Joe Mande always seems one step ahead.
Whether it’s his Twitter stunts, multimedia shows, or stories about attending a live taping of The Mike Huckabee Show really high, the LA-based comedian and writer has a knack for getting out in front of trends.
It makes sense then that Mande’s latest project is a comedy mixtape he’s releasing in place of a traditional album, complete with DJ drops, comedy sketches, and cameos from Amy Poehler, A$AP Yams, Nick Kroll, Jenny Slate, Jon Daly, Roy Hibbert, and more. The mixtape, which drops today, is called Bitchface and it’s being released on former Das Racist frontman Heem’s record label, Greedhead.
I recently caught up with Mande to talk about the mixtape, writing for Parks and Recreation, and his quest for one million twitter bots.
So tell me about the Bitchface mixtape and maybe begin by just explaining what makes it different from a standard album.
Well, initially I recorded two shows in Minneapolis last year at Acme Comedy Club. I listened to the recording, and I was happy with it, but it sounded like a very standard comedy album to me. And I was talking to a friend about hip hop mixtapes these days [from] people like Migos and French Montana and how it would be funny to release a comedy album as a mixtape. I’m friends with Hima [Himanshu Suri], formerly of Das Racist, and years ago we had joked that I should release a comedy album on his label, and once I started working on the mixtape with my producer Cyrus Ghahremani, I hit him up, like, “Remember that thing we joked about years ago?”
And this is something that hasn’t really been done before?
Yeah. Neal Brennan did something a few years ago where he did standup over hip hop beats. I think Samantha Ronson DJed it or whatever. But there’s no real musical element to my mixtape really. It’s mostly just tonally like a mixtape where every time there’s an applause break you’ll hear a DJ drop, and there’s air horns and shit. [Laughs.] And then my standup is interrupted continually by comedy skits. Like all mixtapes and ‘90s hip hop albums have comedy skits.
Can you give us any glimpse of who’s going to be doing drops or anything on it?
Yeah, a lot of the skits are with Nick Kroll and Jon Daly and Jenny Slate and some other pretty hilarious names. NBA all-star Roy Hibbert does a thing. The list goes on and on. It’s pretty crazy.
And these are just little one-minute interstitials that you’d hear on old hip-hop albums?
And how are you going to release it?
Soundcloud has it exclusively to stream it for free, and it’s going to go up on Complex. So people can listen to it for free on Soundcloud or Complex, and then next Friday the 14th it will be available for sale.
On your website?
It’s mostly digital release, so iTunes and all that. It’ll be on Spotify. I’m printing some physical CDs but that’s mostly for an album release show here in LA next week. I don’t know, it’s such a weird digital album that I don’t think I’m going to be selling a lot of physical CDs. [Laughs.]
Are you hoping to establish a model for a comedy mixtape and get other people interested in that? The format for a standard comedy album is kind of something everybody has to do…
That’s the thing. To be honest, I only did this album out of what felt like an obligation. I had so many people telling me, “You’ve been doing standup for so long, you’ve been on TV.” It was mostly people bugging me on Twitter, “Why don’t you have an album?” So then I recorded one and it sounded to me like any other comedy album. I mean I’m happy with the material on it or whatever, but I was just stuck at work, sitting there, and it really turned into something quite weird. I don’t know if it’s the smartest idea, I’ll tell you that. [Laughs.] It’s not a money-making venture for sure, but it was something that was funny.
And who did you say is producing it with you?
Cyrus Ghahremani. He does all the media stuff. He wanted to be known as King Cyrus King for this album as his hip hop producer name.
Did he have input in terms of the comedy aspect of it as well?
Yeah, that dude’s a fucking genius. it’s really incredible when you look at what he was able to do. It sounds amazing. He created a couple beats out of nowhere. All the drops, it’s all him. It’s great. This album would be a complete disaster if he wasn’t at the helm.
Moving on to a couple other things, how’s your Twitter bot project coming along? I see you’re inching close to one million followers.
Oh yeah, I’m trying to time it out so I will hit a million the same day as the album drops. [Laughs.] I think I can manipulate the numbers. But yeah, I’m very close. I think a lot of people will be relieved when that bit is over. It’s been a year-long bit.
It’s been a year already?
Probably. I don’t even know. It’s been such a dumb conquest.
What kind of fluctuations did you have? Did you lose 100,000 followers a week and gain them back?
Yeah, it was real bad for a while. Like, I was losing them as fast as I was buying them, but I found a new vendor who was real reliable. My last 300,000 bots have been from the same guy. He’s killing it.
Are you willing to share how much you’ve spent on your bots?
Well, I mean I’m at a million, about. I probably have 100,000 real followers. I’ve probably purchased well over a million and a half. I’ve had about 600,000 deleted. I’ve only spent about 500 dollars. Obviously that’s a lot of money, and that’s compounded because I made an agreement with my girlfriend that I would donate an equal amount of money to charity. It’s been an extensive project. I don’t know what the point is. I don’t know if I’m going to commit to stage two of the plan.
What was the plan?
I’m just kind of distracted now with my album, but the plan was once I hit a million, I was going to start a kickstarter to beat Justin Bieber and be number one on Twitter. That was my plan, but it’s already been so exhausting getting a million so I don’t know.
It’s funny to point out how ridiculous follower numbers are. Especially when you’re in the millions. How many are real, who even cares?
Exactly. That was the whole point. I do like it when certain people don’t know the whole deal and will start treating me like I actually have a million followers. That’s pretty good.
Are you getting more interest from advertisers and anything like that?
Yeah, that’s why I’m releasing a free mixtape. [Laughs] No. Not at all.
But what about the La Croix people? Are they still working with you?
Oh, fuck yeah, dude. They announced me as their spokesperson. They let me announce their new flavor a couple weeks ago.
Yeah. The people at La Croix are so nice. I put their logo all over my album. Not sure if that’s legal, but yeah, the front cover of the album says “Greedhead Music in association with La Croix Sparkling Water Presents Joe Mande.”
[Laughs.] How did that all start?
I did genuinely like La Croix water. I just wouldn’t stop talking about it at work and then my boss Mike Schur said that since I talk about it so much I should start saying I’m their celebrity spokesperson, and I did.
And they went along? That’s great.
Yeah. They’re very supportive of me just claiming that I am their spokesperson.
You’re still writing on Parks, right?
I am, yeah. We just wrapped last week. I’m currently on hiatus, and that’s why I’m finally able to release this and go on tour and stuff.
There’s going to be one more season, right?
That seems to be the case, yes. I believe we’re officially coming back next season.
Everyone I’ve talked to who’s been associated with it just say it’s the greatest place to work. I was wondering if you can share any stories about what makes it such a fun place.
I’ve been phenomenally lucky with all my writing jobs. Like, I worked at Delocated and Kroll Show and Parks. And all three of those, especially Parks, it’s just like everyone is so nice but also talented. There’s no negativity at all. There are some pessimistic people, for sure, including me, but it’s just a testament to how well-run the show is that everyone just gets along so well.
Did it take a little while to figure out the tone of writing for a network show as opposed to Delocated and Kroll Show where you got a little more freedom and get to do a little more “out there” kind of stuff?
I mean, all three of those jobs, I kind of felt like I was just thrown into a fire basically. They hire you because they think you’re good, and you just have to figure it out. Certainly, the first couple of weeks there, I was incredibly intimidated or whatever, but you just kind of get used to it. I’m sure it’s harder on other shows. I have some friends at Brooklyn Nine-Nine – that’s another great show – but that’s hard because you’re figuring out the tone as you’re writing it. Writing the first season must be so difficult. I’ve written for Seasons 5 and 6, so the show’s already pretty figured out by that point.
Got it. But you didn’t find yourself fighting any natural instincts to be a little more dark or edgy when writing for a primetime network sitcom?
No, it’s so collaborative. You’re not doing too much of the heavy lifting because we all broke the story together. We all punched up the outline together. Because you know when you turn in your first draft that that’s gonna get punched up as a group. Yeah, I mean, obviously, you try to get some of your own jokes in, and it’s amazing if they make it through the whole process, but you try not to be too precious about your own jokes.
Assuming that next season is the last season, have you thought about what you’d like to do after that? Do you want to continue writing, get out on the road more, acting?
No, I just see what comes my way. When I’m at work, I love writing and whenever I’m on the road. I love doing that. So, just trying to figure out a balance to keep doing all those things continually. That’s my plan. I like being able to balance all three of those things.
You’re on the road with Aziz [Ansari] a lot?
Yeah, and I’m doing an east coast mini-tour thing by myself at the end of March. Then doing Aziz’s tour on the west coast for a couple weeks, yeah.
What’s life on the road like for you two guys? Are you rolling around in luxury?
It’s pretty great. We have a bus. We go into town, do a show, go to a bar or restaurant or something. Then get back on the bus and the next day we do that in a different city. Yeah, it’s great. It’s like a bus that’s normally used in a rock band with like ten dudes, but it’s me, him, and his tour manager. It’s pretty great.
What will be your transportation for your own tour?
Oh, Amtrak. I like Amtrak. I’m doing a lot of Amtrak and then Air Canada, I think. I can give you my flight numbers. [Laughs.]
Is this tour going to be just straight standup or will you have multimedia stuff happening?
Yeah, I think it’s just gonna be standup. We’ll see what the response is to the album and maybe I’ll try to integrate some of the drops. I don’t want to commit to that just yet.
Going back to touring with Aziz, was there a period where you had to get more comfortable playing theaters as opposed to smaller rooms?
No, I’ve been doing theaters, opening for people for a while. It’s actually one of the best gigs because the crowd doesn’t need to be warmed up. They’re all so psyched to see him. I get to go out and do 20 minutes in front of an amazingly hyped-up crowd. And then I’m done for the night.
[Laughs] Yeah, that sounds pretty awesome.
Yeah, it’s a win-win. Because if I have a great set, they’re gonna be like, “Oh, that guy is awesome.” But if I have a bad set or whatever, they’re not even gonna fucking remember me. [Laughs] I don’t care.
That’s pretty much ideal.
Yeah, honestly it is ideal.
And you’re still doing Totally J/K in LA, right?
I am. Yeah.
How do you like doing the show in LA vs. New York?
It’s great. Noah [Garfinkel] and I both did the show in New York at UCB. Noah is writing for Kroll Show this season, and I’m gonna be there for a couple of weeks so it’s gonna be cool to work with him. The show is the same.
Same format, nothing’s changed?
Not really. We had a professional wrestler on the show the other night, Dolph Ziggler, and that was fun because we did a couple of minutes of standup and then we went out there and just like interviewed him for 20 minutes, and we had never done anything like that before, which was super fun and weird.
Do you guys ever put any of that stuff on the web?
No. It’s an 11 o’clock Monday night show that’s got the weirdest vibe. I love doing it, but I don’t know if anything would translate if we put it online.
And are there gonna be any more opportunities for you and Noah to do panel together? You guys were hilarious on The Pete Holmes Show.
Yeah, I mean, I would love to do that again. That was so fun. Noah was so funny when we did that because we went out there and we talked to Pete for probably like 25 minutes. We’re all just friends. We just felt like hanging out. Then when we walked off stage Noah was like, “Who went up before us?” I was like, “What are you talking about?” And he was like, “Well, I mean, like we went so long I don’t know how they fit us in with the other guests.” I was like, “Well you’re right to just assume that there was someone before us. Someone more deserving to be on television, which is completely valid. But no man, you’re the main guest.”
Phil Davidson writes about, performs and produces comedy.