Mark Normand’s newest special “Don’t Be Yourself” is the culmination of several years of hard work. Since recording 2014’s “Still Got It,” he’s been writing and touring incessantly. The new special feels more personal than its predecessor. It touches on typical comedy issues like religion, anxiety, relationships and hangovers, but in Normand’s sincere, idiosyncratic performance style. It’s a style that helped the special earn a spot in Vulture’s “Can’t Miss Specials” of 2017 list alongside legendary comedians including Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock and Louis C.K.
Normand was also featured on Paste’s “10 Comics That Deserve Their Own Show” in 2015 and has appeared on “Inside Amy Schumer” and Louis C.K.’s “Horace and Pete” — proving that he’s perfectly capable of making the transition from stand-up to acting.
In anticipation of the special, Rare chatted to Normand about a variety of topics including political-correctness, safe spaces and Ricky Gervais.
RARE: Hi Mark! Talk to us about how you got into comedy.
Mark Normand: Sure! I was a low self esteem kid, a bed wetter, the whole thing. I grew up in a weird house in New Orleans. It was a mansion in a poor, black neighborhood. Had a transgender nanny — weird upbringing! My parents turned our house into a bed and breakfast when I was a kid because they couldn’t afford the rent. It was always awkward. I was eating breakfast with Chinese businessmen and traveling musicians.
So yeah, I had a weird childhood. Then I worked at a restaurant in college and a guy said, “Hey you’re funny, you should be a comic.” And I was like, “Nah.” Because being a comic to me at that time was like being an astronaut. It was like George Carlin and Jerry Seinfeld and I was like, “Who am I?” But I had nothing going on, and I had zero prospects so I thought, “What the hell.” So I got drunk went on stage and talked about a yeast infection I had at that moment, and it went pretty well. And I was hooked.
RARE: How is the comedy scene in New Orleans?
MN: Well when I started in ’06 or ’07 there wasn’t much of a scene at all. There was two open mics, and one was good, and one was almost worthless. It was just an excuse for comics to get together and drink and fuck around. But we would drive to Mississippi, we’d drive to Lafayette, we’d drive to Baton Rouge. It was a lot of driving. Two hours or three hours just for five minutes. There were no actual comedy clubs around. We had nothing, so I moved to New York after like nine months of doing comedy.
RARE: Do you think New Orleans’ lack of comedy options is due to the fact that it’s a big music town, and there isn’t enough room for music and comedy?
MN: Yeah. Comedy’s just not in the culture. It’s all jazz, it’s all booze and Mardi Gras and strip clubs and getting drunk. It’s a bachelor party atmosphere. Nobody really grew up with comedy, so nobody knew about it, so it just didn’t really click. And when I go back now I’ll do big shows with Amy Schumer or whoever, and the audiences just aren’t really comedy savvy at all. And it’s a smart, liberal city, but it’s just not a comedy city. Comedy clubs just open and close over there. It just doesn’t work.
RARE: When you would venture outside of New Orleans for a show, how often would you end up performing for in more conservative parts of Louisiana?
MN: Oh, all the time. Louisiana is the conservative part of Louisiana. New Orleans is the only liberal part of the state.
RARE: Did performing for conservative crowds shape your performance style at all?
MN: No, but I was so green that I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I didn’t know how to adapt. I was just desperate for a laugh. I was clueless, so I didn’t know to change up my material or my style for different audiences. I was just telling dick jokes.
RARE: What’s your favorite part of the country to perform in?
MN: I love a nice progressive town. Austin, Portland, Seattle. But then on the flip side, I love blue collar towns because those crowds don’t get offended. Ya know in Seattle, you might get a blogger or whoever coming at you for a gay joke or something. But you go to Buffalo or Philly or somewhere like that, and it’s a good time. These people work in a fucking mill or whatever, they don’t have time to go, “Whoa, did he say black instead of African American!? Forget this guy.” Being offended is a luxury, and they don’t have time for that.
RARE: So while we’re on the topic, what do you think about the overly sensitive audiences and the “safe space” stuff?
MN: I think it’s silly. It’s like a trendy thing that stems from narcissism. “ME! ME! ME! That hurt ME!” I think there’s some projecting involved in it too. I’ve noticed that a lot of these super angry social justice warriors are the angriest ones of all! You’re allowed to have an opinion, ya know? Go nuts! But they’re trying to get people fired! And that’s damaging. They’re ruining lives over silly jokes. And they’re allowed to be offended, but don’t try to get people fired. Those people are way more evil than any of us comics — we’re just trying to tell jokes to a bunch of bar drunks for peanuts.
RARE: So do you think most of it is just people being unnecessarily incendiary?
MN: Yeah. It gives unoriginal people something to complain about. There’s an economy in it now — you get offended, you get outraged, and you complain, and people listen, so why wouldn’t they do it? People go, “Oh this person’s pissed, let’s talk to them!” So it works. But it’s all silly. What really pisses me off is that Don Rickles just died, and all these people are saying, “He was such a legend.” And I’m like, “If your pussy ass was around when he was trying to come up, you would have ruined him, and we wouldn’t have a Don Rickles! Because you’re such a pussy, and you can’t handle words!”
Everybody blows Lenny Bruce, but he was doing what you guys hate! We wouldn’t have great comics if these people got their way. Louis C.K. and people like that are offensive and irreverent, and they’re great. Stop trying to ruin it, you cunts!
RARE: Do you perform at colleges?
MN: Don’t get me started on the colleges. Colleges are the worst! Seinfeld won’t do colleges, Louis won’t do colleges, Chris Rock won’t do colleges. And good! Fuck them! They’ve ruined it. They’ve ruined comedy. It never used to be this way. George Carlin used to go to colleges to experiment and be weird. He used to go to get away from the squares and hang out with open-minded kids, but now it’s flipped. It’s the opposite.
But I’ll do a college every now and then. I just did NYU, and I had a blast. But I got fired by my college agent for being too dirty — quote unquote. It’s insane! They’re kids. When I was a kid, you could’ve shit in a cup, and I would’ve high-fived ya.
RARE: So how much has comedy changed since you were a kid?
MN: I think the core is the same, but it’s definitely gotten nicer. When I was younger, people would focus on stereotypes, and comics could say “cunt,” and it wasn’t the end of the world. And now there’s so many straight, white, male comics that nobody really wants to hear what they have to say. Which is a form of prejudice a little bit. So the straight, white male is kinda fucked. People are looking for any kind of difference now. Like, “Oh, he’s a male but he has an accent!” Or, “He’s a guy, but he’s gay, so he’s cool.” But if you’re a handsome, straight, white guy, you’re kinda screwed. Not screwed in life, but screwed in show business a little bit.
RARE: Have you performed in any countries other than the U.S.?
MN: Oh yeah, man. I’ve been all over. Amsterdam, Ireland, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Hawaii — I know Hawaii’s in America — but yeah I’ve been all over.
RARE: Do you ever have to tailor your material when you’re overseas?
MN: I kinda just go with what I’ve got, because I want to be the American ambassador guy on the show. I’m just gonna be The American. I talked to Jim Jeffries once — he would never remember because he was quite blacked out — and I asked him if he ever worried about his Australian slang, and he said, “No, because I am the slang! I do the slang and make them catch up to me.” And it works for him. It’s who he is. It’s his thing, and audiences love it.
RARE: Have you been doing any Trump material, or do you prefer to stay away from the political stuff?
MN: I stay away from anything topical, because it expires. I had a few jokes about the Women’s March, and they killed — and I feel like topical stuff gets like 20 percent more laughs than other stuff because it’s fresh — but I don’t do topical, I don’t do political, I don’t do news, really. It’s not my style. I like big stuff like race and religion and women and dating and anxiety. I like a big subject. I don’t wanna go, “Hey did you hear about that plane that crashed in Kuwait and blah blah blah.” That doesn’t excite me.
RARE: Tell us about your writing process. How long does it take you to craft enough material for a special?
MN: Oh man, it takes forever. This whole Louis C.K. one hour a year thing has set the model, but that’s not for everybody, and I wish more people would realize that, because they’re all trying to be that guy, and they’re not. Louis is brilliant, and he’s a genius, but he’s 30 years in, so people need to cool it. It takes me at least 3 to 4 years to write an hour that I’m proud of. Because it’s got to be front to back bulletproof. I’m a big whittler. I’ll write a four-minute joke but whittle down to 40 seconds, which makes it harder to fill in the time. I finished an hour last year, and now I’m trying to write all new stuff, and I’ve got 15 minutes — maybe. And that took five months. So I’m pretty slow. I’m a joke guy and a word guy, and I want every word to be perfect.
RARE: Once you’ve recorded a special, what happens to that material? Do you lay it to rest, or do you continue to use it?
MN: I still use it because I’m a headlining comic, and I need that time. So the new special hasn’t come out, so I’m coasting on that 30 minutes of material. I’ll throw some new stuff in there too. I’m a bad comic right now, because I’m throwing in new stuff for these paying customers, which is kind of a dick move. But I gotta do it, folks.
RARE: How often do you hit up open-mics?
MN: All the time. I do bar shows all the time. I do it to work out the new stuff, but you can never really tell. I’ll write a joke at home and think, “Oh this gonna kill” Then when I do it, it just bombs, and it’s brutal. And then I’m like, “Fuck comedy,” because I can’t figure it out. It’s hard.
RARE: Do you have any pre-gig rituals?
MN: Not really. One thing I try to do is not drink. Even though I want to really badly. I love alcohol, and I think I’m addicted to it, but I try to stay sober when I’m performing. I’m also a big shower guy. I always shower before a gig. I hate going on stage sweaty or with a greasy film on me. I like a good shower, and other than that I’m pretty good. I like to feel good about my outfit a little bit, not to sound like a weirdo. If I’m wearing a weird shirt, I can’t relax.
RARE: Do you drink when you get off stage?
MN: Oh yeah! It’s a problem.
RARE: Do you have any creepy fans?
MN: I get a lot of gay guys. Creepy gay guys. They’re all over me. I’m not homophobic, but these guys are super aggressive to the point where I understand why women get freaked out when guys hit on them. Guys are so aggressive, and they tell you what they want to do to you and you’re like, “Holy hell!” So I get it now. And I’ve had a few ladies follow me around from show to show, but nothing like these gay dudes. These gay dudes are hardcore.
RARE: What’s it like working with Amy Schumer?
MN: It’s the best. She’s like my boss. I opened for her for years, and she’s the best. She just gets it. She’s cool as hell, and she’s incredibly generous. She’s given me so much stuff. I was poor, and she bought me a coat. And she’s given me so many gigs, and she pays very well. She puts you up, she flies you out on the jet with her. If she has a show, she’ll put you in the show; if she has a movie she’ll put you in the movie. She just gives, gives, gives. And all she wants in return is a bit of respect and friendship. She’s incredibly loyal. And comics are weird, so we’re both weirdos, and we both get it. Having a comic as a boss is better than having a non-comic as a boss.
RARE: Who are some of your influences?
MN: Well when I moved to New York I got really into that New York crew: Patrice, Chappelle, Colin Quinn, Giraldo, Dave Attel. Those were my guys when I started in New York. I wanted to be one of those guys.
But as a kid, Groucho Marx was a huge influence on me. Huge. My parents were kinda old-school, so when I told my mom that I wanted to do comedy, she gave me a bunch of Marx Brothers tapes. And it was great. I got into right away, because he’s basically a cartoon character.
Then I was obsessed with Bill Murray. I loved “Stripes” and “Caddyshack” and all that. Then I got way into “SNL.” And when “Seinfeld” came out, it blew my mind. It was exactly my kind of humor — that New York social commentary that I really love. Larry David is my all time hero. I love that awkward, uncomfortable humor that Jewish people and British people do so well. Like Ricky Gervais. He does that stuff too.
RARE: Are you a Gervais fan?
MN: Yeah I like him. I think he’s funny, but there’s still something I don’t quite get about him. He’s a comic, but he’s not really a comic. He’s a funny actor. There’s something about him I don’t trust. But he’s obviously a funny guy, and “The Office” is amazing. He’s talented, but something about him rubs me the wrong way.
RARE: Tell us about your upcoming projects
MN: I have a podcast that comes out every Tuesday. It’s very irreverent and offensive. It’s just two dudes being douchebags. I’ve got a Snapchat series on Comedy Central’s Snapchat starting in May. I’m on Fallon on the 11th. And then my special is called “Don’t Be Yourself.” It’s on Comedy Central. Check it out, because I’m being myself on stage, and I’m saying stuff that would get me fired from a normal job. But I’m not trying to hurt anybody, I’m just trying to funny. So check it out and see if you agree with me.
You can see Mark’s brilliant special “Amy Schumer Presents Mark Normand: Don’t Be Yourself” when it premieres May 12 on Comedy Central. Click here to see his upcoming tour dates.