneapolis to perform is at Acme Comedy Company. It’s my home club and my favorite place in pretty much the whole world. If you ever run a comedy club and it’s not doing well, just take a trip to to Acme and make notes on everything they’re doing different, because you are doing wrong.
RM: You had the chance to work with Chad Daniels not too long ago, and he is really a sight to behold. When you watch someone like him, what’s most important thing that you can learn from seeing a guy who has that much control over a room?
NA: Yeah. Chad’s great or whatever. Next question.
Ok, seriously, Chad seems absolutely fearless on stage. He takes the helm when he gets up and the ship is going where he says it’s going. The real irony of great comics is that you can watch what they do and copy this thing or that, but to me that seems like a short term fix to a long term problem. You can pick up all the tricks to make a crowd laugh with enough study. I sort of believe -and I’m sure this is ridiculous- that you have to find the thing that makes the world funny to you. It’s the difference between being a craftsman and a mechanic. Do you want to create a thing or assemble it from parts that someone else made?
RM: What are the best and worst aspects of doing comedy competitions? Do you think that with the popularity of festivals and other shows with several comics taking the stage at all times during the night that comedy competitions have sort of become a requirement for humorists who are looking to take their work to the next level?
NA: I’ve only done a couple contests. I got about as much out of them as I thought I would. They’re fun if you don’t buy into the importance of the outcome. I made some friends. I don’t really think anything is necessary as a career building block. Personally, I like working clubs so that’s what I try to do. Being good at the job will get you just as far as winning an award that says you can do the same job. I think contests play on our vanity and the idea that we’re going to be famous. I like the drive to a place where I roll over and over in my brain: “how do I get to say what I want, get paid, and get out of this town without these hayseeds tearing me apart?” To me, that’s the coup. As soon as there’s someone there to grade me, my drive withers.
RM: Which portion of the comedic writing process do you find that you struggle the most with and why? Conversely, which portion of the joke writing practice do you consider being your specialty; and what makes you so skilled at that aspect of the process?
NA: I’m not a very prolific joke writer. When I see or think about something that strikes me, I make a note of it, and then when I have some free time I’ll jot down more thoughts along the same line. Then I take it to a stage and try to find it with a microphone. Sometimes I’ll find it with a microphone one time and never again and I eventually toss it away. Sometimes I’ll go a month and nothing is working, all of my thoughts aren’t coming through when I try to relate them to people. That’s the hard part.
I’m fairly adept at tagging my material. My favorite thing to do is try to add lines to jokes while I’m having a good set. When I add one line to an old joke, I suddenly enjoy the joke all over again.
RM: What misconception of comedians and the comedy lifestyle do you hate the most and why? In your lifetime, do you think that you will get to see that misconception change or disappear entirely?
NA: I very much dislike the assumption that comedians are drug-addicts and that’s how they come up with this crazy stuff. When you assign someone’s pitfalls or emotional stability based on their profession, it has a dehumanizing effect for me. My sadness and my addictions are mine and they were mine long before I was a comedian. Drugs don’t assist in joke-writing. I became a comedian because every other profession either looks like too much work or seems really stupid to me. The real bitch of it is that this is way more work than I thought it was. As far as when it will be over, I feel like my lifespan is pretty debatable at this point – so it’s hard to say with so many variables.
RM: Have you ever used a joke that you have put out on social media on stage during one of your sets; or are you one of those people who keeps those two things completely separate from each other?
NA: I have used jokes on social media that are in my act. I don’t really engage as much on social media as I used to, but I don’t have any rules about what goes where. I definitely put a lot less thought into what I post on the internet as opposed to what goes into my sets. If I think of something and it’s really shallow or stupid, I’ll post it online because it’s not fit for anything else. Here’s a rule I guess that I generally abide by: Puns are for Twitter.
RM: What’s up next for you in 2015 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
NA: Not a lot different for me in 2015. Hopefully, I’ll still be driving around telling jokes and the places that let me do it will stay open. For a guy that travels as much as I do, I’m really not going anywhere. I’ll show myself out.
Nate on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nate.abshire
Nate on Twitter: https://twitter.com/nateabshire
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