Talking to Mike Lawrence About ‘The Half Hour’, Constantly Creating, and Potential Podcasts

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For the past 15 years, Comedy Central’s half hour specials have showcased the future stars of standup. Looking back, the early years of Comedy Central Presents included memorable sets from the likes of Mitch Hedberg, Patton Oswalt, Maria Bamford, Dane Cook and dozens more. Re-branded The Half Hour in 2012, the series continues to feature the best up-and-coming comics in the country.

For many comedians, it’s that history that makes doing a half hour special so significant. While a half hour may once have been a comic’s first major exposure, comedians now have many ways to build an audience. Almost everyone who taped a special this year does non-standup comedy as well, branching out into the worlds of podcasting, sketch and improv, web series, acting, and more. In this new series, I sat down with each of this year’s 16 Half Hour comedians to talk about their specials, their careers, and their generation of comedians. Each interview will also feature an exclusive clip from the special. All the interviews can be found here.

One of Dark Lords of Comedy alongside Jared Logan and Dan St. Germain, Mike Lawrence has also been seen on Conan and John Oliver’s New York Stand Up Show. His debut album, Sadamantium, was released yesterday by Comedy Central Records. I met up with him a couple months ago in his East Williamsburg loft to talk about doing brand new jokes on TV and completely starting over with material.

So, how did your taping go?

The taping went really well. I was happy with it. I had to go back out because I said Obama lost during my set, and because of the liberal media… [Laughs.] No, it was just a flub that I made because I had a brand new joke that was two days old right after it, so in trying to memorize that, I forgot an important fact in history. I was supposed to say, “You know Obama lost…” and then I’d do this whole thing about…

You mean, that he won?

Yeah, see I did it again. Oh, fucking Christ. Oh man, the Florida comes back sometimes when I don’t expect it.

You did a brand new joke in your special? Why?

Because I have to. What’s the point, if I don’t have something new that I’m really excited about. I need to constantly create. I just did my album and I had a joke that was like four days old in it, that I wrote after The Half Hour. That’s the need to be a comic. I mean, no one’s beating [Louis] C.K. right now, but the rest of us can do what we can for ourselves and generate new material. It’s just that need.

I thought your set would have been essentially a “best of”, since it’s your first big special.

Yeah, but I also think that it’s important to always have new, every time. When I did Conan, I did a Jeremy Lin joke, which I had written like a week before that and had to immediately retire because he got injured, or Linjured, the day after.

What does doing a half hour mean to you?

Practically, I think, it’s important in the sense that it lets headliners know that you can go, that you’re not just a one-bit wonder. [Laughs] Copyright. But it’s important that they know that you can grow. This was my third appearance on the network, so it was a little harder for me just in the sense that, I had already burned 14 of my best minutes on the John Oliver show. It was this thing of, I have to really step it up. And I think that was a part of wanting to put new stuff in. I submitted the tape in October and they approved of it, and then by February, I had 10 new minutes in, because I needed to. And some of the stuff I had in October wasn’t what I thought was my best. You should always think you can do better.

And then emotionally, it just means that you got to this awesome point that a lot of comics hope to get to. It’s just a cool thing to have. I know so many comics who got them just still call them Presents, like “I got my Presents”, because it’s this nostalgic thing that ties back to the past. One of the bits that I saw growing up that made me want to do comedy was Patton Oswalt’s Paas Egg Painting bit off of his first Presents. And maybe it’s arrogant, but I think it’s sweet too, to hope that maybe somebody will see mine and maybe get that same feeling. I would love that. That would be awesome.

I was watching your Modern Comedian episode, where you talked a lot about how important it is to do television. Have your thoughts changed now that you have your special?

It is this weird perception thing. It’s funny where people think I’m at and where I’m actually am. You know, “Oh, you must be doing great.” I’m doing better, of course, but it’s still rough. I mean, I know how to pay my rent for most of this year, I have no idea how I’m gonna pay it next year. I just don’t yet, and that’s always terrifying. I know lots of people who have been on TV who have still had to call their parents and ask for money or have day jobs. That’s a reality that no one talks about.

And you just recorded your album. How did that go?

It was great. Sadamantium is the title. Wolverine’s claws are made of adamantium, and then I’m really depressing, so that’s the logic there. Yeah, I did that at Meltdown Comics in LA. That was really fun. Jared Logan was on one of the shows, Kyle Kinane was on the other, and Ron Funches hosted both. It’s exciting. I never thought I’d get this far.

Everything’s happening all at once.

Yeah. Usually rappers say that in a mansion. [Laughs] I’m in an apartment I share with four other people, but I still didn’t think I’d get this far. I didn’t think I’d ever be in a room with four other people.

So what’s your typical gig like these days? Where do you work?

I do ‘em all. That’s my stance. I’m a really hard-working person. I get up anywhere and everywhere. I did five open mics last night, to the point where guys were like, “Didn’t you just do a half hour?” I was like, “I know, I’m here, shut up.” I just want to work. It’s that thing, too, where I did most of my best jokes on The Half Hour, I did all of my best jokes on the album, and so now I’m kind of starting over again. And so I don’t mind being at the bottom, it doesn’t bother me.

Are you on the road or are you mostly in New York?

I’m on the road sometimes. I’m doing some headlining coming up. I open for Marc Maron and John Oliver from time to time. Both those guys, they’re like my comedy dads. They’ve been really great to me. They texted me right before The Half Hour. They didn’t say, “Go get ‘em slugger,” but that’s how I read it. [Laughs] And that was really cool.

And you and Jared and Dan all do the Dark Lords of Comedy.

Yeah. It was kinda cool because the first one we did was all of our submission tapes for The Half Hour. And thank God we all got it, because that would have been uncomfortable. If one of us got it, it would be fine, but if two of us got it, that would have been the most uncomfortable thing. I think that’s a really ringing endorsement for the show. I can’t think of many three-person shows with guys on our level where everyone would have gotten it, so that’s kind of awesome.

It was funny because I think I was the last person that found out I was getting one. Like, they almost forgot to tell me when they were closing the office, which is perfect. That adds to the story of my life.

I’m fascinating by how every one this year does more than just standup. You have a podcast, Nerd of Mouth. Do you find that doing other things informs your standup?

It doesn’t inform your standup, I think it just helps. I think people want to see you be funny in other capacities. People do job interviews now by looking at your Twitter page. Within comedy, that’s valid. I don’t think that’s valid if you’re like a nurse or something. You know, “Saved a life today.” Alright, she’s good. [Laughs] But I think that there’s something to be said for the fact that people want to see that you’re multi-faceted. I think the industry looks at people and they’re like, “I can’t make money off standup. How can I make money off you?” And doing web series and podcasts and all that shows. With a podcast, you’re literally creating something out of nothing, every single time. You know, it’s this new form that’s really exciting, and I don’t even think we’ve fully tapped the capabilities of it. We’ve already over-saturated it, but we haven’t really found out how far you can go with it.

Where do you think it can go?

I just think that narrative is a cool way to go with it. I don’t know if I have the ambition to do this but I would love to see an almost resurgence of serials. Like radio serials. Narrative podcasting, I think, is a really cool thing that you can do. Because there’s no censorship, it’s pure freedom. I’m sure there are people—me saying this allows the flood of comments to come in to tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about. But educate me, it’s fine.

I can think of some scripted podcasts, but not many serialized ones.

Yeah. And before TV, that was a major form of entertainment. Like Superman. The comics were big and then the radio show was as big if not bigger. And a lot of the elements from the comic books came out of the radio show. Like Kryponite was invented because the voice actor who played Superman required vacation days every year, so they had to find a way to get him off the show. And they just used the plot device of Kryptonite.

What’s next for you? Where can people find you?

I’ll be on the road. Hopefully I’m gonna start a web series of my own and do other things. Do some more of that branching out, as they say. Keep pounding the pavement. I’m in a really fun place right now where I don’t know what my next hour is gonna be. I love that. Hopefully it’ll happen. There’s a kind of freedom to that. I’m certainly not in a place where I could retire those jokes quite yet. You’ll be seeing them on the road, but slowly phased out. I think that one of the greatest things that you can have as a comedian is when you go on stage and you don’t have to tell a joke that you’ve told for so long because you know you’ll be fine without it. That’s the best feeling in the world. I’ve had like these jokes where like, I need this to kill. When you can put that aside because you have something else as good if not better, I think that’s one of the ultimate goals.

Mike Lawrence’s Half Hour airs Friday, May 31 at 12:30 am (technically Saturday morning). He’s on Twitter at @TheMikeLawrence.

Elise Czajkowski is a contributing editor at Splitsider and comedy journalist in New York City. She occasionally tweets at @EliseCz.