After catching his hilarious half hour stand-up debut on Comedy Central, I decided to pick up a phone and track down Nick Swardson. Turns out, he’s not that difficult to find, and we settled on an interview before his Friday night gig. Sitting and waiting at the Los Angeles Improv is uncomfortable at first, but then the door to the theater explodes open as Nick Swardson arrives, calls out to some, and high fives others in a huge display. Slapping a gold card into the ready hands of the bartender, Nick opens his tab, a beverage order for both of us, and leads the way to the second floor of the Improv.
Where are you from?
Nick: Vietnam. Damn, that was stupid. Um, St. Paul, capitol of Minnesota.
St Paul, the home of Mall of America, with a Knott’s Berry Farm inside.
N: Yep, that’s it. Kind of in Bloomington.
How’s the comedy scene in St Paul?
N: It’s actually really, really good. It’s a really strong scene, and I consider myself fortunate to start there, as opposed to LA or New York. They’ve got two full time clubs now, and Improv is opening a club soon. Actually, I opened up in Knuckleheads, on the fourth floor of the Mall of America, as my first show.
How’d you get into comedy?
N: (sighs) This is a long-winded story of mine. I was so bad at school, and I had to get my grades up, so I took Theatre because it’s an easy A. I mean, how do you fuck up Theater? So I just started doing some comedy sketches, and it went really well, with my teacher telling me it was really funny. And then, the Improv Troop came through town, doing a show at my school. Afterwards, they asked the school if any kids were interested to talk to them, so me and my buddy did. Then, after high school, I couldn’t get into any colleges, because my grades were so shitty. It’s not like I wasn’t smart, just lazy, so I took a year off and tried stand-up. It was actually on a dare, with me and my friend. He ended up pussing out and I went by myself, which turned out really well. I did it two more times, and the club hired me to MC. Then six months later, HBO came through town and picked me as one of the top new comics in the country.
Is it like in baseball, where a scout comes to the minors to look at the talent and everyone gets all excited and tries to look their best?
N: Yeah, it was one of the things where everyone was all excited. It was really a huge deal. I mean, it’s fucking Minnesota. They’re not used to big names coming in. Here (LA), it’s common for someone to walk in, but in Minnesota, it’s a huge deal.
Who were your inspirations to get into comedy?
N: The comedy I really latched onto? I was a huge Saturday Night Live fan, and I loved the Ben Stiller show, so those got me into it. Sandler, Farley, Spade, all those guys were so amazing and funny. I used to look down on stand-up. I didn’t have a hero in stand-up and actually, I always thought it was really stupid. I liked sketch comedy, but stand-up always looked dumb.
Do your friends think you’re funny?
N: Yeah, growing up I was always the smart ass. Always, like TOO much. I was the guy who would make the girls cry. My humor was usually at the expense of other people.
Very black comedy?
N: Well, I was African-American. I was so small, and trying to fit in I would do anything for a laugh, so I was very balls-out. My favorite thing I ever did was when I brought a fake knife to school. It looked very real; it was one of those knifes that went into the blade, so it looked fucking real. So, I pulled it out of my desk, and this girl next to me is like (in best valley girl impression) “Oh my god, you’re going to get in so much trouble. Is it real?” and I told her yeah, it was real, and she’s all “Oh my God!” so I slammed it down into her leg, and she just screams. And this was in 5th grade, so it was pretty risque. Now, you’d be arrested.
Women are supposed to be –
N: -drawn to a sense of humor?
Right. You would think that a comedian would get along with the ladies, even in 5th grade.
N: No, it’s kind of rare. Sometimes, it happens, but it’s pretty rare. On my website, there’s all these girls from the middle of nowhere, like Indiana, who want to marry me. I get a lot of that, but out here in LA, people could care less. This town is the most unconducive town for dating. Girls always think of me as like (valley girl) “Oh, he’s silly, and weird. Oh, that’s fun, lets go”.
Favorite comedians beside yourself?
N: Heh, I think I’m horrible. It always surprises me when people think I’m funny. I mean, you’ll see my act, but it’s always changing. I probably won’t do anything from my half hour. I think there are a lot of really great comedians. You see a lot of comics on TV, getting exposure, but nobody really knows about them, and those are all my favorite comics. The comics now that people would know aren’t really people I like. Take David Cross for example. I love David, he’s great.
And the only way people would know comics like that, is if they break into something..
N: Into another medium, like a sitcom or movie. I know people who have been on Conan twenty times, and nobody would know who they are. There are so many people out there. My buddy has done every late show a half dozen times, and no one knows who he is. It’s too bad, because it’s a very underrated medium, and it just doesn’t get the attention it deserves. There are so many fucking AMAZING comedians out there, you wouldn’t even believe it.
You had a small part in the Cameron Crowe flick, “Almost Famous”.
N: (laughs) I was ‘Insane (David) Bowie Fan’. That is how I was categorized. I initially read for Jason Lee’s part of the movie, and Cameron Crowe, the director, was like “You’re too young, and not right for this part”. But he thought I was funny, so he tried to include me in a couple of scenes with some improvisation, and we created this band guy who kind of stalks the band. You know what I’m talking about; guys who like a band and are kind of know-it-alls, claiming they know this person and that person. So, the only thing that actually made it into the movie is me screaming when David Bowie appears.
And, you’ve been in commercials…
N: I did a low profile commercial, where I was the Barq’s root beer guy, when they had the ‘Barq’s Has Bite’ advertising campaign. It was a huge batch of advertising, but due to a probating member of the Barq’s family, they couldn’t show them at prime time in the states, just in Canada. So basically they were randomly shown on TV, but it was huge.
Does Carrot Top bother comedians as much as he does everyone else?
N: No, Scott is actually a good friend of mine. (Ouch!)
Damn it! I was really banking on your dislike for him.
N: (laughs, slightly annoyed) No, I love Scott, he’s a great guy. That’s actually an interesting point. He’s obviously so retarded and obnoxious..
Well, you’ve already ruined it by calling him Scott, thereby making him a person.
N: (laughs) He’s a really great guy, but it’s a thing with comedians. He’s really hated among the stand-up comics, and a lot of people just go out of their way to hate him.
To be honest, I haven’t seen his stand-up, just the television commercials. I know he sells out on college tours.
N: The AT&T commercials are just retarded. But the thing is, he’s not a stand-up comedian. People think he’s a stand-up guy, and that it’s total bullshit, but that’s the thing. He’s not stand-up; he’s a prop guy. He has a trunk, and props, and does the tonight show all the time. He does some jokes, but it’s funny when some stand-ups hate him and use him in their show, trying to be all above him and his act, saying he’s full of shit and that he makes it look bad for stand-up. He’s the Rosetta Stone of comics fucking slamming him.
Is he annoyed by that?
N: He could care less, since Scott’s a multimillionaire. He doesn’t give a shit.
So I guess it’s similar when a small band shits on another, more successful music group.
N: Totally, and they call them fucking sellouts. It’s like, no, you’re a fucking idiot with no talent.
Ever use props in your act?
N: No. Actually yes, I did once. I used a wig, in an impression where I do a guy who robs a wig store, and the police come to his house to ask him about the robbery. So, I do this impression of the guy when the cops come, and he answers the door with the wig on, and he’s like “Hey officer, what happened? The wig store was robbed? Really?” It usually bombs pretty hard.
Doing it tonight?
N: No, well, I could, if it’s still in my car. It might be. Could have made it into my short film, with Andy Dick.
N: I did a short film for Universal. They like what I do, and asked if I could write a short film, so I wrote that.
Is it out?
N: No, it’s still being cut. Fuck! I have to call my editor, that’s right. It’s being cut this week.
When it’s finished, where will it come out? Andy Dick’s (television) show?
N: I’d have to ask Andy. I’ll call him and see if he can put it on his show. I’ve actually cut a lot of his parts, so he’ll probably get mad.
Is he the nutcase he’s portrayed to be?
N: Andy’s, um, well, Andy’s really Andy. He’s very eccentric. Andy’s really a genius. Very brilliant. Not really a nutcase, like some people would say, but he’s just out there. He’s very out there. He’s a good guy, but you know, just a bit quirky, that’s all
Where’s the worst place you’ve performed?
N: I performed on a riverboat casino in Mississippi when I was 19, in front of twenty 80-year-old women and that was fucking horrible. That was pretty bad. I’ve performed badly in biker bars, and all black rooms at two in the morning in Harlem, which got pretty tough.
Do you like Tom Green’s act?
N: Actually, I’ve never met Tom Green. He hates stand-up, I know that. So he’s not into the scene at all.
Since he hates stand-up comedians, do you hate him?
N: No, I wouldn’t say that. I’m not going to go on the record saying, you know, “Fuck him!”. I think he’s funny, and that his show has funny moments. That’s one guy I’ve never really met, and you meet pretty much everyone in this business.
Appearing in anything upcoming?
N: Well, Bob Odenkirk has a deal at Fox for a new skit show to develop. He asked me to write and perform on it, so we’re shooting two pilots this week. It’s really funny. It’s pretty smart, but not like “Mr. Show”, which was so esoteric and out there that nobody could relate. It’s on a network, so it’s got to appease middle America, but it’s very spontaneous, like the “Ben Stiller Show”, with various sketches ranging from Osama Bin Laden to Michael Jordan, kind of weird Mr. Show stuff, and various pop culture and good sketches. It’s really funny though, really fucking hilarious.
It’s coming out next year sometime?
N: It’s hard to say. With sketch shows, they could pick it up for the summer, or for the fall. These types of shows can be cranked out quickly, but it’s hard to tell. It’s going to be really cool. David Cross is going to be doing stuff on it. Also David Spade, Ben Stiller, and others are doing guest spots.
Did you like “Kids in the Hall”?
N: Yeah, I liked it, but not to the extent of some of the hardcore fans out there. Some of the skits were funny, and some were a little off.
What about “The State” ?
N: Oh yeah, I know all of those guys, they’re all good friends of mine. “The State” was really great. I mean, I have stuff, like short films and clips that they did which were never shown, and it’s literally the funniest shit I’ve ever seen. They’re really great. David Wain just did a movie called “Wet Hot American Summer”. He directed it. Ever hear of it?
N: It was really low profile, but it’s a great movie. Look for it. It has some good people in it, like Janeane Garofalo and David Hyde Pierce. It’s kind of a “Meatballs” camp comedy spoof. It’s really funny. But yeah, I was a big fan of “The State”.
The pilots the only thing you have coming up?
N: I’m developing a movie that I wrote with Jamie Kennedy, who was in all the “Scream” films. So we’re working on that now, trying to get it up and running. I don’t have an agent right now, being that I fired my old agent, so I’m not auditioning right now. I’ve been close to a bunch of stuff. That’s a thing in Hollywood. You’re always close. Like, I was in line for “Road Trip”, and “That 70’s Show”, I was almost Ashton Kutcher’s (Michael Kelso) role on that show. It’s funny, so many movies are released that I can say, “Wow, I remember trying out for that.”
Is that kind of the way it is? You get in line with the other comedians for each part?
N: Yeah, and there’s always that group of kids there, like Seth Green and stuff like that. (laughs) Gets kind of annoying.
Seth Green, you bastard!
N: There’s always the group of people that can squeeze in front.
So where would someone go to find out where you’re doing stand up?
N: The best thing would be to go to Google and type in the name. I don’t know the URL for my website, because I’m irresponsible and stupid, but that’s the best place to look for stuff. I call my web lady who runs it and give her my tour dates. I just did a seven city tour with David Cross, which was great. I guess that’s about it.
Swardson rushes off to prepare, and most of the patrons file in line to the showroom. The MC was Nadine Rajabi, and the performing comedians, in order, were Mike Young, Nick Swardson, Pete Johansen, Nick Griffin, Doug Benson, Dom Irrera, and Corey Holcomb.
This interview was originally printed in 2001